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Saturday, May 17, 2003


Defensive perfume: to use, just fling it

It was a bad Japan day. After a full day of teaching into the evening, the train was too crowded to find a seat on the way home, and just as I was taking up the old Japanese horse tradition (sleeping while standing), a drunk "salaryman" sidled up and accosted me with bad English for an entire 30 minutes. A friend once suggested getting rid of stress through aromatherapy. I remember thinking: Who has time to smell? Besides, I gave up inhaling Japanese air a long time ago.

You see, one of the first things I noticed when I came to Japan was -- it smells. All countries have their own distinct smells, such as spices in India or garlic in Italy. What does Japan smell like? "O-bentos"? Pork "udon"? No. Japan has always smelled like garbage -- burning garbage. But now that Japan is slowly eliminating the burning of garbage, this smell will hopefully become a smell of the past.

There used to be a public garbage incinerator in my neighborhood, which meant that smoke wafted through my house daily. I often closed the windows in summertime just to be able to breathe. I eventually developed a strategic shallow form of breathing, the same way some people smoke cigarettes without inhaling the smoke.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was standing with the other horses on the train coming home when I noticed an overall unpleasant-looking man sitting by himself. With holes in his jeans and T-shirt, a black leather belt with metal studs and various dangly, clanky chain-type accessories, no one wanted to sit next to him. Suddenly, I realized this guy was much smarter than I had thought. If I could be a little more unpleasant, people would keep their distance from me too. In fact, they'd avoid me.

I shifted my hips, putting my weight on my left leg to give my right foot a rest, closed my eyes and started thinking of a plan. What did I come up with? Garbage perfume. Perfume that makes you smell like garbage.

Heck, why not? There is a very successful music group called Garbage, and I've seen fashion photo shoots with sexy girls in blue jeans standing in front of a garbage dump. Why not garbage perfume? Choose your poison: Rotting fruit or sour milk. Want some flies with that?

I recommend producing the following, um, strengths of garbage perfume:

Nonburnable: This is described as "mildly putrid" or "just starting to stink." The kind of smell that prompts people to say, "Hmm, something smells funny. . . ." Most people will take a step back, opening up just enough room on the train to give you more space. Mild enough to wear all day long.

Burnable: This steady, smoky and rather forceful smell can be used when you see either someone approaching you to ask a favor or a perfect stranger heading toward you to practice their English. Keep an emergency bottle with you so you'll be ready for a quick dab behind the ears. Strong enough to make most people do a U-turn.

"Sodai gomi": Face it, there are times when you just want to repulse someone. The most expensive type of garbage perfume, sodai gomi is extracted from large chunks of furniture that must sit around for decades and cure to attain this special stink. You'll find that most people won't even think of coming near you. You'll be able to repel people from far away, including drunk men, stalkers and perverts. Use sparingly.

If you come across someone who is especially persistent, get a jar of the ultimate garbage perfume: fresh compost. Guaranteed to give you your own stall on the train ride home. Just stick your fingers in, dig out the amount you feel necessary -- and fling it!

Check out Amy Chavez's new column, "Parents Do the Strangest Things," at www.amychavez.com.

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