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.