Today you get an ode to the anonymous queen of Japan’s flowering trees: the humble jasmine bush. I first noticed it last year in early May, but even more so this year. My first encounter was while walking through a pedestrian lane one evening with Lia, near Tobata station. We actually backtracked to make sure we hadn’t imagined it.
A year later it doesn’t surprise me as much. Every so often, the scent of jasmine comes floating out of nowhere and brings a peaceful smile to my face. I get to experience flashes of this serenity at four or five points on my daily commute, though at 30kph—on a bike—they’re fleeting. The scent is subtle but unmistakeable, and a welcome change from the usual smell of factory emissions and exhaust.
The blossoms are quite unremarkable to look at—small white clusters on dense greenery. The dark leaves present a nice contrast to the flowers but tend to overpower them visually. Here, see for yourself. I took this photo on May 5th 2005 in the town of Mizumaki, just west of Kitakyushu. I was out searching for koi nobori—carp windsocks—flying in honour of Chidren’s Day, when the scent of this tree caught me.
Jasmine bushes in full bloom are plain compared to February’s ume—Japanese plum—blossoms, which feature pink highlights on leafless branches. Here’s a photo I took on February 20th this year, in the gardens near Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine.
And even the ume pale in comparison to the sakura—cherry blossoms—of April. I took this one on April 6th 2005, the day before I posted the pictures of the new school year starting. This view is about twenty minutes’ walk from our apartment, overlooking the Village of the Fireflies park, where the luminous bugs are said to be active.
Still, regardless of visual beauty, there’s nothing quite as memorable as unexpectedly walking into a cloud of jasmine fragrance coming fresh off the tree.
Except maybe for a natto factory surprise attack. Which might be the inspiration for Robert Duvall’s oft-misquoted line in Apocalypse Now.
Natto, son. Nothing in the world smells like that… I love the smell of natto in the morning… Ya know, that rotten bean smell… It smells like victory.
To which Marlon Brando’s character—Kurtz—replies:
The horror…the horror.
I know that the studios forced a lot of unwelcome edits on Francis Ford-Coppola for the original theatrical release, but really. You’d think that for the director’s cut they could’ve at least left the lines intact and in the original sequence.
But yeah, jasmine. Unforgettable. And yet another one of the things I’m going to miss about this place.