Ikenobo Arrangement #6

I honestly don’t remember this lesson (it’s from awhile ago). This week just enjoy the before and after. Maybe you can find the differences and the potential lesson in the arrangement.

Looking at my first attempt again, the big green leaf really bothers me now. It’s too tall.

I really taking pictures of arrangments from the side. It gives you a whole new perspective. From the front, the plum branches look like they are all tangled together. But from the side, you can see how they are angled and layered.

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That leaf though. I need more confidence to cut down those big long leaves. In the end, I found the lesson. Cut the leaf.

See you next week for the next arrangement!

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!

Return to Ikebana: Arrangement 1

After a year I am returning to Ikebana. I am excited to get back to my flowers. Originally, I was taking Ikenobo classes at the local community center in my neighborhood but it became too expensive in the long run.

after a few months of quitting the community program, I found out that one of my Japanese teachers knew the woman who taught the community class. At first, I was embarrassed because I hadn’t given any notice to the teacher (which is kind of a big no-no). I explained to her that it had become too expensive in the long run especially if I missed classes. She understood and over the following weekends she started dropping hints about me starting Ikebana lessons again. A comment one week, an ikebana magazine the next three – from the ikebana teacher, and finally she mentioned that the teacher also hosts individual lessons at her house.

I was immediately interested and flustered. The ikebana teacher had told my Japanese teacher to offer the lessons to me and tell me that she wanted to keep teaching me. It was impossible to refuse after that.

Later that week, we went to her house for the first greeting and lesson. The atmosphere was much more traditional and formal, the lesson taking place in a large tatami room with beautifully carved wood beams and my Japanese teacher walking me through respectful Keigo greetings which I don’t remember how to say.

After the greetings and agreeing on when lessons would take place. My re-instated sensei instructed me to grab a bundle of newspaper-wrapped flowers just outside the front door and get started.

I was familiar with this process as it was the same at the community center. Greeting the teacher, grab your flowers, make your arrangement, and finally call for the teacher to critique your work and give you tips and lessons. And if you are like me, snap some before and after pictures with your phone.

I was surprised to find that I wasn’t too rusty. I still have a long time before I can make arrangements like my teacher’s. But that comes with time and a good teacher. I’m excited and thankful to be given a second chance. I won’t waste it.

 

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Side-by-side comparison of my attempt and my teacher’s lesson

 

 

Ochi Ajisai Matsuri 2017

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I apologize for the lack of posts this month. I caught a bad bug earlier this month and was out of commission for about a week and then I had to play catch up at work. On top of that, we are preparing for the arrival of our new JET ALTs in Saga! It’s an exciting time for new JETs as everyone is finding out their placements. So will out further ado – ON WITH THE POST!

I am excited to present the Ouchi Ajisai Matsuri!

Ouchi is a small town on the outskirts of Karatsu City. Driving through it doesn’t look like much it holds one of my favorite spots in Karatsu, the Mikaeri Falls. The Mikaeri Falls are accessible year-round but the most popular time to go is throughout June to view all the Hydrangea. It’s so beautiful that the folks in Ouchi have made a festival out of it. In Japanese ajisai means hydrangea, and they are popular flowers after sakura and wisteria.

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Japanese hydrangea typically blooms during the rainy season. In Kyushu, hydrangea reaches its peak in June. Ouchi runs the Ajisai Matsuri for almost the entire month of June. Unfortunately, like many places around the world, Kyushu has been hot and dry. On the weekend my friends and I went, well into June, it had yet to rain. It was a hot and sunny day and lots of kids played in the river, but the flowers were suffering. We did our best on a tight schedule and a hot day.

 

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Friends nerding out over the genetics of a hydrangea bush with multiple colors. You know, normal stuff.

 

Be warned, going on the weekend means traffic. There is only one road leading to the festival so it’s busy. Police direct traffic efficiently so the wait isn’t too long. After parking, we decided to grab lunch at a house advertising soba noodles. This house is right next to the road and surrounded by recently planted rice fields. The family runs a small lunch spot in the front tatami rooms of the house. All of us order the soba lunch set. The coolest thing about this lunch set is that it’s two servings of noodles cooked on a stone roof tile.

