Is It A Rat Or An Old Woman That Smells?

In the previous article, I wrote about one possible reason the Japanese tend to deny the old and always seek for the new. In supermarkets we see many new products launched every week. “The latest” is one of the important keywords for marketing, I guess.

You may often find these signboards in supermarkets, SHIN-HATSUBAI (newly launched)
You may often find these signboards in supermarkets, SHIN-HATSUBAI,
which says “newly launched”.


My previous job was running an importing company and I used to import products, mainly food and beverage, from Europe and sell them in “upscale” department stores. Sometimes I worked as a consultant for European companies that wanted to sell products to Japan, and also for Japanese companies or stores that wanted to search for interesting European products. What many buyers told me shows what Japanese “consumers” want, I think.
Here, I will show you the two important keys to conquer Japanese market with only 10 Euro!!

GEKIYASU! which says “extremely cheap!”, one of the words you may have to learn!



Well, I’m just saying… Put your money back in your purse and debit your account with 10 Euro. When your balance reaches 100 Euro send it to me at one time to save your money for the remittance charge! (lol)



  • Companies should have a long history and tradition.
  • Companies should launch a brand new product once in a year at least.


In Europe there are many shops which have a long history. But normally their importance is fixed on keeping the same quality for their long selling products. That’s a tradition that we should pay respect to, I guess. However, we are too extravagant to be satisfied only with it… Of course, we love famous and traditional brands, maybe too much, on which we can rely for the quality. I mean, the brands which everybody knows that they are expensive or historical can talk on behalf of us that we are wealthy enough to afford them. Moreover, we have to show off that we are well up on the trend to be cool… That’s why stores always need new products to make the sales in good shape. In fact, one Italian family-run company who had been making and selling their products for centuries said to me, “I don’t understand! Are Japanese people conservatives or reformists?” I replied very simply, “Both.”


However, very regrettably, something traditional has been abandoned in Japan. I’ve seen many traditional sweets shops closed in towns. Many people prefer chocolate or cakes rather than Manjū or Dango. I see almost no Futon shop, Tatami shop, or Kimono shop in big cities like Tokyo. Maybe it is only the matter in Tokyo but I think apartments with tatami rooms are hardly seen in newly built buildings. The fact is that many Japanese people tend to prefer Western style, even though tatami is considered cool outside Japan.

Here I picked up some of the traditional Japanese culture which are in the risk of becoming endangered species in our daily lives on my OWN Red List. Unfortunately these are all what differentiate Japan from other countries…


Even drinking green tea with Wagashi at home is also endangered.
Photo by shinzui “かぶせ茶 @ Kissako Tea”


Drinking Matcha at home is even more endangered.
Dango and green tea
Photo by Christian Kaden


Sébastien Bertrand
Sleeping in futon has become a special attraction which can be experienced
only in Ryokon (traditional-style hotel).
Photo by Sébastien Bertrand
“Ready for a good night’s sleep at Wajima Yashio Onsen”


Very beautiful pic of Tatami room "Patterns of Japan" Photo by eesti taken in  旧前田侯爵邸和館, Former Maeda Estate
Very beautiful pic of Tatami room
“Patterns of Japan”
Photo by eesti taken in 旧前田侯爵邸和館, Former Maeda Estate



Many people are not able to wear Kimono by themselves regardless of age.
Photo by 2benny


“Old-fashioned” can be considered very negative in Japan as I wrote in the previous article. There is a word Furu-kusai, which means something/somebody “smelling a musty odor” even though it/he/she does not have any certain smell. Now I would like to introduce some interesting words regarding “SMELL” that teachers in school will never teach you…

Basically, there are two words which stand for Smell in Japanese; KAORI / かおり or NIOI / におい. KAORI is mainly used only for positive sense and a bit more elegant than NIOI, on the other hand, NIOI is flat or rather negative. (But you can use it with adjective good, i.e. “II NIOI” / いいにおい or “YOI NIOI” / よいにおい (good smell).

