Bus clean

25th November, 2005

For the past 4 years I have lived in Western Japan, a place where, surprisingly, designer fragrances CAN be found at affordable prices, though inevitably no one will ever understand you when you tell them what you are wearing because they have their own way of pronouncing Western words. My "Versace Blue Jeans" becomes "Ve-ru-sa-su Bu-ru Ji-n-zu" and my "Clinique Happy" becomes "Ku-ri-ni-ku Hah-pi".

"Why is this?" you ask. Well, it's all thanks to a little something called "Katakana", a Japanese written system used for all foreign words and names. Generally Katakana is a collection of consonants that have a variety of vowel endings such that letters like s, p, or t simply don't exist, instead they become sa, shi, su, se or so...and so on...

When I used to ask my roommate his opinion on my fragrances I could rest assured that his answers would always be predictable. His responses used to be "nice" or "ummmm", but recently, under my tutelage, they now range from "ra-be-n-da (lavender)", to "nu-su-pe-pa (newspaper)", to "ba-ni-ra (vanilla)" and our conversations usually go something like this.

Marlen: "Hey, Koji, what do you think of this one (Alessandro dell'Acqua for Men)?"

Koji: "Hmmmmmmmm."

Marlen: "Well?"

Koji: "So-pu."

Marlen: "Yeah, it is kinda soapy, how about this (Adventure Quasar)?"

Koji: "Hmmmmmmm."

Marlen: "Yeah?"

Koji: "Fru-tsu."

Marlen: "Yeah, I get apple and melon...And this?"

Koji: "Ba-su Ku-ree-n."

Marlen: "What?"

Koji: "Ba-su Ku-ree-n."

I have to stop and ponder this one. To him it makes perfect sense and he looks at me like I'm nuts for not knowing what he's referring to.

Koji: "You know, Ba-su Ku-ree-n."

Marlen: "Bus Clean?"

Koji: "Yeah, Ku-r-ee-n for your Ba-su."

Marlen: "So I smell like bus cleaner?

Koji: "No, not ba-su ku-ri-na, Ba-su Ku-ree-n ....you know!"

Marlen: "Oh, bath clean?"

Koji: "Maybe."

Marlen: "Maybe?"

Koji: "Just a name, ba-su ku-ree-n-yo!"

Marlen: "uh-huh...so what does it smell like, Bath Clean?"

Koji: "You use it in the bath-yo! Many types of smells, but the basenote is always same."

At this last remark I know I have truly taught him well - "the base is the same." That's my boy. He's learning to discern the different levels of notes in a composition.

Marlen: "So is it Bath Cream, or Bath Clean?"

Koji: "What?"

Marlen: "Bath whatever."

Koji: "Huh?"

Marlen: "Ba-su Ku-ree-n - the ku-ree-n part, is it meant to be 'clean' or 'cream'?"

Koji: "I don't know."

And so goes so many of our conversations. It keeps life interesting.

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About the author: Marlen Harrison

Dr Marlen Harrison is the perfumer/owner of King’s Palace Perfumery, as well as creator/editor of ThePerfumeCritic.com, founded in 2006. As well as Basenotes, Harrison has contributed to Fragrantica, NowSmellThis, BeautyAddictMag and The Washington Blade.

Website: http://www.marlenharrison.com/

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    • Concord | 25th November 2005 10:32

      Great read Marlen! I learned a new Katahana word the other day: Karafuru. Apparently it means colourful.

    • BrothaG | 25th November 2005 13:27

      Awesome column! I love those differences in languages. Are there any good local fragrances that you've found, Marlen?

      A friend of mine from China is going to send me a Chinese fan with a traditional Chinese fragrance sprayed onto it. I'm really curious to smell what Asia has to offer.

    • Prince Barry | 25th November 2005 16:30

      Fabulous reading Marlen.

      I can understand the hilarity of the situation with me being a Japanese Reiki Master.


    • scenteur7 | 25th November 2005 21:34

      Barry - then you know exactly what I'm talking about!

      BrothaG - most likely it's a sandalwood fan. It's quite common to make fans of thin strips of sandalwood...very aromatic and easy to revive by spraying or wiping with sandalwood oil once the scent dies down. I actually haven't come across anyexclusive Japanese scents that are must-haves...with the exception of Kanebo's discontinued Goce.

      Concord - see, that's hilarious to me, because we have the French supermarket Carrefour here...the two words Carrefour and Colorful are pronounced exactly the same! Karafuru

      Pigeon - thanks for the kudos!


    • kaos.geo | 27th November 2005 19:50


      I think he is talkin about bathroom cleaner...

      Here in Argentina we have a brand and when something smells like that it is "Smells Like Pinolux"

      Which is always a different fruit or something else but with and underlying pine note...

      Well that's my two cents...

      I am a Japanese language student, so I understand how frustrating katakana can be!

      I envy you that you can get designer fragrances at cheap prices.. Here inArgentina after a brutal devaluation everything is expensive... but you can find hard to get fragrances in small perfume shops in buenos aires, remnants of the 90's cheap exchange rate...I found yesterdat Giorgio Beverly Hills Red for men..(not a great find, you might add, but it IS discontinued, I should sell it on ebay! ;) ).

      I enjoy your column...keep it up!


    • scenteur7 | 27th November 2005 22:49

      Thanks for your reply Kaos, and welcome to Basenotes!

      I too thought it might be a bathroom cleaner, but now that I actually see Basu Kureen in the supa-ma-ke-to, I see that it is indeed nothing more than a shower gel/moisturizing bath cream....Still have no clue if the cream is actually meant to be clean...or...well, you get the gist...

    • Vibrant_Violet | 2nd December 2005 09:11

      Hi Marls;

      I used "Bath Clean" every day when I was in Japan. They have various kinds of bath salts, but "Bath Clean" (Tsumura) was one of the most popular brands. They come as different scents, but when I grew up in Japan, the standard Bath Clean was jamin-flavored. Because of this, whenever we (my generation) smell real jasmin, we tend recall Bath Clean. Same rule can be applied to kinmokusei (Japanese osmanthus). Just because one of the most commonly used toilet deodorizer/fragrance was called Sawaday, and the most popular Sawaday had this artificial scent of kinmokusei. WHENEVER we smell real kimmokusei, it reminds us of bathroom (toilet). Isn't that funny?


    • scenteur7 | 4th December 2005 00:24


      Thank for finally clearing this up - so it IS "Bath Clean"! I think Bath Clean for Japanese is probably like a lot of Americans who reference everything to Pledge, Windex, and Bounce!