Last Friday, one of my regular students walked in and said that my apartment smelled good. This wasn't the first time this has happened but it was the first time it occurred when I wasn't baking bread in the bread machine or dinner in the slow cooker. The thing my student smelled was Downy fabric softener. She told me that, to her, it smells "like America."
I'm guessing the reason she associates the scent of Downy with the U.S. is that it's one of the most popular brands there and not necessarily because Japanese laundry isn't usually washed with fabric softener. I can't say for sure though since I don't tend to quiz my students about their clothes washing habits and it's not the sort of thing that comes up in casual conversation. I can say that fabric softener is quite expensive in Japan and that Downy is one of the most heavily stocked items at one of our local import shops.
I've always associated fabric softener use with dryers since they prevent static cling. Since most people line dry in Japan, they may not bother to use it so much. The truth is that, after my dryer broke, I stopped using it because of the price, but I recently grew tired of crispy clothes from line drying and had my husband pick up a big jug of Downy from Costco. I guess my student commented on the smell because she hadn't smelled it in my apartment before.
The fact that she associates the smell of Downy with the U.S. made me consider what scents I associate with Japan. One of them is most certainly the hay-like smell of tatami. This is a scent which is especially strong if you close off a room and leave the windows closed then return after half a day. You don't really notice it otherwise. I've been told, however, that our luggage has been infused with this somewhat musty smell and people back home can really pick it up when its used for travel. There are a lot of other smells in Japan, of course, but few are what I'd consider sufficiently unique to it that I'd draw a strong connection to Japan besides the wonderful fragrance of roasting sweet potatoes in autumn and winter and tatami.
As of late, I've been reading a great deal of hateful commentary about the United States on other (Japan-related) sites that I can't help but make this post with the idea in the back of my mind that someone will drop by and make some sort of rude comment about how America or American people smell uniquely bad. I just wanted to take a moment to say that they need not bother to offer such thoughts here as any obviously prejudicial or ugly comments will be rejected in comment moderation.