TsukuBlog

A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Kinmokusei (金木犀) Blossoms Give a Sweet Accent to the Autumn Air

 

Kinmokusei blossoms of October are considered one of Japan`s three great fragrant flowers- along with Daphne (Jincho-ge,沈丁花), of early spring, and the common gardenia ( kuchinashi, 梔子), of early summer

Kinmokusei blossoms of October are considered one of Japan`s three great fragrant flowers- along with Daphne (Jincho-ge,沈丁花), of early spring, and the common gardenia ( kuchinashi, 梔子), of early summer

On October 6th 2013 the Sports Festival of the Matsushiro Kindergarten was held in a park almost completely surrounded by kinmokusei in bloom- bathing the participants and onlookers in  their heavy scent

in September Matsushiro Park was almost completely surrounded by kinmokusei in bloom- bathing passersby in their heavy scent

 

By Avi Landau

In Japan it is almost always pleasant to take an OCTOBER STROLL through the countryside, parks, or even residential neighborhoods. And though here on the flatlands of the Kanto Plain the leaves will not turn their colorful best until late November or early December, there are still plenty of eye-pleasing plants of the season to make a nice long walk well worth your while- the spectacular spider lilies ( higanbana), fruit bearing persimon( kaki), pomegranate (zakuro) and fig (ichijiku) trees and dancing fields of cosmos flowers or pampas grass being among the most impressive and representive of this area. Your meanderings will almost surely be to the sorrowful accompaniment of Japans autumn insects, whose melancholy chirpings might just get you in the mood to philosophize and ponder the meaning of it all- the passing nature of all things, in particular.

And it is not only the sights and sounds which are pleasing ( and moving). As you make your way past private homes or through parks, every now and then, you nose will encounter a sweet perfume which will probably stop you in your tracks. When you search for the source of this fruity scent, you see a tree generously bedecked in small clusters of tiny light-orange flowers.

If you didnt stop and take the effort to look, you might never have noticed these blossoms of the KINMOKUSEI (Osmanthus fragrans var.aurantiacus), a tree which was introduced to Japan from China sometime during the Edo Period (1600-1868), and which  is now VERY commonly planted along roads and paths, in parks and the gardens of private homes- not for the beauty of its blossoms but for their amazing October smell.

Kinmokusei

And though many Japanese love this blossom`s fragrance ( my friend Asako-San even keeps a blossom laden sprig in her car), it iconic status as one of the great fragrances has ironically led to this flower ( and its smell) being connected in the minds of many Japanese to something much less charming the latrine or outhouse- in other words THE TOILET!!

The reason for this is simple. Since its odor is so pleasing fresh kinmokusei`s blossoms have long been used as an air-freshener by placing them in foul smelling places. In recent years, kinmokusei  is standard fragrance for the air-freshening sprays or sticks used in restrooms, both public and private.

Kinmokusei

And while in China, where its blossoms are  often found used as  a motif  in legend, poetry, and the arts, the kinmokusei`s berries are used to make a popular sweet and fragrant wine called KEIKA CHIN SHU (guihu chenju, 桂花陳酒, in Chinese), for many Japanese the idea of drinking  such a beverage does not sound very appealling- since it reminds them of the toilet!

In fact, I was surprised to find out that in Japan, the female kinmokusei trees, the ones that produce the berries are very rare! I repeat. Though this species has separate male and female trees, in Japan there are extremely few berry producing females!

A close-up of the kinmokusei`s flowers

There are three other varieties of MOKUSEI, that you might encounter in Japan: the GINMOKUSEI (var.fragrans f. fragrans), and the USUMOKUSEI (var.aurantiacus f. thumbergii), though these are much less fragrant ( and much less common).

You will probably be able to catch a whiff of the KINMOKUSEI thoughout this month, as it usually blooms  ( depending on where you are in Japan) in September and October.

Keep your noses open!

Kinmokusei

P.S.

If you live in Tsukuba, a great place to experience kinmokusei is by walking or slowly cycling down the pedestrian path which runs from between the tennis courts and baseball field to the post office and supermarket (now being demolished!). The path is lines on both sides with kinmokusei in bloom.

Today I got a kick out of watching people coming down the path and suddenly stopping to look for the source of what they had just smelled!

Kinmokusei tree line the path passing by the Teshirogi Koryu Center in Matsushiro, Tsukuba

An IMMENSE kinmokusei tree in Tsukuba`s Hakke neighborhood

Another look

Kinmokusei placed on the dashboard to freshen up a car

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Kinmokusei blossoms in Matsushiro, Tsukuba

Kinmokusei blossoms in Matsushiro, Tsukuba

Oh, by the way. In English this tree is variously referred to as the sweet olive, fragrant olive, or tea olive.



2 Comments

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Odor, smell or perfume, I think ordinary Japanese are rather sensitive for these.
    I like odors of Kinmokusei and Chinchyouge very much because they are light odors and acceptable inside houses. They are no problem for me in the rest room or living room, but not in the kitchen.
    The oder of the wild lily is OK outside, but too much in inside the house.

    I think perfume for ladies is not very common in Japan, I felt it on very few occasions in the Tsukuba area, sometimes in Tokyo from housewives or working ladies. If you rode very crowded trains or trams you could detect perfume on few occassions. I think usually Japanese ladies use very slight perfume or none. So for usual Japanese people it is a little bit of surprise to recognize rather strong uses of perfume especially by non Asian foreign ladies. “Marilyn Monroe and Chanel No 5” by this phrase many Japanese senior boys did get knowing that famous perfume.

    There are many drinking places in so called Nomiya-gai (drinking-beverage in bars or clubs alongside streets) in Ginza, Ueno, Shibuya, Ikebukuro and so on. There are many ladies working to attend guests by chatting or so, they are called Hostesses. Those ladies never used perfume to prevent their male guest to be questioned by their spouses after went back to there homes (So I heard). I heard there has been elegant tradition to burn fumes in aristocratic world in Japan which Avi-san knows well.

    Smells of foods are also important except Sashimi which usually non odor. Smell of Unagi-No-Kabayaki(grilled eel),Yakitori(grilled chicken), and Grilled fish made us to wake our appetite and in this season Matsutake( King of mushroom for Japanese) we just say “Oh Oh Oh”.

    There is queer fish product called Kusaya (fermented fish in special sauce), it has strong smell something like odor in rest room. It smells strong before grilling but during grilling the smell would be so strong that for some one 200m distant can smell.
    When I transferred to Australia one of my close friend who was a big whole seller of Tsukiji-fish market presented me something at Narita-Airport, I was told that it was Kusaya rapped heavily, at Sydney air port a quarantine officer asked me to open for check, I opened, he instantly said “Oh its terrible!! Please go away quickly”. I also didn’t like the smell even some maniac did like those smell and taste (they are usually very food- sophisticated-eating people). Several days later after I found a house and moved in, the first thing for me to do was digging a hole and bury that expensive gift of Kusaya.
    Even order of Kinmoksei or Chanel No 5 could not win this smell.

  • Avi Landau says:

    For an olifactory experience of extreme contrasts have a walk through Tsukuba`s Matsushiro Park.
    There your nose will encounter both the sweet kinmokusei AND the foul gingko nuts ( which my two-year old son calls YELLOW STINKIES) in the same sniff!