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Plum blossoms

I have been reading Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan for the past couple weeks with my son. Last night we read an illuminating passage that I thought I’d share. From page 124…

“I went to the Kitano Tenmangu, where the plum blossoms were first opening. Although I knew from many poems how much the fragrance of plum blossoms was appreciated by innumerable generations of Japanese, I had never really been aware of any special fragrance even when I stood directly under a plum tree in bloom. Obviously, my sense of smell was deficient. This time, in order to savor fully the most typical fragrance of Japan, I pressed my head against the blossoms… Only then did I manage to catch a whiff of the celebrated scent. I suppose that people who have grown up in the West think of the scent of flowers in terms of the strong perfume of the rose or the carnation, and it takes some effort to catch the delicate fragrance of plum blossoms, but it was natural for the Japanese to praise this elusive fragrance rather than the heavy scent of the lily. The Japanese of the past (and probably of the present too) found strong fragrances cloying and prized instead the clean but almost imperceptible perfume of plum blossoms, just as they preferred faint coloring to bright primary colors in paintings or avoided strong flavors in Japanese cuisine. This moment of recognition brought pleasure.”

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