- We’re not sure whether knowing precisely how you smell is a blessing or a curse.
Nobody wants to smell bad, right? Most people pride themselves on cleanliness these days, and it’s probably safe to say that a vast majority of cultures consider reeking of body odor offensive.
That is despite the fact that sales of deodorant have collapsed due to the COVID-19 containment measures. But have you ever wanted to know exactly how good – or awful – you smell?
Well, the good news is that now you can. At least if you live in Japan.
It’s all thanks to entrepreneur Shota Ishita. The 30-year-old recently launched a company called Odorate – a portmanteau or “odor” and “rate” – which will use science to analyze your body odor and report back to you.
According to Ishita, only 1% of the population is so preoccupied with their personal smell to the point that it might cause them anxiety. But that percentage in Japan equals to more than a million people.
“It’s something they can’t bring up with friends or family. Getting the facts is a huge relief for them,” he told CBS News.
This photo is actually pre-pandemic. The masks are for the smell.
Fear and Self Loathing
Ishita knows what he’s talking about. After all, he himself used to be in that 1%. While completing his post-graduate studies, a fear of smelling so bad that people around him became uncomfortable haunted him day and night.
His studies at the Hitotsubashi University kept him so busy that he often slept in his lab, reported Asahi Shimbun. Needless to say, such an intense work schedule didn’t exactly leave him with much time for bathing.
As time went on, Ishida started noticing that people around him were behaving strangely. He thought they were opening windows in his presence or turning their faces slightly away when speaking to him.
Was this because he just smelled so bad? Ishida couldn’t be sure, and as a result he started covering himself with an antiperspirant body spray.
But his anxiety remained, and eventually he reached a breaking point. Even the slightest changes in people’s behavior became enough to make him feel dreadful about himself.
Finally, he went to see a trusted friend and asked for an honest opinion about whether his stench was that off-putting. The friend looked at Ishida a bit funny and told him that he smelled perfectly normal.
What a relief.
Business is Good
His experiences with being nervous about his body odor are what inspired Ishida to start his business. And that business is booming.
More than 1,000 people have already commissioned Ishida to analyze their body odor, even though his company has been open for business less than a year. At a price of roughly $150 per analysis, that’s a decent bit of profit.
Money is of course always welcome, but according to Ishida, he is doing this with a mind to help people who suffer like did.
“People who are worried about their body odor can’t share their problem with anyone, so they take it more seriously. I’d like them to judge it based on objective data,” he said.
Most of Odorate’s customers are working people in their 40s. But both older and younger smell-conscious customers have contacted them.
Ishida says that most of his clients don’t actually smell bad based on his analysis. They’re simply living in a constant state of baseless fear – just like he did.
Odorate uses a gas chromatography mass spectrometer (GC-MS) technology to perform the odor analysis. Ishida got the machine used for around $50,000 – meaning that it has already paid itself back several times over.
People who sign up for the service receive a package from Odorate. It contains a T-shirt and a container of activated charcoal.
The company instructs the client to past the charcoal material onto the T-shirt to absorb odors. They must then wear that T-shirt for 24 hours before shipping it back to the company.
The service price includes postage, by the way.
The GC-MS machine then analyzes the T-shirt, looking for 25 different chemicals associated with unpleasant body odors. Finally, the company gives the client’s odor a rating on a scale of 1 to 5.
Should the client get a less-than-great odor rating, they will ultimately receive advice on how to wash themselves and their clothes, among other measures to counteract a nasty stench.
Haunted by the Stench
The Japanese have a reputation for extreme cleanliness, but a bad body odor is apparently considered a big issue. Big enough that is has received its own moniker – the Japanese call is sumehara, a term that comes from the English words “smell harassment.”
Sumehara is mostly a concern in the workplace, but it can also be a problem in Japan’s often crowded public transportation, reports Grape. Unlike sexual or some other kinds of harassment, sumehara is not intentional, though that probably doesn’t make it any more pleasant.
Body odor used to be considered a mere annoyance, but in recent years Japanese corporations have toughened their stance. Now, they emphasize their employee’s personal responsibility in keeping themselves smelling springtime fresh.
Against this backdrop, it’s no wonder that Ishida is expanding his operations. He’s launching a new armpit-only analysis service, and is also considering an analysis kit for bad breath.
Suppose that’s one way to keep the country clean.