What smells are and aren’t ok at offices in Japan?
Has a smell in an office setting ever bothered you? Different people have different senses of smell and notice different things. It is important to understand what smells are ok and what smells aren’t ok in Japanese offices.
Today, I’ll talk about 3 types of smells that may bother people in an office. Some things may be true in any country while others may surprise you. This is just my opinion, what I’ve noticed through my own experience. Things may differ from office to office so I recommend you follow what your office does.
1. What people avoid eating for lunch at work.
Some people go to convenience stores to get things like cup ramen for lunch. Others may bring boxed lunches or eat out somewhere.
There are some things that people avoid eating because of the smell.
Natto, kimchi, yakiniku, and anything that smells strongly of garlic such as gyoza are usually avoided. Even among Japanese people, the smell of natto can be very bothersome. Eating any dish that has a strong smell is generally not acceptable in an office environment. The atmosphere of an office differs place by place and can depend on what kind of people you work with. Even if it is not expressly stated as an official policy, I still recommend that you avoid foods that have strong smells.
Do people brush their teeth at the office?
Yes, they do. After eating lunch, it’s common for people to go and brush their teeth in the bathroom or at a sink. This is to make sure that your breath and teeth are ok for any meetings with customers. Some people also do it out of habit and helps them settle into the latter half of the day.
Westerners may be surprised when seeing this for the first time but know that it is very common thing to do in Japan, especially for people who deal with customers. If there is no place or time to brush their teeth, people usually eat a mint or chew some gum.
In Japan, the number of smokers in Japan has been decreasing over the years.
In 2018 the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare conducted a survey about the health and nutrition of people. Of the 3,268 households surveyed, 29% of men and 8.1% of women said they were smokers.
Most building prohibit smoking indoors unless there is a designated smoking room. If you go outside and smoke please take care and eat a mint or something to get rid of the smell. The smell of cigarettes can make some people uncomfortable.
I recall seeing a small mountain of cigarette butts inside a company car just a few years ago. At the time my coworkers always smoked while driving. How smoking is viewed has changed a lot in the years since then. Nowadays people care more about the smell of smoking.
3. Perfume, cologne, and other fragrances. Daily bathing.
People in Japan usually take a bath or shower every day so they don't feel the need to use perfume or other fragrances to mask body odor.
Perfume is used more as part of one’s ensemble.
Please don't use too much perfume while in Japan. Instead of using perfume and other fragrances, people sometimes use a mildly scented wet sheet to wipe away sweat. These sheets are called “Asefuki sheet” (汗ふきシート) in Japanese.
Some companies have rules about perfumes or hand creams that are too strongly scented.
Please make sure to follow what others do.
The word kogai (公害) usually means pollution but recently a new word kogai (香害) has surfaced and it means fragrance pollution.
Kogai (香害) refers to smells that could cause annoyance. Related to it is, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity which is an unrecognized controversial diagnosis that blames exposure to low levels of common chemicals for chronic health issues. This diagnosis is not recognized by any professional medical organization.
Recently, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity has been gaining more attention in Japan. Micro capsules and other things meant to attach smells to things are thought to cause allergies and other conditions. Fabric softeners, materials used in buildings, cosmetics, face washes, and the smoke from cigarettes are also thought to aggravate allergies and other health problems. Based on this thinking some believe fragrances can cause health problems.
Another word that people sometimes use in office is “smell harassment” ” (スメルハラスメント). I think people are more sensitive to smells than ever before. Please take consideration to not cause problems for people around you due to your smell. Please carefully make sure items you use such as fabric softeners and perfume do not cause problems for those around you. Rules vary from workplace to workplace so pay attention to your own office’s environment and act accordingly.