Friday 14 July 2017

Glory Flower: Smell vs Aroma in Japanese

Bright purple buds of the Glory Flower with one pink flowwer opening early
The buds of the Glory Flower with one flower ahead of the pack
Here's a striking shrub that took me a while to find the name of: Clerodendrum bungei or Benibana Kusagi in Japanese (as discussed in an earlier post benibana means safflower while the colour beni itself is scarlet). In English it is variously called Glory Flower, Rose Glory Bower, Mexican Hydrangea, and Cashmere/Kashmir Bouquet. The last name might reflect the fact that it is native to India, and China too - it is not a native Japanese species. The buds (left) are bright purple and attract ants (see video below); in contrast, the light pink flowers have star-like five-pronged pink lobes and lure butterflies. In Japan, the leaves are sometimes boiled to make tea and even eaten like a mountain vegetable (sansai =山菜); they are also used for dyeing.

The pink five-pronged petals of the Glory Flower in full bloom
The Glory Flower in full bloom (click to expand)
At first I thought the name kusa-gi was simply plant or vegetation (草木) but it turned out to be 臭木 meaning smelly/stinky since the shrub is famous for giving off a strong musky smell! It is a variant of the Clerodendrum trichotomum​ (just Kusagi in Japanese) which is sometimes called the Peanut Butter Tree because the leaves smell like peanut butter when crushed. The kanji kusai (臭い) can also be pronounced nioi which is usually translated as smell, but the unwary English speaker will soon realise it has a somewhat narrower range of usage than the English term. My wife will grimace a little when I say ii nioi (いい臭い) to describe perfume or roses  - ii kaori (香り), meaning fragrance, scent, or aroma (and also a popular girl's name), is apparently much better! Important lesson here: dictionaries will give us a rough word-for-word translation but they won't tell you how broad or narrow the actual word usage is. A great example is the Japanese word asobu (遊ぶ) which the dictionary tells us means "play", but is actually far broader than the English "equivalent." Japanese teenagers, for example, will go and "play" with their friends or an adult might pop over to their friend's house "to play", a usage which is pretty much restricted to small children in English!