A Scent of “Zen”…


It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when I had the first stirrings of interest in Japan and Japanese culture.

I’d been fascinated by the tin toy robots from Japan and the Far East that flooded the U.K toy market in the 60’s but would never have made the association with Japan at all – this awareness came much later.

Both my parents worked at Heathrow Airport and would often return home from work with various items like calendars or promotional items , like accurate model aircraft often seen in travel agents – calendars in particular linger in memory since each month would show a different world location evoking a yearning to visit far off places and functioning as a perfect advertisement for an airline.

Standing close enough that they filled my field of view I would imagine melting into the photographic images and being propelled in amongst a throng of rickshaws in a humid and fragrant Hong Kong or onto a bridge in Japan surrounded by Geishas, billowing clouds of cherry blossoms, and a majestic view of Mount Fuji set against saturated blue skies.

“At some point in the mid-70’s, my father started to travel overseas in his work as a director of an airfreight company – this travel took him to India but also to the U.S and the Far East.”

On one particular trip he returned with a gift for my mother – a box containing a bottle of Shiseido “Zen” perfume – and a tourist guide of Tokyo.

These two items held a special significance for me – long after the tiny perfume bottle had been emptied, the distinctive aroma of the perfume lingered on – I would unscrew the stopper and sniff it with my eyes shut and imagine myself transported to a Japanese tea house as Geishas hovered nearby wafting their seductive scent around me – the unique design of the bottle and the case it came in were also evocative, suggesting both the sensual mystery of the Geisha and the floral designs of her elaborate costume, in a way that perfectly complimented the heady aroma of “Zen”.

The tourist guide book was another source of endless fascination as I pored over every detail everything that Tokyo had to offer – it was a total contrast to the drab U.K of the 1970’s – a riot of neon and vivid colour, the ancient past colliding with the far future.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980’s that I was able to fulfill that yearning to visit Japan that had been awakened by a bottle of Shiseido “Zen” perfume.

Throughout the late 60’s and into the 70’s there was also frequent TV coverage of events like the Japanese Winter Olympics and various annual “Expos”, all of which helped fuel that interest further.

The eventual tipping point came about after buying an edition of “Omni” magazine in 1985 featuring the Tsukuba Science Expo and since I finally had some funds to finance a trip to Japan – admittedly with a lot of additional help from my parents – I wasted no time in booking a trip.

I had totally forgotten about the bottle of “Zen” perfume until I watched a series of Yasujiro Ozu’s films during the current lockdown and they stirred a memory from the years of accumulated mental silt and suddenly I don’t have to think very hard for the distinctive Shiseido “Zen” scent to come wafting back and to trigger a tumult of memories and sensations, some real and some imagined.

08 /06 / 2020