When summer ends, the noisy bugs and sounds of summer disappear and the breeze becomes nice and cool. In Japan, apart from the sign of falling leaves, your nose may also be able to recognize that fall is just around the corner. It will begin to smell a sweet fragrance that may even stop you in your tracks to ponder where the beautiful smell is coming from.
When you begin to search for the source of this heavenly sweet scent, you may see a small tree with tiny orange-yellow flowers planted in almost every backyard.
The little flower is called kinmokusei (金木犀), the fragrant olive flowers, or Osmanthus fragrans. It said to have originated in China (usually used for tea, jam, soup, and other cooking), and was introduced to Japan in the beginning of the Edo period (1600-1868), mainly as a standard for air freshening sprays for your toilet. However nowadays, people don’t think of a toilet when they smell kinmokusei, rather it makes them feel that autumn is definitely coming soon, yay!
The sweet perfume of kinmokusei does not bloom well in a dirty, polluted environment. During the years of Japan’s postwar economy, which was colored by dusty, extensive smog, people could rarely smell the flowers. Kinmokusei has another name in Japanese, “kuriko (九里香),” which is translated as “9-ri-fragrance (35-kilometers fragrance).” As the air in Japan is very clean and the smell stands out more, this name suits the flower well.
You may be able to catch a whiff of the sweet kinmokusei throughout October, as it usually blooms best in September until mid-October. The kinmokusei tree is usually planted in the backyard and alongside the garden. So if you are planning to visit Japan in autumn, remember to follow your nose to this sweet unforgettable fragrance!