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"Rose of Winter" - Maria McElroy, aroma M & House of Cherry Bomb

October 04, 2018

We arrived in Nagasaki on a sunny January morning, the day after a big snowstorm. There were still signs of the storm on the characteristically hilly Nagasaki streets. Once at the port, the water sparked in the sun as we boarded the boat to the Goto Islands. We were on our way to visit aroma M’s Camellia Seed Oil supplier and learn how it is made.

The Goto Island’s are located in the East China Sea and are famous for Camellia’s. Since the 5th century, Camellia’s have been used for medicine and beauty products. “Tsubaki” known as Camellia Japonica and are sometimes called the Rose of Winter because they flower between January and March, our timing was perfect. We were soon to see a blooming Camellia forest.

The view from the boat increasingly became vast and the horizon further away, it was exciting to be heading into the deep unknown waters. About an hour into the ride I began see small islands in the distance. As we got closer to Goto, the view was dotted with these small islands. After two hours the boat slowed down, a vintage Goto Island folk song was played through out the boat as we started our way into the Tainoura port. I was living my dream of being off grid and stepping back in time. At the port we were meet by our driver who would take us to our hotel, a 30-minute drive to the top of the island. At every turn there was a spectacular sweeping view. I was soon aware how stunningly beautiful this island was.

After a sound and deep sleep, I woke the following morning and pulled back the curtains in our room, what I saw took my breath way. Our view from the top of the island, spread down to the ocean below. Glowing pink shimmered over the water as the sun began to rise. We watched as if in a dream, drinking in each moment as the colors became more vibrant and the huge fuchsia sun slowly moved up from the horizon into the light morning clouds. It was an auspicious way to begin the day of our Camellia Seed Oil workshop.

Below is a visual diary.

"Smooth sailing - On the boat to Goto Island."

"Stunningly beautiful Goto sunrise from our room."

"Ready to begin our traditional Camellia Oil extraction process. We start with these Camellia seeds that have been taken from the fruit off of the Camellia trees."

"The second part of making Camellia seed oil is breaking down the seeds. Traditionally this is how it was done. I can tell you it¹s a lot of work, it takes a lot of power. I'm saying in Japanese how heavy that mallet is!"

"This how the Camellia seeds look after they have been broken down."

"The next step is steaming the Camellia seeds, I love the wood box and natural cloth they are wrapped in. There is a light scent in the steam."


"Next up Camellia Oil press- Pressing the steamed seeds into oil by hand. For those of you that don¹t understand Japanese, that¹s me, saying at the end I¹m tired!"

"Look at that beautiful fresh squeezed Camellia Oil. This oil is so precious it only produces 30% of each batch."

"I love this beautiful disk it looks like a sculpture, I get to take them home with me. I was told that if you sprinkle them on top of your flowers the plants would flourish even more. I can¹t wait to add them to the soil of my flowers in the Atelier."

"The finished product."

Our timing was perfect, the Camellia flowers were in full bloom - Walking around the Camellia forest was heavenly, so spectacular."

"This beautiful shrine caught my eye at the Tainoura port- getting ready to board the 2 hour boat ride back to Nagasaki. I love this out of the way paradise, it really feels like old Japan. I am sure I will be back."

Experiencing this traditional process of Camellia seed oil extraction has made me want to come back in the autumn for the harvest. I learned that everyone on the island takes part and it is done in the traditional way. Hand picking the fruit and boiling them until soft, taking turns straining the water with shells from the island made into spoons. I’m sure like the extraction process its takes a lot of energy and hard work, I’m up for the challenge.

Spending time on this remote island was an incredible experience, reminding me of the soul of Japan that I love and remembered from the years I lived in this country. I am smitten with the beauty and charm of Goto and look forward to my return trip. There is something to be said about going off grid and immersing into an unknown environment. We were so impressed to drive a Zero Emission car, cutting edge technology on a this tiny fishing island. Zipping along the exquisite coastline and snow dusted mountain cliffs with blooming Camellia’s was truly transporting. I can now say that I have seen the Roses of Winter in all their authentic beauty.