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Monday, 17 April, 2000, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
Japanese men smelling of roses
Juliet Hindell
Juliet Hindell takes the smell-test
By Juliet Hindell in Tokyo

A new scourge is sweeping Japan. The smelly salaryman surveys show that most young women think middle-aged men smell.

However, help is at hand. Shirts that can cut body odour are a hot fashion item among Japanese middle-aged men.

Ojisan: people dropped hints about his unattractive smell
Shirt convert: People dropped hints about his unattractive smell

What is more, one cosmetics company has discovered the cause of middle-aged odour and has designed a deodorant to hide it.

At the Ginza Yamagata men's clothing store, middle-aged customers are snapping up what may be the answer to their prayers - shirts with a built-in deodorant.

They look like normal shirts but a secret ingredient sprayed onto the fabric is said to cut down or even eliminate body odour completely.

One man says that people have dropped hints about his personal smell so he is giving the shirts a try.

Iguchi is buying his second odour-free shirt because his wife said the first one made him smell sweeter.

Crowded trains leave Kojimachi station in central Tokyo during rush hour.

Passengers have no choice but to get very close to each other and, if someone smells, it is hard to ignore.

Women wage war

The Japanese have never been fond of strong perfumes and find distinctive scents and aftershaves equally as offensive as more natural smells.

Dr Nakamura: Japan's most sensitive nose?
Dr Nakamura: Japan's most sensitive nose?

However, Japanese women seem to be leading the campaign against smelly middle-aged men.

A recent survey found that 90% of Japanese women think men stink and should do something about their odour.

One woman says that during rush hour, the smell of middle-aged men on trains makes her feel sick.

One woman worries about her father who smells slightly. She feels sorry for him.

Unlike some of her friends she does not insist that her clothes be washed separately from her father's.

The shirts are just one of the many products in Japan aimed at suppressing bad smells.

You can buy deodorising vests and underwear, too.

Older means smellier

If all this seems a bit obsessive, scientists believe there is a real reason to think older people are less fragrant.

The most sensitive nose in Japan may belong to Dr Shoji Nakamura.

A range of odour-killing products are available
A range of odour-killing products are available

He works for the cosmetics giant Shiseido and his nostrils can distinguish over 2000 different scents.

Dr Nakamura has discovered the substance that makes middle-aged people smell.

It is called nonenal: a greasy, oily odour, people over the age of 40 develop it and young people do not have it.

"Young women in particular have recently become hyper-sensitive to body odours especially of the older generation," he says.

"So I invented a fragrance that masks that smell."

The odour-killing products include deodorant, shampoo and powder and have sold five times more than the company forecast.

It is all part of a hygiene fetish which includes pens made of germ-killing plastic, face masks so you do not spread your flu germs to others and even cash machines which disinfect bank notes.

Students are studying Japan's traditional incense ceremony.

Sensitivity to smell has a long history in Japan.

Aromatherapy: Japanese have traditional sensitivity to smell
Aromatherapy: The Japanese have traditional sensitivity to smell

The incense ceremony is an aromatic experience which started 1200 years ago.

Students train their noses to distinguish between subtle scents, the process, says Suzuki Sensei, is meant to entertain and create an atmosphere of harmony.

"All the scents are natural from herbs, grasses and wood - the incense ceremony has a similar effect to aromatherapy," says Suzuki Sensei.

"It will calm people who easily get angry. It's good for pregnant women."

The obsession with smell and cleanliness may be getting a bit out of hand.

Cultural change

Dr Nakamura believes people are so sensitive to smell because Japanese society is changing.

"In the past, three generations lived in one house together," he says.

Shirt sales set to rise during sweaty summer months
Shirt sales set to rise during sweaty summer months

"Everyone lived in close quarters so they got used to many different smells."

"Now people often live alone and so they are more sensitive to smells of others."

That may be what is at the root of this new sensitivity to smells. It is as if sweating or smelling of anything is impolite, an offence to those around you.

So it is likely that as the sweaty summer approaches, the smell-free shirts are bound to find a big market in hyper-hygienic Japan.

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