Everyone knows that smells are a strong memory cue. They can produce quick emotional or behavioral responses from people, too. For example, the smell of vomit can quickly make people sick. All the years I have been living in Japanhave not caused me to stop experiencing either culture shock or homesickness. Of course I still have both to varying degrees from occasion to occasion, and I always will. For the most part, home for me remains in Canada, although that might seem ridiculous to an objective observers considering the reality of my life and its history. Home is where the heart is? No, home is where the books are, and mine are all in long term storage in Ontario.
When I first came to Japan I was put off by the common smells: cooking wafting from the kitchen windows of neighborhood homes; fishy foods in the supermarket; incense burning at the Shinto shrines, etc. They were so foreign. Now, however, there are two common smells that are quite comfortable for me and which make me think of “home” in a way: the dried hay smell of the traditional grass tatami matsthat are still commonly used in homes, and the smell of hot soybean curd soup, called misosoup. (It’s delicious andit’s healthy.) After returning from trips to Canadaand once more catching these smells in the air, they make me feel good.
My olfactory impression of Canada centers on the smell of freshly cut grass, of cedar resign in the hot summer time, of rotting leaves in the autumn, of wet earth, and of baked sugar from the batches of Christmas cookies that Mom began making in the fall before squirreling them away in the cellar for later holiday use. My family never had a cottage to escape to in the summer time. We had a camper instead. But if we had had a cottage I am sure that the smell of outboard motor gasoline and life preserver mold would be a poignant cue for me.