No sweat: app aims to alert office workers when they start to stink
Daniel Hurst in Tokyo
Japanese developers say device could help bring end to ‘sumehara’, or ‘smell harassment’, by those who disturb colleagues with their body odour
Worried your body odour is out of control but suspect your colleagues are too polite to say anything about it? Now there’s an app for that, too.
A Japanese tech company has begun selling a device that allows people to self-test their sweaty exteriors for three categories of smell.
The pocket-sized detector, which looks like a tape recorder, connects by Bluetooth to a smartphone app that divulges the potentially ominous results in a suitably discreet manner.
Konica Minolta, the firm previously best known for producing cameras and printers, believes there is a market for the odour checker in Japan because people are “particularly sensitive to smell”.
There is even a word in Japanese for the behaviour of office workers who annoy others with their noxious aromas – sumehara, or “smell harassment”.
At a launch event in Tokyo on Thursday, this reporter discovered the inevitable consequences of walking 30 minutes in the searing summer sun to get to the venue.
A check behind the ear revealed fairly high readings of sweat smells and middle-fat odours. “Immediately care is needed,” the app warned in a message on the results page.
There was, however, nothing detected in the category kareishū – which translates as old-age smell, commonly associated with the substance 2-nonenal.
Daisuke Koda, who is the incubation lead at Konica Minolta Japan’s business innovation centre, said the idea arose after a discussion he had with several male colleagues, all aged about 40, two years ago.
They were discussing the increasingly intense summer heat and confided in each other that they sometimes were afraid of how they smelled.
“We looked for a device to measure body smell, only to find that there was no device at all to tell the different types of smells,” Koda told the Guardian.
“That prompted us to think it might be an opportunity for a new business and we continued our research further deeper.”
Studies showed that the number one etiquette concern in the workplace was body smell, Koda added. At the same time, people found it difficult to speak out about another colleague’s odours.
“We see challenges that these people are aware of but nobody has a solution for,” he said.
The resulting device is called Kunkun Body, which takes its name from the Japanese word for sniff. It can be used to test for smells in four locations: near the head, behind the ear, under the armpit and around the feet.
The device is available to Japanese buyers as part of a set of care products in a crowdfunding drive launched on Thursday morning. Early adopters are offered discounts on the recommended retail price of 30,000 yen (US$265 or £206) with the devices set to be delivered later this year.
The company said it had no current plans to sell the device outside Japan.
It’s not the first device aimed at addressing smell-related worries in Japan. Last year, Sony released a portable aroma diffuser called Aromastic. Owners of the device, dubbed an “aromatic Walkman”, can select which scent they want to be emitted in their vicinity.
In a bid to beat the notoriously hot and humid summer conditions, people in Japan often carry around handkerchiefs to wipe away sweat and parasols to block the sun’s rays.
In June last year, retailers and manufacturers reported an increase in sales of antiperspirants and wipe products compared to the previous year, according to a report by Jiji Press. ■