28

While visiting Japan I almost never find people wearing relatively strong fragrance in the trains or public places in Japan. Is it considered rude or no manner when using relatively strong perfume?

I know some people are sensitive to certain smell that can make them sick or headache. Is it the reason?

  • 37
    Other people's possible fragrance sensitivity is a good reason to avoid perfume on trains, and in other enclosed public spaces where it is not possible to avoid you, anywhere in the world. See WebMD. – Patricia Shanahan Jan 20 at 14:25
  • 31
    Why just Japan? I've rarely encountered anyone wearing strong perfume or fragrances anywhere. – Arthur's Pass Jan 20 at 14:52
  • 55
    I thinks it's rude, regardless of country. But I suffer it quite frequently on commuter trains into London. Excessive aftershave; person opposite painting nails with no ventilation; you name it. But if I am un-British enough to call a person out for it, no matter how polite or how gentle, oh boy! Be ready for bad attitude. – Stewart Jan 20 at 23:07
  • 12
    @Arthur'sPass That varies a lot by culture. Personally, as an American (and especially as one who is allergic to most perfumes,) I find it rude anywhere, but it seems to be much more accepted or even expected in some other cultures. For example, it seems to be common in certain parts of the Middle East in my experience. – reirab Jan 21 at 1:32
  • 6
    I'm allergic to strong perfume (causes sneezing) and although I live in Japan, I'm allergic to it in any country. – DXV Jan 21 at 1:58
100

This is considered rude in most places in the world, it isn't unique to Japan.

The only possible 'Japan' part of this is that Japanese people broadly tend to be a lot more considerate of others and make more of an effort not to disturb fellow-passengers than in many other countries. In Japan its rare to run into that one in a thousand person who just doesn't care the way you might in Britain, China, Turkey, or wherehaveyou.

Eating smelly food is also a rude thing to do.

| improve this answer | |
  • 6
    Then again, one doesn't eat in trains anyway (I'm not sure if it's prohibited, but I've only ever seen foreigners do so). – muru Jan 21 at 2:09
  • 22
    @JeffreysupportsMonica Eating on long-distance/intercity trains is OK, and often these will even have cart services selling you food. Eating on short-distance/commuter services is not OK. – lambshaanxy Jan 21 at 4:55
  • 4
    @JeffreysupportsMonica probably because people traveling those tend to be commuters on the way to and from work for quite a while, and eat on the train in lue of having time to do it elsewhere. – jwenting Jan 21 at 5:02
  • 3
    -1 I don't consider it rude that people wear perfume or aftershave on public transport and I've never heard anyone else say that it is rude. I've commuted in London for over thirty years. – camden_kid Jan 21 at 10:01
  • 2
    As someone who sweats profusely in any climate, I really doubt the anti-fragrance crowd here would prefer someone like me to not wear deodorant. I agree with @camden_kid; I've never heard of anyone having caring about or being allergic to fragrances before. Just because evidence exists doesn't mean that everyone has been made aware of it. Personally, I don't like prefume/cologne and never use any. But I don't think that my preference should prevent others who do use it from using the tube/metro. – knowah Jan 22 at 14:30
28

Japanese and East Asians don't get as much body odor because they have less apocrine sweat glands so they don't need as much perfume, cologne, etc.

From Wikipedia's article on Body odor:

East Asians (Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese) have fewer apocrine sweat glands compared to people of other descent, making East Asians less prone to body odor.

I don't really have too much of an issue myself as I grew up in North America, but my cousin who lives in Japan used to complain about foreigners wearing excessive fragrances.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Less apocrine sweat glands (present in armpits) may indeed be one reason, but diet may also have some impact, i.e. meat and pungent plants, such as garlic and onions, are not eaten in large quantities as in the western world. – CPHPython Jan 21 at 10:45
  • 17
    @CPHPython Have you been to an izakaya? That's like the whole menu. – Tom Kelly Jan 21 at 13:48
  • 9
    @CPHPython Meat and onions build the daily meals in South China. This does not seem to be correct. – Babyburger Jan 21 at 14:07
  • 1
    @Babyburger When I was there I ate what most locals generally ate: noodles/rice with a bunch of vegetables and small pieces of meat/eggs. Rarely I saw people eating stake and believe it or not, western fast food chains were more expensive. Onions were normally not added and some restaurants had raw garlic on the tables to mix in the soup... I was one of the few who consumed them. – CPHPython Jan 21 at 15:00
  • 5
    @CPHPython Pungent plants seemed to be the norm in Korea, much moreso than in the West, aside from maybe Western vegetarians. At any rate, I don't think this answer really has anything to do with it. It's rude to wear strong perfume/cologne in public in North America, too. There are just more people here who don't care if they're rude or not than in Japan. – reirab Jan 21 at 15:48
15

I've lived in Japan for several years and this isn't my experience at all. It is quite common to encounter Japanese people with strong perfume, cigarette odours, halitosis, or body odours. Public transport is quite crowded and you will come into close contact with many people. Everyone becomes accustomed to their own smells and may be unaware of the discomfort that it causes others. As in every country, some individuals are more considerate of those around them than others.

