Smell harassment

Japan's environment ministry came up with a novel suggestion earlier this year for women sweating out the summer in hot, energy-scrimping offices. "Combat body odor,'' the ministry suggested in a tip-filled Web page touting its turn-up-the-thermostat campaign, "by using scented fabric softener.'

[...] The ministry's suggestion spurred action by groups such as the Chemical Sensitivity Support Center and the Society Demanding Fragrance Restraint, while bloggers raged about "secondhand Downy." The Japanese media has coined the phrase "sume-hara," for "smell harassment."

— In case you were wondering why perfume houses make lighter fragrances for the Japanese market. Read more at In Japan, Scented Fabric Softeners Wrinkle Some Noses at the Wall Street Journal.

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13 Comments

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  1. ladymurasaki says:

    Ugh. Anti-fragrance fascists… So glad I don’t have to live in Japan anymore!

    • Robin says:

      And I guess many Japanese must be glad they don’t live here…second-hand Downy would be the least of it.

  2. TheSnailsPajamas says:

    Obviously there must be such a thing as Japanese female body odor, but I have to say my Japanese mother never wore deodorant in her life, and never smelled at all, even when sweating working in the garden. I didn’t luck out with that myself ;-) (obviously some dad genes prevailed in that department when I was being cooked up).

    • ladymurasaki says:

      I think it could be the diet. My daughter (100% Japanese) has no smell whatsoever! Not all Japanese are odour free though lol

  3. nozknoz says:

    I’m trying hard to imagine the menace of groups of high school boys who are “now heavy users of scented fabric softeners.” ;-)

  4. kindcrow says:

    It’s nice to have a phrase to use for when I am asphyxiated in the elevator :-)

  5. kindcrow says:

    Why didn’t they just suggest unscented anti-perspirant?

    • Robin says:

      Yeah, it’s a strange suggestion to begin with.

  6. cath says:

    As a European who LOVES perfumes and is living in Japan, I feel restricted. I read about so many lovely perfumes I want to try, but are not available here, because “they wouldn’t sell”. Likewise, if a perfumes exists in different concentrations, you can bet that they will only have the EDT version in store.
    It may be true that Japanese people have less BO, but in humid and hot summer season (which can last up to 5 months!) when people wear synthetic fabric clothing, it can quickly become hell. I was a teacher for many years, and the smell in the classrooms, especially after PE class is horrifying. Try getting on a crowded train at rush hour, surrounded by hot sweaty men in polyester blend shirts, bleeeurghh , I’m ready to puke my guts out. Many people don’t use deodorant, and the deodorants available here are not as efficient as the ones sold in the West (I order mine online from the US).
    And now there is the new trend of scented fabric softeners. Downy is way too potent for the Japanese market, even I can smell it from afar, and I’m not a fan of it, but it beats many of the Japanese softeners that smell too synthetic and are not pleasant at all.
    If it were up to me, I would to promote more (unscented) deodorants: for a starter, in the stores: start by placing it next to the toothpaste or other product people use daily, and not in the “seasonal” products corner, to make it part of daily routine.
    Next: import more high grade perfumes from reputable houses, no more cheap chemical blends that give me a headache please; and cut down on citrus, marine, and rose scents (yes, there ARE other scents!).
    I have a hard time finding scents that I like. I sniff every bottle when I’m searching for a new body wash, laundry detergent, fabric softener, room freshener… Preferences are so different, that’s why there are so many products out there, and in the West where all cultures are present, it is easy to find something to your liking. If you happen to live in a country where your preferences vary from the norm, and products available are only to fit that norm, then it can be a very unfortunate situation.
    To me scents are a comfort. I can’t find comfort in Japanese household scents.
    Thankfully there is gorgeous incense for the house.
    And I continue to spray my perfumes, lavishly at times, ignoring the man standing next to me on the train who wrinkles his nose, thinking I’d rather smell nice than reeking of BO like he does.

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      Sounds like you’re doing your best to make it work for you, but I can imagine it must be difficult to love fragrance and be in a culture that is so easily made uncomfortable with it! It *does* underscore to me the point we seem to make so often here about how much of scent perception is individual or cultural. It could be fascinating to explore and understand better–having what sounds like a strong scent-aversion there in Japan compared with, say, a scent-loving European country–if it wasn’t so limiting for you in the mean time! Hang in there, and order lots of samples! :D

    • ladymurasaki says:

      The Japanese aren’t averse to scents. They love aroma oils and incense, and you see a lot of TV commercials for body sprays and deodorisers, and Fabreeze (eek!) is hugely popular there. They just generally like “clean” scents. I remember being taught in junior high school history that the French started wearing perfume to disguise body odour because they did not wash as often as they should. In ancient Japan, noble ladies of the imperial court used to hide incense sachets in their kimonos and apply scented oils to the hair for the same reason. My grandmother was a perfume-wearer, but she did tell me that there is a time and place for wearing perfume. For instance, she did not wear perfume to a dinner party or tea ceremony. And one would never wear perfume to an incense ceremony!

      It’s funny you mention the stench in the classrooms… I remember when I first moved back to Japan to attend primary school, my first impression was; Japan smells of soy sauce and pickles :D

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