The Perfumed Winds of May

By Leanne Ogasawara

May 25, 2020

The Perfumed Winds of May

In the Japanese taxonomy of breezes, the perfumed winds () blow just before the south-easterly winds of the rainy season, which arrive later in the month. Known as plum rains ()—so heavy, the downpours are said to knock the ripening plums right off their branches. When that happens, it is the yellow sparrow wind () that is blowing. The ancient calendar is filled with times when one thing is transformed into another. In this case, Chinese legend has it that when this wind blows, the fish in the ocean turn into tiny sparrows.

Cleopatra knew all about winds. She traveled the Nile on a boat whose sails were perfumed in sandalwood and rose water. Adorned with purple sails so perfumed, Shakespeare said, the winds were love-sick with them.

In Los Angeles, May is the time of “peacocks screeching in the palm trees.” Their desperate longing can be heard for miles around. Still weeks away from “June Gloom,” when a heavy marine layer blankets the city in thick mist, in May the roses bake in the L.A. sunshine.

May is also marked by the flowering of the jacaranda trees. Strange that hardly anyone mentions them, since the world turns purple in May. That’s when I become Cleopatra for a few weeks, living in a cloud of purple perfumed blossoms.


Leanne Ogasawara has worked as a translator from the Japanese for over twenty years. Her translation work has included academic translation, poetry, philosophy, and documentary film.


Photo courtesy of axelle b from

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