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September 28, 2011


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Isn't it remarkable how arresting plant fragrances can be? Unfortunately it's a bit too cold here for sweet olive, but it's always been a popular plant in the American south. Here, for me, it's the linden trees. In early summer, late in the afternoon & into the evening, the sweet scent floods the air if one is lucky enough to have a tree nearby. As the trees are quite large & the flowers inconspicuous, I'm always (like you) taken by surprise & momentarily baffled as to the source of that pervasive perfume. They were a popular shade tree in the early twentieth century, so there are still a few streets that are lined for blocks with lindens.

Isn't it interesting that a few passing clouds always make the moon even more compelling?

Turns out lindens are more than fragrant shade trees…


Hello my fellow moon-watcher... was la luna as beautiful there as it was here last night? Yes, the arresting power of trees. Not just their perfume, but the way in which they utterly transform a landscape when they change colors or blossom into flower. I think the Japanese (among others) are very wise to alway stop and really notice too.

This is one of my favorite painters; he is a genius, I think, at evoking the way trees are lit up in sunlight-- or by moonlight...I've wanted to buy one of his paintings for years and instead have just watched as they go up and up and up in price so that now they are beyond any hope...

Dalat and Hue are very famous for their mimosa trees-- which also smell so heavenly. See more paintings here

I'm also a big fan of this painter who sometimes works in lacquer

Hello, Leanne!

In Japan, as you have wrote, people call October "Kannazuki", godless month. All the gods come together in Izumo, so, on the contrary, you know, there people call October "Kamiarizuki", the month when the gods are present.

When I knew it in my childhood, it felt very strange.

Ever since, every season the perfume of Kinmokusei smells, it reminds me of the mysterious image. So many invisible gods are traveling around this country in the autumn blue sky...

Enjoy this "godless" month!

Hi Motoki,

Thank you so much for reading!!

Yes, I did know that about Izumo, and that is why I have always wanted to travel there during the month of October (doesn't that seem like the best time to go-- when all the gods are gathered there?) Have you ever been? It's so far from Tochigi-- it feels further away than Alaska....

I have a woodblock print that I love very much by Un'ichi Hiratsuka (Hiratsuka was perhaps more famous as the teacher of Munakata Shiko). My print is of the Kanden-an teahouse in Matsue-- which was built in 1792 by the famous late-Edo period daimyo Matsudaira Fumai, who was at the time the Lord of Shimane Province. The teahouse was constructed on the estate of another man, a certain Lord Arisawa. Fumai liked to hunt in the hills near there and, therefore, desired a tea hut where he could come after hunting with his falcons to rest and enjoy a cup of お抹茶. There are actually two teahouses on the grounds and my print (from what little I can tell by the flimsy line drawing of the grounds which I finally dug up in an old library book) is the view from as one leaves the Kanden-an and enters the grounds of another teahouse, which was built by Fumai's brother on the same estate). Called Kogetsu-tei 向月亭(or "facing the moon pavilion"), this second teahouse was designed for both tea drinking and moon-viewing. It is therefore lighter, less squat and much less closed-in than the main teahouse.

I look at the print everyday and sometimes when I feel sad or stressed I imagine myself walking down the path (which is very unusual see photo 3rd from top here ) to sit on the 縁側 with a cup of tea. There are bamboo and I imagine them rustling in the breeze...

I've always wanted to see the teahouse-- maybe someday.

Fumai is my favorite teamaster-- his collection was not only one of the greatest in Japanese history but he was also very scholarly-minded and made it his life's work to catalog all the greatest tea ceremony wares in the country (even today when people speak of omeibutsu or chukomeibutsu-- these are all terms of his scholarship).

One of my tea books describes his great collection (known as the Unshu kuracho) as possessing "one seventh of all the greatest tea utencils under heaven" (天下の茶の名器の七分の一). There were said to be some 800 pieces, which included some of the most famous teabowls, lacquer tea caddies and other ceramic works of art found in Japan.

Take care and congratulations again on your publication!

My first experience of Japan was living in Kyoto. I arrived in the autumn and was delighted by that strong, sweet fragrance, vaguely reminiscent of honeysuckle. Kinmokusei and ginmokusei were abundant along the narrow streets between my apartment and the university, and I assumed this was just one more of the many surprising characteristics of Japan that I was discovering. Later, living in other cities, I was disappointed to find that those trees weren't so common elsewhere in Japan.

Thank you for your comment Susan! Honeysuckle with a touch of jasmine maybe?? How to describe a smell? The trees are so abundant here in Tochigi that in October, the entire town is drenched in their perfume. I didn't really realize for a long time about the Guilin connection (that is that 金木犀 and 桂)were signifying the same tree. I love the poem above too about the katsura trees on the moon.... Thanks again for your comment!

It is true that the sweet olive will grow through most of the South, but I think it's really only traditional in Louisiana—especially South Louisiana, that is, the gardens of New Orleans and of the River Road plantations.

"Springing from the center of the garden and circling through an undulating grove was a small, artificial river shaded on either side by many a majestic old oak, whose wide and spreading boughs drooped as low as the water's edge. Tall magnolias, covered with snowy blossoms, galddened the sight, and the faint sweet olive filled the atmosphere with delicate perfume […] Two huge camphor trees stand on either side of the house, said to have been imported from China as mere shoots, and, probably, the only ones in Louisiana." The garden being that of Petit Versailles, the grandest of all the River Road plantations—of which nothing now remains.

I have sweet olives planted around my porch (between the gardenias). They bloomed last week and I hope they will bloom again. The scent is wonderful to sit and write with.

Oh Paul, your porch sounds like heaven on earth! And on the very other side of the world..... it sounds so faraway. I was just looking at the google page for sweet olive because I was so surprised that you had them in the South (even though MW had told me about it above last year!!) and noticed that in China they make a jam which is then used to make dumplings and cakes... And, so I am intrigued

I tried googling the Petit Versailles and sure enough, nothing remains! Those camphor trees-- surely they must still be there? Maybe someday you ought to think about writing about the place yourself... is it nearby your own place..? I would love to hear more about it.

Nature's nourishment, the moon and Autumn. Every year I lick my plate clean. The painting by Le Thanh Son sparkles. Not only the light in the trees, but the rich green of the house to remind of Summer's passing. I had never heard of the cinnabar trees on the moon, but it's a wonderful image. Also, I like the idea of the gods being absent for a month. That has to be a balm for the human psyche. I know why it hasn't caught on elsewhere . . . it's too good! Another thoughtful post, Leanne. Many thanks.

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