Sakura

Sakura, sakura,              (Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,)
Ya-yo-I-no so-ra-wa,         (In the Spring sky,)
Mi-watasu kagiri               (as far as eyes can see)
Ka-su-mi-ka ku-mo-ka,    (is it fog or is it a cloud?)
Ni-o-i-zo i-zu-ru                  (your fragrance is in the air)
I-za-ya, I-za-ya                    (now,  right now)
Mi—ni Yu-ka-n                    (Lets’ go and see !)

Sakura. You are the spirit of Japan. Your beauty and heavenly scent inspired poets and samurais, warlords and commoners, calligrapher and ukiyo-e artists, geishas, and sailors, Zen monks, and students. You inspired courage and hope in the darkest times, joy and romance to the young couples. You remind us that Spring will always follow Winter and that life is short and precious. Sakura, your sweet scent rises in the air while your petals are already falling.

Cherry Blossom Viewing by Chikanobu (1838 – 1912)

Sakura is the Japanese name for cherry blossom. Several genera of prunus trees produce similar flowers, but the most common in Japan is prunus serrulata. These trees are closely related to other prunus trees such as apricot, peach, and even almond trees, with the difference that they do not produce fruits. The peculiarity of Prunus trees is that their pinkish-white flower appears and bloom before leaves even open, giving a unique impression of white balls of flowers. The sakura flower itself exudes a faint and pleasant smell that is amplified by the incredible number of flowers on the tree. Japanese love sakura so much that they organize mass picnics and parties, called Hanami (literally flower-watching), under trees in public parks and along riverbanks.

The great tradition of “hanami” or flower-watching. The Japanese picnic and party under the trees during the short blooming week.

News programs on TV inform the citizens about the current degree of bloom of the trees, region by region. The whole sakura season lasts about one month and a half, starting first in the Southern island of Okinawa and ending in the North of Hokkaido. In each location, the bloom is a matter of one week or ten days at most, making it very short and precious, furthermore if the weather is not cooperative.

The sakura front line map for 2017. The bloom this year will start on March 22nd in Tokyo and last until mid-May in Hokkaido. Each location will only enjoy about ten days of bloom before the leaves will replace the flowers.

The Japanese love so much their cherry blossoms and their fragrance that they even pickle them in salt and use them as a topping for flavoring rice. The pickled sakura tree leaves are also used for wrapping and flavoring rice balls. Some sakura flavoring is also sold in Japan, to give a sakura taste to ice creams and other sweets. Häagen-Dazs and Baskin Robbins, among others, propose sakura flavored ice-creams on their menus in Japan. It’s really delicious, with a sweet and slightly salty taste!

Häagen-Dazs Sakura – unique for Japan market in Spring

In perfumery, the note of sakura is made by an accord of fruity and floral compounds with more or less resemblance to the real natural sakura scent. No essential oil nor any absolute of sakura is available because of the insufficient yield. I would like to try once the molecule called Sakura Salicylate (2-Isopropoxyethyl salicylate) developed by the Japanese aroma chemical maker Takasago; it must be a nice fragrance compound when made by the people who know and appreciate sakura the most.

The molecule developed by Takasago has no equivalent in nature, but its smell is close to the one of cherry blossom.

The choice of fragrances based on a cherry blossom note or having this discernible scent is disappointingly low. Surprisingly, niche fragrance houses do not seem to have any interest in this beautiful note and leave it to rather generic brands. My findings of the week are:

L’Occitane en Provence has a complete line of cosmetics based on cherry blossoms. Their cherry blossom inspiration comes from the European cherry tree rather than the Japanese sakura, but the fragrance is close enough to be mentioned. L’Occitane proposes two versions of EDT in their cherry blossom collection: the classic Cherry Blossom Eau de Toilette and the annual Limited Spring Edition called Cherry Blossom Cerisier Pastel in 2017. In the first one, the cherry blossom note is reinforced by cherry itself and garnished with a floral accord of freesia and lily-of-the-valley, musk, rosewood, and amber. Clean, sweet, feminine, with moderate sillage and projection and lasting only a couple of hours. I did not try yet Cerisier Pastel which was launched in December but can imagine that it is an even lighter and softer floral than the classic edition. I will have the joy to confirm that during my trip to Japan this month.

The American house of Demeter Fragrances is always puzzling me with their large inventory of unique fragrances, based on precise themes or notes, going from classic to weird. Their mission is to capture natural smells from the garden and the house and make them available in a wearable form. Dirt, Clean Windows, Pizza, Glue, Kitten Fur are among the juices that will make most of you run away from this interesting brand. In contrary, their Cherry Blossom is more pleasant and displays a very sweet cherry fruit opening and terminates into a fruity-soapy-floral accord that fades rather quickly. Try their extensive line if you can find it, I promise you that you won’t get bored.

The legendary house of Floris, started in 1730, is still owned by the descendants of the founder Juan Famenius Floris. Their Cherry Blossom fragrance is relatively new (2013) in their line but already a reference for this ephemeral note. No cherry blossom scent appears at the opening which is dominated by citrus notes. It is only after half an hour or so that the first notes of cherry invite themselves, accompanied with a floral accord. The base is made of very smooth notes of sandalwood and musk. I am not sure if the lovers of sakura like me will be content by this fragrance, but it is surely a nice feminine and elegant Eau de Parfum.

I finish this post with some frustration, as I could not find too many fragrances crafted with a sakura note. Many have been discontinued or were just limited editions. On the other hand, this leaves some opportunity for new perfumers, chemists and creative noses to surprise us one day with a true sakura flower effect in their juice. In the meantime, I will prepare my suitcase and fly next weekend to Tokyo where I will enjoy the natural and irresistible scent of sakura, under the trees of Ueno park. Tanoshimi !!

See you next week my friends!

Laurent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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