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Oct 17, 2012

Kinmokusei 金木犀: this is what that smell is

Japan smells like perfume for a few weeks in the fall. The reason is the fragrant olive tree, or kinmokusei in Japanese. It has dark, pointed oval leaves like a regular olive tree and clusters of little bright orange flowers. I don't remember ever smelling this at home. The sweet smell was so strong in my neighborhood in Miyazaki that it was almost nauseating on warm evenings. I wondered if it's ever actually used in perfume.
It turns out that it is used as a fragrance, but not very often. And this is not without reason—from the 70's to the mid-90's, kinmokusei was the only game in town when it came to toilet deodorizers. For the majority of Japanese people old enough to remember, the smell is too closely associated with bathrooms to be repurposed. Way to ruin nature!
It seems like this may be changing, though, as other scents like lavender and soap take over bathroom duty. I bought some hand cream the other day, a fall-only limited fragrance called Osmanthus. It smelled nice, but not familiar. I gave some to a coworker to try, and she looked up the name and said "Ohhhh, of course! Kinmokusei! You know that tree, right? Everyone knows that tree!"

3 comments:

Dan said...

oh man, thanks for solving that riddle. I'd catch the scent, then wander around like a drunk bloodhound trying to identify it.

Sandra said...

I know that feeling! I thought it was persimmons for the longest time...

Mark Williams said...

We love the smell of kinmokusei in the fall. Our neighbors have it in their yards. My wife and I love it so much, we found this great Chinese liqueur made of the stuff!

http://www.bazarasu.jp/c_china/c_kanmi/index.html

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