From New York Styles Magazine, Women’s Fashion Fall 2008:

J.F.K., on the other hand, smelled the same as always: floor cleaner, jet fuel and cigarettes. Korean Air Flight 82 smelled, surprisingly, like little at all. I think I’m becoming anosmic to airplane smell. It used to mesmerize me. The smell of flight! Now it’s background radiation, undifferentiated. […]
We landed in Shanghai at 8:10pm. in the dark. As we taxied, I got ready for the transition. Everyone knows, though most people don’t think about it, that travel consists of a strange kind of olfactory gate: there is a very precise point, where you pass from the plane’s smell, the international sterile zone, to your destination’s smell. this is the moment you brain, not just your body, actually arrives. You enter Mumbai, and you smell a humid, gaseous thickness; San Francisco, a thin, dry astringency; Tokyo, plastic and sour cherries. (Nasal Passage by Chandler Burr)

I’m not sure what that smell was, but Narita airport has its own distinct smell. Japanese hospitals have that exact smell, also. (For most of my childhood I was dragged to various hospitals in Japan to visit my grandfather. Also I had a lot of family working there.) I don’t think it was sour cherries, though. It is something faintly office-y, but sweet. Like sweetened clean laundry… Not the smell of detergents but the laundry machines.

(And as another aside note, that idea might not be as far-fetched as it seems. I just remembered why I might associate a faint soured fruit smell with laundry. In Kagoshima at my grandmother’s house, she has a sunroom/roof that is enclosed by glass. They have a washer downstairs and they move the laundry up to dry. There, she also dries out plum so that she can pickle them and make home-made umeboshi. THAT is delicious and whenever I went up there in the summer, the heat, smell, and laundry would smell a certain way that wasn’t all that bad.)

The original point I wanted to make was that I didn’t feel anything about going to Japan until I actually arrived. This has never happened before. In the past, whenever I went to Japan I had a clear goal in mind. It was either to see family or take care of some documents. It was never “just to sight-see,” and I didn’t start doing that until recently. I felt happy to be getting away, but other than that i felt almost apathetic. That is until I stepped out of the plane through the terminal and was on our way to customs. The smell of the airport (and I spent a lot of time in this airport) WAS THE SAME… and reminded me of other office buildings in Japan. There was a quality there that was very much indescribable. At that moment I felt an overwhelming sentimentality and an euphoria to be there.

About me

Blogging since 1996. You can find her in Brooklyn, with a spicy Bloody Mary. Love food. Aspiring DIYer. Addicted to buying gadgets.

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