The Smell of Yukari: Arrangement #3

What is Yukari, you ask? It’s Eucalyptus! Though probably not the kind you are thinking of (ie Koala food).

So then, what kind of eucalyptus am I talking about?

Well, that is a difficult question. There are over 700 species of eucalyptus in the world and the majority of them are found in Australia. Only a few species can be found outside of Australia naturally. In this weeks arrangement, I worked with Eucalyptus Cinerea (I think – there are over 700 species people!) nicknamed “The Silver Dollar” because of its round silvery leaves.

This was the first time I ever used Eucalyptus in an arrangement. The first thing I noticed about this plant is its smell. It is very fragrant. It is has a sweet herby smell that comes from its sap. Eucalypts are part of the gum tree family so you best be prepared for some stickiness when handling this plant. Its leaves become sticky when you crush them, the smell might stay on your hands for a day or so.

The biggest difficulty with this arrangement was how to use the Yukari. When it comes to large branches with a lot of leaves, I don’t know how to use it. DoI leave it as is? Do I strip the branch of most of the leaves? Sometimes it is hard to know. Sometimes I too cautious. I don’t want to make a change I don’t like. I am in awe of my teacher’s confidence. She’ll rip off leaves without flinching. She knows what will look good even if it’s not “perfect.”

And that was my biggest lesson from this week. Don’t worry about it being perfect. Nature is rarely perfect. Don’t be afraid of cutting a leaf of a branch short or ripping off a bunch of leaves and disrupting the ones you leave behind. A singular branch might be bigger than the flower but give the flower room to blossom in the arrangement especially if it’s something as extravagant as a Dahlia.

Arrangement 3

Weekly Ikenobo: Arrangemnet #2

Ahh arrangement #2. This was my second week of lessons and the first time I would be alone with my new teacher. Well not totally alone. I was wasn’t the only student studying under her. Sometimes, there are women there taking lessons or finishing up when I arrive. Time is very flexible.

I arrive after work and I sit and chat with my teacher and others students over black coffee and numerous treats that the teacher lays out for us. I haven’t figured out exactly where all the food comes from but I think most of it is omiyage (souvenirs usually in the form of individually packaged treats) from her travels or her students. At 88 years she is still quite active.

This process is both a source of stress and relaxation. Part of me wants to go in, do my thing, and get out, but the coffee and chatting helps break the ice and forces me to speak Japanese. At first, I’m always tense and quiet but soon I relax and jump into conversations or answer questions.

I think this a part of traditional culture in Japan; giving treats and snacks that is. I have been given tea and coffee at meetings with my schools, the fire department, and even in a Chinese medicine shop while waiting for my friend. It’s polite, thoughtful, and slows you down. In the West, you are often on the go and straight to business. Taking time to sip tea and nibble on a sweet treat doesn’t take away from business or your goal but instead gives your time to others and maybe unconsciously shows your commitment and respect to them. It’s abstract and roundabout but most of the Japanese traditional culture is like that – especially ikebana.

Don’t believe me? Ikebana at its core is meant to be appreciated and admired, often during tea ceremonies, which can take hours. It reflects nature with all of its beauty and imperfections. A Western bouquet is full of the brightest and most beautiful flowers and greenery. Ikebana embraces the imperfections of nature. Nothing is symmetrical, you will rip and cut leaves and branches to create a sense of space. You imagine how wind would shape the growth of plants (this is sooooo difficult to get right). You must take your time to examine your flowers and create a small scene of nature inside a tiny ceramic world. There is no one single answer but you must around stand certain key elements that make an arrangement good.

As a beginner you kind of flounder around trying to figure out how you are supposed to put it together. You are taught a few basic lessons but then you are on your own. You must take your time and a try and use the lessons you were first taught. The real lesson begins after you finish your attempt and yes I meant attempt. There have been many times I had no idea how to use a certain flower or branch. Those times I usually ask the teacher to teach me the best way to manipulate the branch (its usually a branch). Your teacher will then observe your arrangement and make changes. Sometimes the changes are small and other times it barely resembles what you first created … like this:

Arrangement 2

Next week I delve more into what actually makes an Ikenobo arrangement and some of the lessons my teacher has taught me. See you next week!

After the Rain – Ouchi Ajisai Matsuri

Aji2017Title2

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long for the rain to come. In the week after my first trip to the Ouchi Hydrangea Festival, it rained. By Friday, the rain had stopped and I dashed over to Ouchi after work to enjoy the refreshed flowers in the evening light. Along the way, I picked up Jess and Jhanice and the three of us went up the trail.

The thing about going to see the hydrangea on a weekday after work is that nothing is open and almost no one is there. On the weekend, there are a small 200 yen (about $2) to enter the festival and that fee goes towards helping the community. However, since the road to the falls is public and people live on that road it’s open all the time. The downside is that all of the food, craft, and plant stalls are packed up. On the weekend we had seen the stalls so we weren’t too disappointed to find them closed.

We began the walk up the road. Along the why we passed the hills, river, and gazebos surrounded by the blues, purples, whites, and pinks of the hydrangeas. Many of the plants had started to bloom since the rain. The flowers looked much more lively. When the festival is open there is a bus that takes people directly to the waterfall.

Aji2017Day2-6Aji2017Day2-8Aji2017Day1-4Aji2017Day2-5

There is a small parking lot at the waterfall but I didn’t want to miss any of the flowers. Instead, the three of us took to the road on foot. We passed a few houses and a restaurant. At some point up the road, you can choose to follow the road or take the hiking path. The hiking path is pretty. It takes you across the river and up the mountain. It’s about a 500meter walk either way. We decided to stick to the road as the ground would be slick from the rain, the sun was beginning to set, and we didn’t want to brave any of the giant spider webs.

Aji2017Day2-11

Aji2017Day2-15Aji2017Day2-16Aji2017Day2-17Aji2017Jess

Even the climb up the road is steep so if you plan to walk up to the waterfall then make sure to walking shoes. Once at the top we took a few minutes to rest in front of the waterfall.

Aji2017Day2-18Aji2017Day2-21Aji2017Mikaeri

While Jess and Jhanice continued to rest I made my way up the stairs to check out the small shrines and Buddha statues that lined the steep stairway. It was my last stop before heading home. I love the waterfall but love exploring small shrines and finding secret sacred spots. The last time I had visited was winter when nothing was in bloom and I was asked by an old grandma to help carry jugs of water to the shrine at the top of the staircase. Every time I visit the waterfall I make sure to stop by the shrine.

Aji2017Day2-19Aji2017Day2-20Aji2017Day2-23

Aji2017Day2-26Aji2017Day2-27Aji2017Day2-28

And that begins my excursion to the Ouchi Hydrangea Festival to an end. I’m glad I was able to return after the rain. Almost all of the hydrangeas were blooming and I enjoyed all the colors. It’s amazing that there are so many flowers in the area. The bushes at the bottom were obviously planted on the hill but the bushes at the waterfall are wild and overgrown. It was a beautiful sight. If you ever find yourself in Kyushu in June please make your way to the small town of Ouchi, you won’t be disappointed. I guarantee it.

Aji2017Day2-9