I was quite surprised, to say the least, to come across yesterday – only the second occasion this has happened in twenty three years of living  in Japan –  a bottle of Shiseido’s legendary Nombre Noir.




Praying it was the parfum version again like last time, I quickly realized it was the Eau (de Parfum): still rich and damasceny and very Eighties ; dated – in a precise way – but sometimes, especially in winter, I suddenly find myself wanting those luxuriant mafia wife perfumes such as L’Arte di Gucci, Fendi, Armani Pour Femme, Diva, even Knowing, a defunct and clandestine club to which Black Number now most definitely belongs ( and at 500 yen ( about 3 pounds fifty).you know you can’t go wrong).




The fragrance is not in perfect olfactory condition. In fact, when I destoppered the little plastic plug at the top of the bottle this morning, there was a slightly pooey aspidistra of napthalene and must,  before clearing momentarily, revealing the plummy rose neon beneath. Burning Bush has been in a pleasing six month summertime hibernation;  but often stirs again come winter – when fur coats and knotted, gnarled wigs are optimal for warmth –  and I have a feeling that Nombre Noir will be a good alias.



























Forgive the recent drought of posts ( this is just a rushed spontaneous piece written over lunch at a Chinese restaurant – I have to get back to school soon but just felt like checking in.) ;  I have been prioritizing work, wanting to be more wholeheartedly involved in the lessons I am teaching, rather than just doing them half in a dream – as I have been for much of the year – and then feeling slightly guilty about it all : right now I feel more genuinely invested, in quieter, less ‘confessional’ mode – as the heat drains away so does some of my emotional vigor.





Plus- though I honestly don’t believe there can be many people in this world who are more smell-obsessed than I am – unless they are actually dogs- at the same time, despite the accidental weekend flea market finds and subsequent dousings, I have, in truth, also  been slightly questioning my position within the ever expanding, and frankly overwhelming, world of Perfume.





At work this term I have not been wearing any to speak of; just citric deodorants, the odd bottle of bergamot essential oil left silently evaporating in my suit pocket, and my home made lemon handbalms. At weekends, and for nights out, I have really been enjoying Antonia by Puredistance,a green, luminous powder rose with sandalwood accents that just feels refined to me: generous and blanketing, yet clean, soap-like, with something shimmering underneath like unexpressed emotion. My sample bottle is running out and I might have to ask for the full version for my birthday in December : this, for me, is one perfume that has definitely reached ‘can’t live without’ status.





The thing is, though I would happily spend thousands regularly if I had unlimited cash to spare (probably),  in reality, when I scope out the niche brands in places like Nose Shop in Ginza and Shinjuku, it dismays me to admit there are not all that many that I would unhesitatingly fork out my hard earned cash for : I like most of the Sorcinelli perfumes, Unum, the Music series, and bought the ozonic, marine weirdness that is Nebbia Spessa for Duncan’s birthday in September ( he loves the mind-altering textures of it), but many of the wood-chemicaled, passive aggressive ‘burnt’ or thickly floral and sweet perfumes coming out, continually. just strike me as absurdly overpriced and overrated.





I don’t know. Maybe I am still slightly in burn out mode myself after last year’s monumental book writing tasks; perhaps it will need perfumes of true and singular beauty to truly coax me back fully into the fold. I was at Shinjuku station the other day, and decided, on a whim – and also because I don’t actually have a copy of my own: it keeps getting given away to other people – to buy my book (it is on sale at the Kafkaesque vastness that is the  bookstore in Takashimaya Times Square).







I had been so mellowed out and natural all summer long, with the smells of nature, people,  or chosen perfumes from my own collection, that to suddenly be in the noxious, Coco Mademoisellish air – Dior; Ferragamo, Vuitton – that death choke of Beauty, as I ascended, and descended, the escalators trying in vain to find my own words wrapped in cellophane on some bookshelf ( I simply couldn’t FIND the place), I felt like a flower being placed close to an incinerator.
















Filed under Flowers

the local bookstore

My mum sent this photo that she took at our local book shop in Solihull.




I must admit I do rather like the little sign underneath !


Filed under Flowers











Although not remotely at the ferocious levels of destruction that have devastated the Bahamas this last week,  the typhoon that hit the Kanto region of Japan on Sunday ( including Tokyo, Yokohama and Kamakura, the city we live in), was still violent enough to knock power out for a million people, injure dozens, and kill a handful of individuals unfortunate to be outside in the body smashing winds at the wrong time.




