Let's get started on a series of posts arising from my recent Japanese holiday. First, the trivial: Japan and modern male grooming.
Shopping for personal hygiene products in Japan is educational and fun. As I noted back in 2009, there has been an insult going around the country for some years that the young Japanese male is too "herbivorous", unlike his more carnivorous (read: more masculine) predecessors, and supermarket toiletries certainly gives the impression that hair styling is of great (one could say, dandy-ish) interest to the modern Japanese young male. Although, come to think of it, there are a great many waxes, gels and styling stuff available to the modern Australian male in the supermarket now, too. (And, it's also true that nothing in Japan compares to the heights of silly European male self indulgence in fashion of the 17th and 18th century. I still giggle every time I see this painting.)
Anyway, looking at the Japanese product range is amusing, with the ubiquitous "Gatsby" brand having "hair jams", waxes and gels with odd, though admittedly creative, names. From the Gatsby Australian online store (with truly ridiculous prices, I might add):
- the "Moving Rubber" range that comes in Cool Wet, Air Rise, Spiky Edge, Wild Shake, Loose Shuffle, and Grunge Mat.
- the "Hair Jams" come in "Smart Nuance", Tight Nuance" and "Loose Nuance". I see via Google that there are also, in some markets at least, "Edgy Nuance" and "Rough Nuance".
And then there's your wax, foams, "styling grease" (an uninspiring name for a hair product, if ever there was one), sprays and "hair water" products in the Gatsby range, too.
I used up some loose change at the airport drug store by buying some Hair Jam "Smart Nuance" (see, the company knows how to appeal even to my vanity) and am wearing it for the first time today. I'm quite pleased, so far, although looking at the Singaporean Gatsby site, I see that I am using it in a far different fashion than recommended. No, this is not what I do to my hair in the morning:
(I just used two drops - honestly, I'd have to be in a higher tax bracket to be using as much as the video recommends. Not to mention at least 30 years younger.)
I don't know, perhaps it's all J-pop and K-pop's fault: maybe young Japanese women demand their boyfriends have this intense interest in precision hair looks.
But apart from hair grooming, the most notable thing about Japanese toiletries is that it confirms that the entire nation does not have to devote much time to fighting body odour - basically because they don't have that much to begin with. I would guess that the range of deodorants for sale is about 1/4 of the size of what's available here. Even foot odour is not much of an issue - it's extremely common to be seated next to a Japanese person on a Shinkansen or aircraft with their shoes slipped off, and never have I have noticed foot stink in a way I have when sitting next to a be-socked Australian.
The relative lack of Japanese body odour has had scientific attention: it seems a lot of it is to do with the same gene that is responsible for "dry" as opposed to "wet" ear wax.
I should also mention the limited number of shaving foam/gels available: there is certainly a much broader range of these available in the West. For some reason, shaving gels which do not foam on the face seem relatively popular. I've tried them, including on this recent trip, but unless you are shaving in good light, or have dark stubble that is obvious in any light, they don't give a good guide to where the razor has and hasn't been, making final touch ups with the blade after you've rinsed often necessary. I like the cooling menthol feeling, though, especially in hot weather. (What is it with Asians and menthol products - they love them in all their forms.)
Still, on returning home, I did appreciate using my L'Occitane shave soap and brush again. Seemed to give a smoother shave, too.
As for Japanese after shaves: actually, I do like all of those that I have tried. Not a huge selection, but the "standard" brands are invariable of a milder smell than their Western equivalents, and in summer, I do quite like the menthol which seems to be a component of most aftershaves. I recommend people try them - even the somewhat old fashioned smell of Bravas, which my wife thinks is "bay rum" scent and the strongest smelling of the ones I have tried.
So, yes, it's true: Westerners should not have much faith in finding
strong deodorant or good shaving cream in Japan. Take your own. But if you're male and
want a huge selection of hair product, or good, relatively cheap aftershave, you're set.
Update: I forget to mention two things. First, Japanese tubes of men's face wash - even the cheapest supermarket brands - are very good, and actually very useful both for the morning face wash in a land where the only soap in the hotel room is likely to be a body wash liquid soap, and for use as a pretty good shaving soap if you travel with a shaving brush. You have to like menthol, though. Chances are it will be menthol.
Secondly, how could I forget to mention this grooming product spotted in a drug store:
Yes, the nasal hair waxing product of your nightmares. Made in China, you can see in the second picture, so one can get the added thrill of wondering what dangerous chemicals might be in the wax.
I can imagine this being used in a remake of Marathon Man: "Is it safe?" being asked repeatedly while the wax hardens....
Update 2: I made a mistake. I realised it was "tight nuance" Hair Jam I bought, because the dude on the packet had a more conservative style.