The smell of the ocean is something one forgets while living in Tokyo. I mean the bracing, overpowering scent of the sea breeze, not the sort of odor that would be described as "fishy."
I always thought that the closest I got to smelling the ocean was when I ordered a really fresh "kaisen-don" (bowl of rice topped with sashimi) at a restaurant. But I obviously don't have the nose of a professional in the world of scent.
Masataka Hata is president of Shoeido, an old, Kyoto-based maker of traditional Japanese incense with retail outlets in various cities. In a recent issue of Ginza Hyakuten magazine, Hata commented on the smells that greet him when he comes to Tokyo.
"The moment I step out of the train at Tokyo Station, I smell the sea breeze, and I envy Tokyoites," he said.
Shame on me. I work right next to the Tsukiji fish market, but I was never really aware of my close proximity to the waterfront.
In my quest to explore what I had been ignoring, I headed for the Tokyo Gate Bridge, which opened in February this year. Spanning Tokyo Bay, this new landmark is shaped like two dinosaurs facing each other. The design ensures that the bridge will not be in the way of aircraft flying above it or the sea traffic below.
After negotiating the irregular coastline along the wharf, I got on to the bridge from the tail of one of the dinosaurs and reached to the middle of the span.
Below me stretched the outer limits of reclaimed land—the bow of our trading nation, so to speak. Trucks and cargo vessels plied busily.
I was standing 50 meters above the sea. Understandably, all I got were whiffs of exhaust fumes, not the sea breeze. Overhead, a passenger jet loomed huge as it made its final descent to Haneda Airport.
Hata says that the Japanese today are living in an odorless era. The great majority of people around the world are living with strong smells, good or bad, he said, but, here in Japan, it is as if the entire society has been deodorized.
I wonder if overcrowding in the big cities overpowers even the Earth's body odor. It appears that just around the Tokyo Gate Bridge, the salty tang of the breeze from Tokyo Bay becomes diluted to the point where only people with extra-keen noses can detect it.
The bridge’s dinosaurs seemed to gaze back at me. They seemed like the gatekeepers of our stink-free society.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 28
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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