I hadn’t even been aware a typhoon was coming – despite the multitude of meteorological updates and eventually, a warning that appeared on my phone: but I was too busy getting through the first few days back at work after the calm bliss of the summer holidays and then helping Duncan prepare for a weekend in Tokyo filming for Spoiled Identity ( a ridiculous and hilarious political campfest), which involved a great deal of logistics, people management and creative energy; though the skies were quite brooding and swollen at first, visible through the windows of the old municipal building we were shooting in, this soon passed into almost intolerably scorching sunshine – a corollary of the incoming storm – but which made you believe that there couldn’t possibly be a major typhoon on its way: had you only believed in your senses,  you would have stayed  put.



Soon the messages were picked up on everyone’s phones, though. It’s coming. The trains are stopping: Japan Railways, along with many other institutions and corporations, having finally put aside their former fight-on-til-it-is—too-late-samurai fatalism, which used to just leave commuters and office workers miserable and stranded for hours in the spirit of Making The Highest Effort, no matter the circumstances; now they actually suspend their train services ; people are sent home from work earlier; there is a thread of common sense ( we were quite surprised, actually, that many restaurants were not open for business at 5pm; already shuttering down despite the searing sunlight as they were heeding the weather warnings), so it was wise of us also to cancel certain scenes, despite the great inconvenience to some, and get back to our house in Kamakura just as the first rain drops fell ( with a certain effort , it felt to, me at first, as if they were being squeezed out from an arid void, the preliminary to a huge and raging diagonal downpour)




The cat always gets slightly excited when a storm comes,  panting slightly on the balcony, ; stirring with the drama. But D and I barely think about the approach of a typhoon ( is this reckless ?) ; inured ;  because unlike most devastating cyclones and hurricanes, at least where we live, you rarely feel under threat as long as you are inside and battened down. Probably we should have put our shutters on, as our neighbour had done (I noticed the next day), as when we were awakened by the terrific noise and wind pressure around 3am that was so intense nobody could have possibly have slept through it, at times it sounded as though the glass might actually shatter. We could not have opened the windows at this moment ;all you can do is lie still in your beds and let it rage; sheltered in semi-sleep and deafening wind dreams until the morning ( D went down the debris strewn hill to the station at 10am, much later than usual, but all train services had been cancelled ; by the time I also later went into work in the evening there was partial service), but walking home,  you could see , and smell, how powerful the winds must have been.



At the top, in the third picture, you can see how a tall cedar tree had toppled directly onto the entrance of the Meigetsuin  Temple ( famous for hydrangeas and irises in June; maple leaves and ginkgo in November); it had been closed down to visitors. As I climbed the hill, the thick air was in a strange, dense thresh of whipped up leaves and tropical night heat; a weird sickness of stamens,  and the freshwater of rushing streams and underground systems; grass, and dead flowers and broken branches hanging off at the trunk; this morning, the unusual heatwave clinging to the air in the wake of typhoon ,  I went on a cycle ride around the neighbourhood to see if there had been any damage. It was minimal, in international terms, but all forest entrance had been closed off because of fallen logs ); there was a heavy stillness in the atmosphere; few people.













Filed under Flowers












On our balcony, Karen is in Tempo by Diptyque; I am in the classic Tubereuse by Le Jardin Retrouve.






Hot summer nights : I never want them to end.


Filed under B0RN TO BE TROPICAL, Flowers








It has been a languorous yet eventful summer and I am out of practice with writing so I will come back with a brief post on three perfumes we picked up on one of our recycle shop hauls : the simple, but timeless, Pour Un Homme, a perfume  I had always wanted in my collection for its soft ease but had never got round to buying, and a recent reiteration of the scent that I had never encountered before, the fantastic Pour Un Homme Sport, a welcome addition to the collection that has turned out a summer hit and D’s scent for most of August.





For those not familiar with Caron’s most famous masculine ( and probably the house’s bestselling scent) ,  this is essentially a potently subtle, fresh French lavender combined with a musky, civet-licked vanilla that will not suit everyone –  this was one of the perfumes I used at my book launch as an example of a good lavender scent : a lot of nodding all round, initially, then later, slight consternation as it ‘turned’ on some people’s skins and went sour or rangey.





On me it works. An intimate, soothing sensuality; manly, if you like ( James Dean wore this, apparently – an idea I find very erotic ), but really,  more androgynous, undefined; quietly self confident. Perfect for an afternoon tumble in the sheets.













Carnally  discreet.











Or not : depending what decade you find this classic being advertised in





















We had picked these Carons up in a great cache of fumes spree-d on one fun, sweltering day in Yokohama. I wanted more, and could have spent twice as much, but was trying desperately hard to act frugal and show some very necessary restraint  ( as we had unfortunately  haemorrraged quite a lot of money – more on that in the next post in the series ) and  I couldn’t afford it.







