One of the most striking differences between British and Japanese culture is in the mutual love of nature. There is no doubt that the denizens of both green ancient islands openly, even quite ostentatiously, enjoy gardens, flowers, and weekend walks in the countryside : the deceptively ramshackle English garden known worldwide for its easy beauty; the Japanese, with its mossed green serenity, equally so.
The difference in outlook, however, comes in the peculiarly Nipponesque art of flower ‘viewing’. Where back home, with the exception of flower shows such as Chelsea, nature is usually regarded in passing, en route, something you admire naturally in its own context, unhindered and ideally pristine, and if possible, alone, in Japan this is a public, almost theme park like event that can be baffling in its sheer, profound unaestheticness to the casual European observer. Put simply, to my eyes at least, it can even be ugly, and that entirely defeats the whole object.
Yet the Japanese seem to have a unique ability to phase out visual superfluities, no matter how banal or superficially unsightly, how urban or suburban, to focus solely on the important matter in hand, honing in excitedly ( even hysterically, at times), on one particular seasonal bloom, no matter where it is growing. In the most dreary agrarian backdrop. In the center of some godforsaken shopping mall. At a specially designated growing field, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It is the flowers, themselves, that count.
As a result, you get large groups of ladies taking endless, drably composed photographs of clumps of garishly colourful tulips in sad, municipal parks that in England wouldn’t raise even the slightest flicker of interest, a mania taken to levels unimaginable at home; coachloads of people, the majority of middle-aged or elderly women and their tag-along husbands, off to ‘view’ the flowers – all day long, either in some uninspiring old crappy park, or else in droves of packed, planted, pre-designated fields in some far away prefecture. Thousands of people, all after a look. To coo and ah and eat flower-inspire menus; buy souvenirs.
Once I myself went to one of these peculiarly Japanese events. To a crowded, tediously particularized, tsutsuji festival, on a broiling hot day with a couple of friends and a splitting hangover – a throbbing, palpitating headache and endured, god knows how, all the snap snap shuttering hordes (and the flowers) feeling no pleasure at the sight of them whatsoever; being herded by oblivious, loudspeakered officials, through dazzling vales of azalea, which, despite their delicate fragrance, and occasionally alluring colours, were for me in those devised and unnatural, circumstances, floral purgatory.
The fuji, or wisteria, ‘fair’ I went on another occasion was similar, in another, further away prefecture designated for the growing of just one star attraction plant. Wisteria Park. A full, fuji fantasia of willowing winsome wisterias and nothing else. Gallant, overflowing flowering trees, unsurpassable, but still for me, when I first passed through the gates, just too formal; too unthinkingly ordered and institutionalized.
I do have to say, though, that there was also something truly quite spectacular about these cascades of purple, white and lilac coloured wisteria hanging down from the trellises and arbours – more vast and beautiful than I could ever have imagined. And eventually, as I got further and further drawn in to this world of towering wisteria flowers, I, slowly, too, became enthralled.
Standing inside one of these vegetal grottos, from the sheer perfumed perspective, alone was gorgeously exhilarating: trestles of blooming, royal scent : the delicately animal scent of lilac; the carnal throw of jasmine; the headiness of hyacinth all rolled into one – a gorgeous, mood-altering, purple drug.
In perfume, I don’t know why, but the note is rare. I have a Borsari 1840 miniature extrait, Glicine, which comes pretty close to the oily rich floral scent of wisteria; and then a Diptyque (the only true modern wisteria – though it is just as much of a jasmine – Olène), and I must say , having been nasally besotted by the flowers en masse, I wish that there were more. I do find the note, like the fujis in the park, a bounteously engorging, florid, uplift.
The fuji season is now about to begin here; the trellises are out ready for their annual return, and there is even a temple in Kamakura not far from where we live devoted to the flower that I think I might have to visit some time soon to take some close-ups. You see, as a long term resident, despite my typical, initial scorn, I have now myself become also, to some extent, somewhat sucked up into the annual springtime flower madness. The cynic is, slightly, beginning to succumb.
52 responses to “WISTERIA HYSTERIA”
I’d love to go flower-viewing like this! It sounds so heightened and kitsch somehow, and I love the sound of that singular focus on one flower at a time. I’d like to get dolled up excessivement in the colours of the bloom and go adoring! I have a bit of an obsession with taking close-ups of flowers as it is! These wisteria wanderings look lovely.
Such gorgeous flowers, and what a spectacular scene! It’s positively kaleidoscopic… somehow the second last picture looks to me like the face of a chimpanzee who’s the head of his tribe! 🙂
I know what you mean, actually, though I am pretty sure there were no apes swinging from the branches.
Do they have this kind of thing in Singapore?
Mmm nothing that spectacular. The weather only allows certain plants to thrive. We’ve got trees and greenery everywhere, but that’s because of government policy. I don’t think Singaporeans are that into flowers, to be honest, I’ve never seen anyone stop for a moment to admire them!
