- Aug 7, 2002
- Reaction score
Do Old Men Smell?
By: Calvin Sims
Behold, the Fragrant Japanese Man!
SAKA, Japan -- Daijiro Karasawa, a 49-year-old auditor, never gave the matter much thought until he witnessed a small drama on the bullet train.
Karasawa saw two college women laughing and holding their noses as a businessman, about his age, walked down the aisle looking for a seat. A few days later, a defensive Karasawa bought a designer cologne that he now rubs on his wrists and behind his ears before his frequent trips between Osaka and Tokyo.
"I am a very clean person, and in my mind I know that I don't smell," Karasawa said. "But I'm wearing fragrance for the first time in my life, to eliminate any chance that I might offend someone."
Karasawa volunteered the information after a reporter asked him to translate a newspaper ad for a line of cosmetics boasting a secret ingredient that supposedly reduces a body odor that afflicts older people. The experience of Karasawa is like that of many other men in this hyper-hygienic nation.
The trend started after Japan's largest cosmetics maker, Shiseido, discovered a substance that causes body odor in people over 40, and particularly middle-aged men. That discovery has led to a whole range of lucrative products. For Shiseido, the product introduction, which it says is not limited in appeal to men over 40, was one of the most successful in its history.
Shoji Nakamura, the Shiseido perfumer who discovered the offending agent, called noneal, said, "Our data shows that older women and men produce the same amount but that we smell more odor coming from men, because they tend to be less hygienic."
In September, Shiseido introduced a line of shampoos, lotions and deodorants to curb the breakdown of the fatty acid in skin that causes noneal. Noneal, described as having a "greasy, grassy odor," is rarely found in the body odor of people in their 20s and 30s, the researchers say, but increases in volume and strength with aging.
Shiseido said that sales of the new product line, called Care Garden, had been more than five times its initial target. "It's mainly salary men in their 50s who are buying it," said Kyoko Asakura, manager for Matsumoto Kiyoshi, a discount drugstore in the Ginza, Tokyo's premier shopping district. "Many of them come into the store and shyly ask for the product that takes away old man's smell."
Like Americans, Japanese are happy to make consumer products companies rich by spending money on every sort of nostrum to bolster one's social appeal. Everywhere one looks in Japan, for instance, in magazines, newspapers and store windows and on billboards and television, there are advertisements for products that rid the body of odor.
Elizabeth Arden is marketing the Lip Lip Hooray line of lipsticks that contains citric acid, which the company says neutralizes the sulfuric compounds that can cause halitosis. The SSK Corp. has a line of T-shirts that contain deodorant fibers that it says eliminates odors when exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays.
Not everyone thinks Japan's preoccupation is healthy. Koichiro Fujita, a professor of immunology at Tokyo Medical and Dental University, said that while the Japanese have long been attentive to personal hygiene, they have become "slaves to smell," snarled by the barrage of advertising by deodorant producers.
"The marketers have brainwashed people to be afraid of their own smell, which is supposed to be something natural, something that as a living creature is a way of asserting I am here," Fujita said. "Our country is suffering from super cleanliness syndrome, and it's so extreme that even elementary school children are afraid they will be teased or bullied."
Fujita said that too much cleanliness actually reduced the body's ability to fight infections and that some bacteria was valuable. His book, "Cleanliness Is a Sickness," has sold 30,000 copies.
But Harueko Kato, a sociologist at Tokyo Women's Christian University, sees nothing to complain about.
"Before these products were created, the norm for Japanese men was to wear that awful smelling hair tonic," and that was the extent of their grooming, she said. "Today, whether it's in the office, subway trains, or at home, Japanese men want to be liked, so they are trying to improve their image, and I think it's great."