Japan firms wage war on 'smell harassment'

Firms in Japan are waging war against "smell harassment", with body odour being one of the biggest culprits.
Firms in Japan are waging war against "smell harassment", with body odour being one of the biggest culprits. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Got stinky colleagues? Japan has a seminar for that.

After a long, sweaty summer, some firms in a nation renowned for its cleanliness are declaring all out war on an office plague known as "smell harassment".

Telling a colleague they stink is touchy stuff, of course.

But personal care product maker Mandom says it has the answer for firms worried about hurting someone's feelings: "smell care" seminars.

Japanese media have picked up the scent on this anti-odour battle, reporting that about 40 employees from mobile giant SoftBank recently attended a session on what causes body odour and how to avoid it.

Smell harassment joins a long list of other office complaints including "alcohol harassment" (forcing a colleague to drink) and karaoke harassment (forcing someone to sing against their will).

In response to the national crisis, eyewear chain Owndays has reportedly created a list of odour regulations for staff amid concerns that poor hygiene could hit sales.

The culprits include sweaty, chain-smoking salarymen, a colleague doused in perfume, and that guy who ate too much breath-destroying garlic at lunch.

Mandom insists the seminars can gently teach offenders to change their ways, and create a more tolerant office.

"Better understanding the mechanism behind and nature of those smells should lead to increased tolerance," said Mandom's Miyuu Sato, optimistically.

Intensive research found a whopping 90 percent of Japanese men emit odours noticeable to others nearby, Sato said.

But the anti-odour firm is also clear on where to draw the line: bullying smelly colleagues into a shower is not the answer.

"Bodily smells are not always a bad thing and they don't always bother people," Sato said.

"Odours are a person's unique characteristic."