Japan’s obsession can sometimes almost seem like a fetish.
Absolutely amazing, truly! I just adore wisteria and once our property is cleared out a bit I will hopefully start planting some. Love the way it hangs so rich and lazily of the trellises, simply glorious.
I reckon that at some point you are a prime candidate for a Fuji festival then!
Ooh, purdy. I’m with Nina – I’m (all of a sudden) liking the idea of a kitschy flower day (I love the dedicated time taken to really appreciate the seasonal, little things: it seems important.) I’d love to see this, they’re spectacular. My parents have some lovely Wisteria in their garden, but it is – yes – decidedly more scraggly. Has that new Stephen Jones come across your radar yet? (It’s called Wisteria Hysteria) If it does for Wisteria what the CdG scent did for violets (ie. strap on a jetpack and pelt petals with space dust), I might be up for it. I think, to be honest, a straight up Wisteria perfume is probably not me (too floral and ladylike!) That hangover sounds like a total ‘mare – heat and flowers loose their appeal somewhat in the post pub mire don’t they? Hoodies and Häagen-Dazs much better.
Hoodies and icecream……so perfect. I have a bottomless pit of need for milky things when hungover: yoghurt, cafe lattes, custards, cream cakes….exactly .
Funny about the coincidence of the Stephen Jones, although not that many words rhyme with Wisteria, except listeria….
a viral floral
..Wisteria Deliria, and its flankers Wisteria Bacteria (eau fraiche) and Wisteria Diphtheria (eau noir.) ‘Host your scent.’
I’ve gone and disgraced myself by taking your lovely, pretty post to the dark side – sorry!
Yes, milky things, always, I love them too. Also hangover toast and buttery, bready things in general.
Don’t worry about the photos: you can see from the pixellation that they’re snapped from a monitor (they are fantastic photos: I’m sure you would take just as lovely ones if you were to go there.) I guess you could bung on a credit if it worries you.
I am laughing to myself, as I watch the sublime Only God Forgives for the third time even though I should really be in bed given that I have another twelve hour day ahead again tomorrow but fuck it: yes; diptheria: such yeasty flankers I’m lovin’it
and you are absolutely essential
Am I a wrong’un for loving the idea of a ‘yeasty flanker’? Steam extraction or cold pressed? Hey, I’d try it either way. And thank you so much for labouring all of two seconds to not type ‘lol’, (just a personal grievance I like to enjoy.) Also, I love that film – it’s totally worth staying up for. x
p.s emailed you some bottle porn!
These photos are awesome! I feel like I am in another state of mind just looking at them.
Me too! The photos put me in a state of reverie.
Thank the photographers.
I really should have given a disclaimer with this one!
Crabtree and Evelyn make a Wisteria perfume – its quite a pretty little thing – very light, clean and simple. It doesn’t have much staying power, but for a summer evening it works well.
Your photos are amazing – that last one looks like something you’d see after the caterpillar had passed the hookah …
I didn’t take them!
Fully stolen, these ones, sorry!
I want to actually go and take my OWN photos to be honest, as I have just swiped from the best of the best…
And yet they do capture what I have myself experienced. I might have to try the Crabtree again.
Thank you! I have an unconfessed love for Olene – the reviews of it are so condescending in general, and I’m easily intimidated. I never thought about it, but I once was very happy in a house with an old wisteria arbor over the front door. In spring it was paradise (except for the bees). Perhaps Olene takes me back to that time …
Your photos are amazing too. I used to walk daily through an arboretum with a weeping cherry tree and a plantation of over a hundred lilacs. Reading your post, I can see again, and smell again, that intoxicating headiness. The beauty is not just scent but color and overabundant life.
I need to plant a lilac bush this year …
I MUST TELL EVERYONE THAT THESE ARE NOT MY PHOTOS!!!
I feel like such a fraud for letting people think they are. I stole them this morning in a pre-work rush
Why on EARTH would Olene get dissed?
I shall remedy that situation forth with! I love it!
I know that that a lot of times you get photos from other sources, but you still have a good eye for selecting images that capture, perfectly, the mood of you post.
(vaguely releases the sound of a guiltless sigh)
(and thank you)
Thanks for the lovely insight to flower viewing. I am admittedly one of those women who loves viewing cherry blossoms, wisteria, azaleas and wandering through orchid gardens. I am a sucker for colorful blooms that make me happy.
I have certainly come round to it myself, though I must say I still prefer a more solitary experience than being herded about. When I first came to Japan I couldn’t stand it at all, but I think that I have changed a bit. When flowers en masse are that beautiful, I don’t mind now sharing them with other people!
Wisteria is wonderful. It was in bloom all over the south last week. You see it both cultivated and growing wild in wooded areas – it is invasive and will take over native species. I have Wisteria/Glicine edt by Elariia from a bargain shelf. It really does smell very much like the real thing. I never wear it, I just like having it. Maybe I should break it out and get a whiff of spring now that I’m back in the chilly north.