With me, though, things I want – records, perfumes – often linger in my mind like taunts of regret-  sometimes things I only HALF want, but am materialistically intrigued by. Thus, when D said he had to go back the next day to the same area to buy a bizarre garment he had spotted that was perfect for a performance piece,  but had hesitated over because of the price – I gathered some coins and said he could go by himself, as I would be preparing my toilette for that evening’s night out in Tokyo and couldn’t bear getting sweaty beforehand;  but that if he was going back, there was something he should buy: Caron Sport  ( a combination of words – that sounds like an oxymoron but in practice isn’t ) : the lingering after/effect of which had remained lodged in my mind.  It was only ¥1500 ( about fifteen dollars), and, more importantly, something I could definitely imagine him wearing : on first impressions, a musky, minty, balsamic yet astringent smell,  almost vaguely similar to  Jean Paul Gaultier’s bestselling and cheaply shouldering Le Male, a scent we had both sometimes shared back in the day when we first met and still on occasion recall with affection.








That evening, we were very excited indeed to have stage-side tickets to see the singer Neneh Cherry, someone I have always loved, but never seen in concert, at Billboard Live Tokyo in Roppongi. I got ready alone at home, taking my time,  dancing naked around the kitchen to her records, and we later hooked up on the train, me bathed and squeaky clean and happily sprayed head to toe for the occasion in another scent I had never heard of before but  picked up for five dollars on the same day:  Lohna by Harnn














– a crisp and refreshing, uncliched combination of lavender and lemongrass (funnily enough, a west-meets-east harmony I have sometimes chosen myself in homemade herbal tea blends: somehow they can synergize quite beautifully), with undertones of mid-laundered cotton shirts that felt ideal for the hot summer’s day, and a perfume which is now fixed forever in my memory as The Scent I Wore To Neneh Cherry.





















The Scent That Duncan Wore To Neneh Cherry was, and now always will be ( I love this self conscious STAMPING of a perfume on your memory like this : a deliberate etching in your heart and brain stem) : Caron Pour Un Homme Sport, a new version of the original that was released by the company in 2015.







The base of this fragrance is truly great on D : a tonka/ benzoin/ white musk accord, a skin tattoo laced with a (slightly salty) real ambergris that leaves a silky,  but tangible trail of sillage down Tokyo escalators,  or on bike rides around Kamakura ( “ I am loving your bicycle sillage !” I shout into the wind ); the top notes strange but compelling :  leaves and twigs of lavender flushed through an anti-intuitive, brash, even almost amusing –  dose of grapefruit and mandarin and an unimagined twist of ‘Madagascar blue ginger’ , nutmeg and verbena tautened with a bodily essence of Virginia cedar.






The effect : revitalizing and clean, a tad cocky, yet warm and dirty: optimistic, uncomplicated, sexy  – and absolutely ideal for dancing .







































Filed under Lavender


Among the recycle shop delights of this holiday, the other day, at the most rundown Zushi scuz emporium I have ever been to – so messy and random and almost disgusting, in truth-  I found a parfum de toilette of Nina Ricci’s Fleurs de Fleurs (the absolute perfection of this bygone archetype) for one dollar. One hundred yen. 

I can’t tell you how soft and comforting it is as a bed perfume

The Black Narcissus


These three precious floral perfumes were recently induced into my collection, all in vintage, all from junk shops; all, in some ways, too good for this world. Completely of another time. Too old fashioned; too trembling; too sweetly delicate and pure. And while from very different eras, all have similar composition, note lists and structure : in essence, soft flowers, like hand held bouquets from a garden, over gentler, antique musks, and sandalwood, amber and civet (in infinitesimal, well-calibrated proportions) to round off the edges. The space age chemicality of a Byredo Tulipe; or a red Kenzo Flower, are aeons away from this meadow, where we walk along in a flowing white dress, even a carefully tendered hat perhaps, pleasantly rueful in our reflections.

These flowers (all smell of cyclamen, of iris, jasmine, lily, lilac (especially lilac); of magnolia, mimosa, hyacinth, and lily of the valley), are like a perfumer’s…

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Filed under Flowers

The Olfactory Detective: ‘Perfume’ in the Japan Times




Buongiorno Narcissi

I hope you have been having a happy and perfumed summer/ winter, and have not even considered making an offer to buy Greenland.

Forgive my absence – I have just instinctively taken a long, airheaded, unthinking, much needed breather : : thoroughly enjoying taking a hiatus from this crazy, burning world and just basking, and recharging, in the glory that is the cicada chorused Japanese summer with D : the first time I have properly relaxed, and just been pleasingly brainless and free (just cycling and reading and going to the beach and to nice restaurants), for really quite a while. I have really needed this time. Naturally, I still have a thousand things I want to write about, but I just thought, in the meantime, I would put up the piece on the book that came out in the Japan Times today. I know the writer was planning a longer and more in-depth article until the editors came along and truncated it  (………….), but I must admit it was still quite exciting to find myself on the bottom right hand corner of the front page.









I also quite like being described as an ‘olfactory detective’.




Speak soon.