The Smell of Japan
Published: 2018-09-16 . Back to ≈

It is easy to adopt an attitude of disdain for things that aren’t familiar–things that are so foreign that it is hard to understand what sort of appeal they could possibly have.

Doing so puts one in the comfortable position of feeling above something. From one’s detached perch, one can objectively evaluate a thing and see clearly that it is meaningless, depraved, silly–so one tells oneself.

For many of us, whether we realize it or not, this is our default mode of interacting with new ideas or behaviors. It can even be fun: when faced with something new that I don’t happen to like, I can reject it without doing any of the work needed to really understand the thing, all while playfully assuming the moral high ground. Whether we are conscious of it our not, our behavior often follows this pattern.

This brings us to the smell of Japan. Japan smells of fish and soy sauce. And if you don’t happen to like fish, you may never get past this fact. You might never experience the wealth of other fresh and earthy smells that make the smell of Japan such an irresistible sensual delight. Because… well, it smells like fish.

If you go to Japan, don’t get caught in the lazy pattern of clinging to your dislikes, as if in letting go of them you will lose some of who you are. You won’t. Actually, you will become something more than what you were.

When you go to Japan, take a train into the country and visit an Onsen. Smell the mineral baths and the autumn leaves. Sample the mushroom flavored ice cream. Drink some green tea and try the Miso soup. Walk around a train station and smell the eclectic pastries, dumplings, and incenses.

As you board the plane that will take you back to America, if you find yourself missing the smell of fish, then you will know that you’ve won.