It sounds vaguely intriguing. Is it heavy, light?
Not heavy, and not extremely long lasting. A soliflore that obviously has other things to give the wisteria effect, though I’m no good at identifying them. I need to dig out the bottle to refresh my memory. I’ll report back. 😉
haven’t a clue as to what wisteria smells like but my ladies are in a JM frenzy so I recently purchased the rain collection in samples…the Wisteria and Violet…..at first sniff nothing to write home about…..until the dry down hours later……. Mon Dieu!!!! Considering a full bottle…..
and speaking of Jm I would consider their Lime Blossom as a work scent for you….French milled soap…no one would even know you are wearing fragrance…I have considered it myself for this reason….benign enough for the perfume adverse…..
I am sensing a renewed strength in you….. X
yes…a tiny bit…after much time spent in dissappointment in everything (and everyone, for that matter) associated with perfume I am feeling my interest renew a bit…what helps is that I am selling privately (finally took your advice) and my nose is back into it (literally!).
You know I always harp on work related scent issues so I will share this with you…the other day I walked into a meeting wearing a “lavender/patch/rosemary/peppermint” body oil I made all over my body coupled with some hefty sprays of Pacifica’s Nerola Orange Blossom to which I added sandalwood absolute and someone said “why am I smelling cleaning spray?” Thankfully, another co-worker ( who happens to buy my blends) defended me and said I always smell great…..she said I was “walking aromatherapy”!
Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus.
Wisteria Hysteria from Stephen Jones (via Comme des Garçons) is a good wisteria perfume.
Is it? How close to the flowers’ smell is it?
Probably not close at all but it still smells good. Unfortunately for me, I have never had the pleasure of encountering a live wisteria.
Wisteria are truly enchanting. They grow wild here and are invasive but they are beautiful – the color, the scent, the delicately trailing clusters. I could probably go nuts for them in a Japanese wisteria park. But then, it might be overkill once the initial amazement had worn off. I like being surprised by wisteria growing wold somewhere as I go down the road. I suppose I am a ramshackle type at heart. I still have a bottle of Wisteria by Elariia that I found on a clearance shelf. It smells fairly true, to my nose, plus I think it has osmanthus in it.
It sounds gorgeous.
Well, I see I repeat myself. Almost the same post ftom me as last time! 🙂 Hope you are getting around better and that the pain is going away. xx
The pain depends on the day and it is a hard slog I must say. Time is blending together…
Recently I was given a bottle of Olene. It was winter so didn’t wear it then. But with spring on the scene I need to wrap myself up in some flowers. I find wisteria beautiful. Especially when it is wrapped around porch columns. It isn’t good for the porch, but very picturesque.
Yes it’s a bit of a villain in disguise, isn’t it?
I really like Olene. It’s so uncompromising.
While in Japan I lived immediately overlooking Tokyo’s Kameido Tenjin (you probably know it—famous for its wisteria, including in a HIroshige print). My sliver of a building, Alta Fujinohana (=wisteria blossom) was a pale purple to match. I used to go downstairs and wander at night after the daytime visitors had left. How I now wish I had paid more attention to the smells. We have a wisteria at the front of our house in England now (I had it planted to remind me of my years in Japan, not that it’s rare here, and 20 years later it is taking over and encroaching on upstairs windows); the flowers are gorgeous but somehow the scent always escapes me. Must try some of the ones mentioned in your post and comments!
What gorgeous recollections. I don’t actually know this building. Where is it exactly ? Maybe I will get to see it next year…
You mean the Tenjin? In Tokyo, shitamachi (nearest station Kameido)—past the the Kokugikan, past Kinshicho station, on the Sobu-sen. My building is still there too. From the Tenjin, you can look up and see its balconies. I spent 6 years hanging out over the Tenjin before moving closer in.
I shall go !
( one day )
I imagine the missing of Japan, despite all of its irritations, must be overwhelming in is viscerality : probably why I have never left.
Absolutely, still visceral after 20 years in the UK now. My 14 years in Japan have had an outsize effect. But my work is Japan-related and I spend every day in Japanese, so I don’t feel that far away. Except when you write about kyara, etc…those wonderful experiences just don’t come my way any more. Instead, I have to enjoy different ones—a stately home garden, hawthorn hedges (right now), a tearoom somewhere (when not in lockdown). But nothing so incomparably “other”, like a first butoh performance, or being invited to the Tokyo stationmaster’s office by the man himself to sit on tatami and drink green tea, as a new and lost gaijin, just because… You write so eloquently and I completely get the feelings you describe; you’re helping with the missing! With my 3 children all having started there, and many friends there, Japan is part of our family fabric. I would have still been there if it hadn’t been for relative reasons over here in Europe.
Glad to have this connection too.