I decided to take a break from writing yesterday afternoon, because enough is enough sometimes, no matter when the deadline is, and we cycled round to the new house of Aiko, my ‘Japanese sister’, who I have known since she was a kid when I first moved to this area in Kitakamakura and we befriended the Mitomis, our neighbours, greengrocers, landlords – and family, basically, who have been such an important part of our lives these last two decades. Birthday gatherings, New Year’s Day celebrations, summer festivals, hosting both mine and D’s parents for dinners when they come to stay with us in Japan – the bonds are very strong.
Aiko is all grown up now, and has done very well for herself, living in a beautiful, simple, light-filled house they have renovated surrounded by green – about five minutes from where we are – with her husband and three year old son. She seems very happy. Living in the area that we do – an ageing demographic, like much of Japan, where the streets are not plucked of weeds every five minutes (which suits me perfectly – I love the wild ramshackle aspect of it all) near all the zen shrines, but not near the tourists……this area has been my oasis all these years, a place I can genuinely relax and wind down from the more hectic aspects of Japanese life elsewhere, despite its inconveniences. It is difficult for me to imagine living anywhere else, and telling, also, that all the Mitomi children have also decided, after being in different cities in Japan for several years, to return to the nest, all living not more than ten minutes away from the main Mitomi house. This neighbourhood at the top of a mountain has real pull: there is a sense of community. And some indefinable, special energy.
As we entered the house and were given the ‘grand tour’ yesterday, the first room we went into happened to be where Aiko keeps her modest, though well selected, perfume collection. I suppose one of the pleasures of hanging out with younger people is sharing your loves and passions, and if they are influenced in some way that enhances their life it is certainly quite an enjoyable thing. In the old days we would have cinema evenings with food and wine, and of course perfume – it wasn’t quite teaching her English so much as her just being naturally immersed in it- and it quickly became obvious that Aiko has a definite inclination towards scent- her favourites, and bottles she ordered for herself from the Palais Royal in Paris, being Fille En Aiguilles and Sarrasins (which she smells amazing in: it wasn’t until I smelled it on her that I finally understood the full redolence of that unmistakeable perfume).
A definite jasmine lover then. Which is why, I suppose about ten to fifteen years ago, for one significant birthday or other – although I had totally forgotten about its existence until I saw it there on the shelf yesterday – I must have ‘made’ her a perfume. Smelling it again, and wearing a little as we chatted over cakes and umeshu plum liquor, the scent completely intact in its photocopied, re-upholstered Chanel box, I realized, or had vague remembrances of, blending various jasmine perfumes (Le Galion Jasmin and the original Gianfranco Ferre, and possibly one more) and then adding various jasmine, and other, essential oils (this can’t have been cheap and is totally indicative of my ridiculous profligacy over the years) – and it was hardly, it goes without saying, haute parfumerie. Not at all. In fact, it was a bit of a mess, in truth: I don’t think I really have that talent – I am just too eager, and extravagant. I have no restraint (nor any knowledge of, or remote interest in, chemistry), so I could never be a perfumer in a million years. But even so, ‘Le Jasmin D’Aiko’ did smell kind of nice, I must say; florally potent; evocative of another era, tender; warm.