Today is April Fools’ Day, and if you’re planning to spend it on the internet, you’re no doubt prepared for a barrage of “hilarious” brand-fed pranks that’ll make you more or less write off the legitimacy of any news all day.
Japan can be a little bit different.
A few weeks ago, Burger King’s local arm announced that it would produce a limited-edition meat perfume called “Flame-Grilled Fragrance” and sell it on April 1st. “Burger King customers can wear the much-loved, flame-grilled patty scent on their bodies, letting them feel like they’re in a restaurant any time,” read an excited press release. But the date, along with the fact that Burger King’s most famous sandwich is named after a synonym for “lie,” led many to believe that it was an early April Fools’ joke.
I wasn’t so sure. If any country in the world would sell an obviously ridiculous product for one day only, it’d have to be Japan: geographically small, ultra-efficient local manufacturing, and a significant number of people willing to line up for almost anything. So, down I went to my nearest Burger King this morning to see what was up.
Burger King’s Shibuya outlet is a minute’s walk down the busiest pedestrian street off the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world, so I figured there’d be some turnout. Sure enough, when I arrived at around 10AM, there were a few people waiting inside for the fragrance, and by the time it went on sale half an hour later there was a line snaking up the staircase.
Flame-Grilled Fragrance costs ¥5,000, which is about $42. You do get a Whopper with it, but no fries or drink are included, which I felt was kind of outrageously stingy for the price. I don’t ever really go to Burger King — though I did attempt to eat a seven-patty "Windows 7 Whopper" at this very store upon the 2009 release of Microsoft’s OS — and I don’t even have breakfast most days, let alone burgers. But I don’t usually walk all the way to Shibuya in the morning, either, so I dutifully ate the Whopper. It was surprisingly bad. Burgers might not be the most obvious example of Tokyo gourmet, but this is actually a great city for them, and I can confirm that there is no good reason to go to Burger King here.
Unless they’re selling dumb, limited-edition perfume, of course. So how about it?
The human nose only has around 400 types of scent receptors, but some researchers believe that these can work together with the brain to identify at least one trillion different odors. I’m telling you this because without having your own bottle of Flame-Grilled Fragrance on hand, it’ll be difficult to understand just how little it smells like a burger.
Words do not exist in the English language to describe what Flame-Grilled Fragrance smells like. It’s something like the burnt-rubber skidmarks left by a box-fresh-MacBook-carrying courier scooter after it crashed into a bacon salt factory. If I ever had to appear on Family Feud and name this scent, "Burger King Whopper" would be a few hundred billion down the list of trillion possibilities.
It is truly, unspeakably terrible
It is truly, unspeakably terrible, and I say that as someone who only ever wears a fragrance that’s meant to evoke cigars.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but I don’t think believable hamburger perfume is beyond the reach of science. Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, which I read over a decade ago in my pre-Japan, hardcore vegetarian days, has a great section where the author visits International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), a giant company that manufactures artificial scents and flavor agents for various foods and perfumes.
"[Senior flavorist Brian] Grainger’s most remarkable creation took me by surprise," Schlosser wrote. "After closing my eyes, I suddenly smelled a grilled hamburger. It smelled like someone else in the room was flipping burgers on a hot grill. But when I opened my eyes, there was just a narrow strip of white paper and a smiling flavorist."
Burger King appears not to have consulted such miracle-workers when developing Flame-Grilled Fragrance. Which, well, was probably the right decision for a joke product that’s only available for one day. So, while I could maybe at least claim "journalistic interest," at the end of the day they won by getting the least-deserved ¥5,000 ever out of me.
It turns out the biggest April Fools are the ones falling for things that are actually real.