The adjective for “smell” in Japanese, KUSAI / くさい, is very interesting. It is used only for negative sense and it sometimes stands for more than smell.


[KUSAI / くさい]

  1. having an unpleasant smell
  2. doubtful, questionable, suspicious
  3. too exaggerated, campy (for performance), unnatural


(suffix) ~KUSAI / ~くさい

  1. smell like ~
  2. looks like ~
  3. emphasize the meaning of a connected word


Here are some examples of words with KUSAI used as suffix.

  • AO-KUSAI (あおくさい) = (lit.) Smells green. = inexperienced, immature
  • SHOUBEN-KUSAI (しょうべんくさい) = (lit.) Smells piss. = childish, unsuitable for an adult
  • MIZU-KUSAI (みずくさい) = (lit.) Smells water. = reserved, treating somebody like a stranger, behaving in an unfriendly and too formal way
  • BATA-KUSAI (ばたくさい) = (lit.) Smells butter. = ultra‐Westernized, looking like Westerners

Above are the examples whose meanings becomes different if connected with KUSAI. On the other hand, below are the examples whose meanings is emphasized (mostly negatively) with KUSAI.

  • AHO-KUSAI (あほくさい)= (lit.) Smells an ridicule. = ridiculous
  • INAKA-KUSAI (いなかくさい)= (lit.) Smells a countryside. = rustic, unsophisticated, provincial
  • INKI-KUSAI (いんきくさい) = (lit.) Smells gloom. = gloomy
  • SHIROTO-KUSAI (しろうとくさい) = (lit.) Smells an amateur. = amateurish
  • KECHI-KUSAI (けちくさい) = (lit.) Smells stinginess. = stingy
  • MENDOU-KUSAI (めんどうくさい) = (lit.) Smells a trouble. = troublesome
  • BINBO-KUSAI (びんぼうくさい) = (lit.) Smells poverty. = shabby
  • FURU-KUSAI (ふるくさい) = (lit.) Smells old. = moldy, musty

Only the last example, FURU-KUSAI, as I’ve already written, could refer to some possible smell. But all the others are, as a matter of fact, without any certain smell… The two examples below are, of course, without any certain smell either, but they are commonly used negatively.

  • BABA-KUSAI = (lit.) Smells an old woman.
  • JIJI-KUSAI = (lit.) Smells an old man.

These words are used for people and things which are old-fashioned and not attractive…


Recently, “BI-MAJO” (びまじょ) is becoming popular in Japan. BI-MAJO is written as 美魔女, literally meaning “a beautiful witch”. Can you imagine what it means? BI-MAJO is a beautiful woman who looks extremely young as if she uses magical powers to let her look young.

Here is a link for an website where you can see eighteen finalists of BI-MAJO contest in 2013. The names and the occupations of the nominees are written in Japanese, but you may easily find numers which refer to their age. Surprise!

18 finalists of 4th BI-MAJO contet in 2013

I have absolutely no idea whether it is better to be old or to be young and new… But I’m quite sure that each of them has its own meaning and importance.


Snoozing in Tatami room Photo by monicca
Snoozing in Tatami room
Photo by monicca

にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ

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  1. Hilary より:

    Oh my goodness. I would WIN that contest hands down!! Love all fhe new smell words! I love using nioi although I didn’t know it was so direct. As for tatami and futon stores, I passed both almist every day crossing from Adachi to Kita. I wonder if they are still there? We didn’t explore that direction earlier this year.

    • rei_saionji より:

      Of course, you will win!!! lol
      In Tokyo 23 wards area, Adachi, Kita, Edogawa, Katsushika are the districts where the sanctuaries are kept. The other day I found Kingyo shop in Edogawa! I also like Tito near Nezu and Yanaka, where there are many graves and temples.

  2. Hilary より:

    Wonderful to know! *sigh* I want to be in Japan yesterday.


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