One thing to note is that using deodorant or antiperspirant products is not a common cultural practice in Japan. It's not something many people do on a daily basis and these products have limited selection and availability in Japan as a result. Fragrances and perfumes are seen as for special occasions but people do wear them in evenings and on weekends. It's a pernicious myth that Japanese people don't get sweat or have body odour, it's common especially in onsen and the hot, humid summers.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Common doesn't mean its considered acceptable. It's not generally a good thing to have a strong odor of any kind, even if it occurs more than people prefer – Mars Jan 21 at 9:22
  • 1
    What’s acceptable varies widely between people and regions. Assuming everyone in Japan is polite by western standards will give you unrealistic expectations. – Tom Kelly Jan 21 at 9:26
  • 1
    I didn't mention western standards at all... – Mars Jan 21 at 9:27
  • 2
    Agreed, I've also known Japanese people who wear noticeable fragrances - men and women. I wouldn't say it's common, but I wouldn't say it's uncommon either. – J... Jan 21 at 16:27
1

I have not been to Japan yet, but I spent quite some time in a few cities in mainland China to share my perspective:

  1. most locals did not wear perfume/deodorants in their daily commute, either when traveling by bus or metro;
  2. most did not have strong body odor, but some did, especially those that spent hours laboring in more intense physical activities;
  3. based on conversations I had with a few locals, it seems they do not use perfume/deodorants for the following reasons:
    1. they do not feel the need to use deodorants to counter their body odor;
    2. intense odors coming from a person are considered as something odd in daily life (whether they are pleasant or foul smells);
    3. perfumes are expensive products in their minds;
  4. I ate local food in hundreds (if not thousands) of restaurants while in there and, despite the fact that Eastern Asians have less apocrine sweat glands under their armpits (as mLstudent33 detailed), I personally believe that diet has a significant impact due to meat, fish, onions and garlic (with high sulfur compounds, particularly when eaten raw) being consumed in lesser quantities than in the western world (for those curious enough, here's an article explaining diet relations to body odor). Of course there are several restaurants serving these in larger quantities but, from what I have seen, locals do not eat these dishes daily.
  5. I am not East Asian myself and I personally stopped using deodorant while staying in there after a few months, since that even in hot "sweaty" days, my body odor was almost absent. In Kung Fu classes, my sweat did not seem to have an intense odor, at least none of the locals avoided training with me or commented about my smell (that I heard, that is :), but I did feel some of my classmates odors (none seemed to use perfurme or deodorants while training).
| improve this answer | |
  • 4
    Japan has very different cultural customs, diet, and climate. Vegetables such Okra (which are high in sulfur compounds) are commonly eaten in Japan. Pickles, preserves, and pungent fermented foods are seen as healthy. – Tom Kelly Jan 22 at 14:36
  • @TomKelly independently of cultural differences, most Japanese and Chinese do not usually wear perfume/deodorant (question's point) and both their diets are different from a western diet. Raw salads are not commonly eaten while fermented and cooked sulfur-rich vegetables lose most of their sulfur compounds (article explaination on "how to prepare" section). – CPHPython Jan 22 at 15:20
  • 4
    The question pertains specifically to Japan. Therefore this is irrelevant. – Tom Kelly Jan 22 at 15:52
  • @TomKelly the exact same questions asked by the OP could be asked for other countries (e.g. China), that is why I shared my experience... How you blatantly stated that all I shared as irrelevant due to a single point I addressed about a topic that contradicted your thoughts (diet) shows a great deal of your mindset... Glad you are vegetarian btw (honestly). – CPHPython Jan 22 at 16:12
  • 2
    @CPHPython yes, they could be asked about other countries, such as China. And this would be a very good answer if the questions had been asked about China. But they weren't. They were asked about Japan, and your answer has absolutely nothing to do with Japan. – Chris H Jan 23 at 16:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.