Monday, October 19, 2009

That autumn aroma

There's been a distinct fragrance permeating the air over the last couple of weeks. It's the smell of きんもくせい (kinmokusei), which is Japanese for Sweet Osmanthus, also known as Tea Olive, Sweet Olive, or Fragrant Olive (thank you, Wikipedia).

It has quite a pleasant smell, as its English name suggests. The Japanese, however, is a little odd. The kanji are: 金木犀. 金(kin) is gold and 木(moku) is tree. That's straightforward enough, as it doesn't take much imagination to connect "gold tree" with the orangey-yellow flowers. The last character, though, 犀 (sei), means "rhinoceros." The only possible relation I can see is that the flower clusters are somewhat horn-shaped. So "gold rhino tree" could be referring to the shape and color of the flowers it bears.

I do wonder about the etymology of the word and the origin of the tree in relation to the history of Japan. The fruit and leaves of the tree are used in parts of China to make tea and jam, so perhaps that is where it originated. If the tree were indigenous to Japan, I cannot imagine that the kanji for "rhino," which is not a Japanese animal, would be present in its name.

Regardless, its aromatic bloom is one of my favorite parts of autumn here.

Is anyone else familiar with this tree? Have you seen it in another country?

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