Japan:Take nothing for granted  

Thursday, 23 October 2008

One of the most endearing features of Japanese life for a Westerner is that absolutely nothing can be taken for granted. Food is, of course, probably the first culture-shock people experience here. We are not accustomed to having our dinner arrive still attempting to escape, nor do we share the Japanese enthusiasm for plonking raw egg yolks on everything. But long after these occurrences cease to become remarkable, the country still has the capacity to catch you out with some unexpected cultural roadside bomb.

Take, for example, shower gel. A pretty innocuous household substance, that you would think was fairly universal in its formulation and use. But you’d be wrong, for in Japan they strive constantly to achieve perfection – and those good people at Sea Breeze shower gel are no exception.

Sea Breeze is quite a good name for a shower gel I guess – conjuring up images of bracing sea air, the exhilaration of the briny spray with a hint of wind-swept manliness thrown in. Combined with it’s attractive sea-blue bottle, these factors swayed me in its favour over its – frankly – rather effete competitors. However Sea Breeze proved to be a little more appropriate in its name than I bargained for.

Say the word “congestion” and probably the next thing you think of is “menthol” – of course renown for its ability to clear blocked sinuses and ease the breathing. One can almost picture the chain of thought that led the product designers to that eureka moment where Sea Breeze acquired its magically invigorating powers. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Menthol shower gel.

On the face of it, it doesn’t sound too bad. And on the face of it, it isn’t. However it’s a slightly different story when Sea Breeze meets the slightly more delicate parts of one’s anatomy. If you’re not expecting it, a sudden warming sensation in the nether regions can be a slightly alarming experience. There may be a warning on the bottle I suppose – but there’s no way I could have know. Perhaps I should suggest some typically cute graphic indication of the likely effects of Sea Breeze when applied inappropriately – Miffy the Rabbit clutching his nuts with a pained expression perhaps?

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