- 青い畳, or green tatami mats. When I visited Japan in 1993 with Garfield Orchestra, we stayed in a newly built resort in Kobe that had green tatami. (The place we stayed was 神戸市の総合福祉ゾーンしあわせの村, in case I ever want to go back.) Anytime I step into a place with fresh tatami, I feel like I’m back in Japan.
- 石油, or kerosene. As much as you try not to, you spill gas everywhere. And the stoves rarely seem to burn it clean. Reminds me of my time staying in a very old Japanese house in Sendai. Though I burned a lot of fuel, the heat went right out through the roof. Perhaps if my bed was elevated I might have gotten some of that heat.
- 炊飯, or cooked rice. Open up your rice cooker sometime and put your face into it. You may become addicted to it. (Wait for the rice to finish steaming or your wife will complain that you’ve let out all the moisture.)
- 洗濯石けん. Laundry soap scent. Yet another chemical smell, but oddly puts me back in Japan. I don’t use scented laundry soap at home, so perhaps the American stuff is similar. When traveling I seem to hit the same scent every time. When you’re drying clothes in your hotel room it hits even harder.
- コンビニ店. It seems every convenience store (Family Mart, 7-11) standardizes their scent. Since you seem to go into one all the time, it becomes a smell you learn. Does it come from combining the oden (fish cakes in broth) with fresh magazine chemical smell? I don’t know how they do it.
- タバコ. Tobacco or cigarette smoke. Hey, they still smoke in restaurants in Japan. It’s not that the smell is unique to Japan, you just notice it in different places than you’re used to and it reminds you you’re not in your home country anymore.
- 廊下のカビか. Wander the closed air hallways of apartments in Japan and there’s some sort of stale odor. In Seattle apartment hallways, we end up with mildew and mold smells. There’s a similar unpleasantness going on in closed air spaces there, but probably with different mold species or something.
- 杉風呂. Cedar bathtubs. Every time I come across one, I decide I want one at home. I’ll probably never own one, though.
I’ll probably add more smells as I come to remember them.