It's mid-October, which means my street is once again filled with an incredibly sweet smell. When I say "filled", I mean the scent from the outside is nearly as strong inside my third-floor apartment as it is at ground level. I'm trying to figure out the best way to convey just how intense this fragrance is, and the only thing to which I can compare is the overpowering odor of a barnyard- only this is actually pleasant, of course. Poetic, I know.
My sister-in-law came to visit me at this exact time last year, and she asked me what was causing the fragrance. I told her it was tea, because I find the smell very similar to artificially green tea-scented items. This year, though, when the smell came back, I realized that a scent this strong couldn't be caused by green tea. Unless everyone was literally scrubbing the streets with green tea soap. As my neighbors are always sweeping the gutters, digging up slippery moss on public sidewalks, and trimming their carefully shaped trees, street scrubbing would not surprise me.
As always, whenever I have an extremely urgent, Japanese culture question, I gave my friend a call. "Why does my street smell like tea?!" Not everyone smells tea, apparently, because it took a second for her to realize to what I was referring. "Oh! That's kinmokusei! It's a kind of tree that always blooms this time of year. It has a very strong smell, doesn't it?"
Armed with a name, I headed to Google and made this discovery, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Osmanthus fragrans (sweet osmanthus; Chinese: 桂花 guìhuā; Japanese: 金木犀 kinmokusei; also known as sweet olive, tea olive and fragrant olive) is a species of Osmanthus native to Asia, from the Himalaya east through southern China (Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan) and toTaiwan and to southern Japan. Sweet osmanthus is also the 'city flower' of Hangzhou, China.
Aha! A tea olive tree! I knew I smelled tea. Once I knew I was looking for a flowering tree, I headed outside, only to realize that my neighborhood is chock-full of kinmokusei. Just about every private garden has one. I've been cycling Little TF to preschool past these blooming trees every day this week, and never noticed them! A kinmokusei's incredibly fragrant, orange flowers are tucked behind smooth green leaves. If you didn't know to look for the tiny flowers, you might not spot them. Or maybe you would, and I'm just unobservant. This is our third autumn here, after all!