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C. japonica is a small tree or shrub, usually 1.5–6 metres (4.9–20 ft) tall, but occasionally up to 11 metres (36 ft) tall. The youngest branches are purplish-brown, becoming grayish-brown as they age. The alternate leathery leaves are dark green on the top side, paler on the underside, usually 5–11 centimetres (2.0–4.3 in) long by 2.5–6 centimetres (1.0–2.4 in) wide with a stalk (petiole) about 5–10 millimetres (0.2–0.4 in) long. The base of the leaf is pointed (cuneate), the margins are very finely toothed (serrulate) and the tip somewhat pointed.