My friend Noriko brought back surprises from Japan: vintage kimono fabrics, pickled cherry blossoms (!) and two new essential oils of indigenous Japanese plants that are very unlikely to be found anywhere else.
One is Asunaro, which smells like a cross between hinoki and hiba. The other is sanshō leaf (Zantoxylum sansho) - the leaves of a plant related to Szechuan peppers. And what a surprise! It smells nothing like what I'd expected it to be. It was rosy and fruity and citrusy - very much like geranium leaf! Because I only have precious 2ml of this I was very hesitant to put any on a blotter... But I finally broke down and smeared a tiny smidgeon of a dot on a scent strip now, and it's revealing more facets of green and spicy fresh aromas, reminiscent of fresh ginger root and ginger lily.
Fresh sanshō leaves are used in Japanese cuisine to garnish vegetable dishes (notably bamboo shoots) and to garnish soups. The dried leaves are used in noodle dishes. The fresh berries and flowers of the same plants are also used in Japanese food in various ways. In the above photo, sanshō leaves decorate oinarisan - a rice ball flavoured with yuzu (Japanese citron) and wrapped in bean curd. I can easily imagine it going very well with citrus and wish I knew where I could get a taste of it for real.