After having lived in Japan for a number of years, you get used to the certain ways in which it smells kinda different to your home country. For example, people here tend to wear less cologne and perfume so you’re not as likely to have your nostril hairs singed by someone who has doused themselves with eau de celeb as you share a train carriage on your morning commute. On the other hand, smoking is absolutely everywhere in Japan and you can expect to come home with your hair and clothes stinking of smoke after barely an hour at your local izakaya, even if you never touch the cancer sticks yourself.

But a new survey conducted by an oral care company has found evidence that suggests one of the things foreign visitors to Japan notice is the huge number of people with bad breath! Apparently, this halitosis has left many a foreigner visitor “disappointed” with the country, whatever that means…

The online survey, conducted by the Oral Protect Consortium, interviewed 600 Japanese men and women aged from 20 to 40, as well as 100 “foreigners” of no specified age or nationality. Both groups were asked a range of questions relating to dental health and oral hygiene in Japan.

First, let’s sink our teeth into the questions these “foreigners” were asked:

Have you ever been disappointed by a Japanese person’s bad breath?
Yes: 72%
No: 28%

Would you like Japanese people to be more meticulous about oral hygiene?
Yes, I strongly think so: 24%
Yes, I think so: 48%
No, not really: 26%
No, not at all: 2%

Do you think Japanese people should try to improve their oral hygiene in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, in your opinion as a foreigner?
No, not really: 57%
Yes: 31%
Yes, I strongly think so: 12%

Next, the Japanese participants were polled on their brushing and flossing habits:

How many times a day do you attend to your oral hygiene?
Once or less: 29%
Twice: 43%
Three times: 26%
More than three times: 2%

To be honest, this survey is a little bit broad for our liking. For a start, it’s never specified what exactly ‘attending to oral hygiene’ entails – is it brushing, flossing, tongue scraping, gargling with mouthwash, water picking, regularly visiting the dentist, chewing gum after eating, praying to the tooth fairy, or all or a combination of the above? We also feel that some of the questions posed to the “foreigners” demographic were kind of leading. Additionally, it seems to this writer that rather than worrying about Japanese halitosis putting foreigners off during the Tokyo Olympics, we should instead be thinking about making more places smoke-free, since while catching a whiff of stinky breath won’t kill you, second-hand smoke might, and you don’t have to take bad breath home with you in your clothes and hair like you do others’ cigarette smoke…

▼ “My breath may stink of fish, but that’s my purr-rogative as a cat!”


Regarding oral health in general, it seems like many Japanese people do take certain steps towards oral health care that others in different countries might not. This is just my own experience, but in every Japanese office I’ve worked in, almost everyone brings a personal toothbrush to work in order to brush their teeth in the restrooms after lunch, something I’ve only ever seen people in my native UK when they have corrective braces. Also, there’s a huge array of breath mints and gum available for sale here, including special capsules which you swallow and which prevent stinky things you’ve eaten from coming back to life via the medium of your burps. Also, while perfectly straight, dazzlingly white teeth aren’t seen here with anything near the frequency of, say, the United States or Canada, Japanese dental care isn’t bad and is generally focused on tooth health rather than on appearance. After all, a slight snaggletooth is considered cute in Japan.

Perhaps these kind of surveys should be taken with a pinch of salt. After all, not everything you read online is going to be the whole tooth, right?

Source: MyNavi News via Jin115
Main Image: Flickr/Ray Larabie