After waiting in traffic and enjoying an extended lunch, we realized we didn’t have a lot of time left before we needed to return for David to catch the train. So, we took our time with the front half of the festival and vowed to come back after it rained.

 

Stay tuned for Day 2 of the Ajisai Festival, where I return after the rain and get some gorgeous pictures of te hydrangea around the waterfall!

Check out it here!

Wisteria Hysteria: Golden Week

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Title courtesy of David

After the Sakura finish blooming in early March, you don’t have to wait long for another famous flower to bloom. Early May (AKA Golden Week), is the best time to see blooming Wisteria. Since I was traveling a lot during Golden Week I was able to see various places from Karatsu to Kyoto covered in curtains of purple.

For those of you unfamiliar with wisteria, it is a woody vine that is native to Japan. Its flowers hang in long tendrils of purple or white. I didn’t really notice it last year because I was in Hokkaido for Golden Week. But, this year I realized that you can find wisteria pretty much everywhere. It is a wild plant that will climb anything in reach. Many roadside trees sport splashes of purple in spring. It is also can live a long time. Some are over 100 years old!

I missed the wisteria bloom last year much to my mother’s display. So this year she sent me on a mission to send her pictures of wisteria from Karatsu Castle. Luckily, with the help of David, I went above and beyond my original assignment.

Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Nara

During Golden Week, David and I decided to pop over to Nara to do some sightseeing together. We both had been to Nara before but never together. We spent the day looking for things we had yet to see. I finally explored the back stretch of the park, and we after visiting Toudaiji we stumbled on a special hall which I will be posting about soon, but I had the honor of introducing the Kasuga Taisha Shrine to David.

I visited last year and I was keen to show David it’s famous hallways of lamps, but to my surprise, it is also famous for its wisteria. Mind blown. This is why you have to travel during different seasons. Who knows what gems you might find? Some of the wisteria is well tended and other vines are allowed to roam free in the trees.

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A well-kept wisteria in Kasuga Taisha

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It has taken over this giant tree

 

Keep an eye out of my Golden Week posts, I will post the rest of my Kasuga Shrine pictures soon

Various Shrines in Shiga Prefecture

Nara wasn’t the only place celebrating the blooming wisteria. Many of the shrines across Japan hold viewing events that help raise money for shrines or thelocal community.

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Karatsu Castle, Karatsu (duh.)

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Karatsu Castle’s Wisteria is over 100 hundred years old and is a designated natural monument to the city. The boughs cover a wide veranda at the top of the stairs. For most of the year, the tree provides a leafy shade from the sun. But that changes in spring when the curtains of purple Wisteria provide a beautiful welcome to Karatsu’s “dancing crane” castle.

 

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Almost at the top (of the main stairway)

 

 

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The base of a 100-year-old vine is bound to be gnarly

 

 

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Wisteria flowers can grow to over one meter in length!

 

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You can find a brand new white wisteria further into the courtyard.

A World in Pink: Sakura in Kyushu

It’s finally spring in Kyushu! I am excited to spend my first spring in Japan. I was lucky enough to snap a few pictures of the famous cherry blossoms before a rain storm washed them away.

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I was surprised to learn that there is night Hanami or night flower watching. Some of the pictures below were taken at Karatsu Castle at night. Many people were there having a nighttime picnic.

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Blooming Mondays: Springtime in Suess

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Sorry this post is a bit late!

Flowers

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Pink Tulips, Dark Purple Dracaene (the leaves),  Yellow Acacia, Purple Ryukokorine/Glory of the Sun (Leucocoryne), and if anyone knows what the white flower is called please tell me.

 

First Attempt

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I like my first attempt but I didn’t know what it do with the yellow  Acacia. I think if the vase was a bit smaller and maybe a lighter color it would look great. This is one of my better attempt. I remembered to keep the cool, dark colors low, spread the flowers evenly throughout the arrangement, and keep the forward vertical style of Ikenobo in place. I did have trouble trying to hide the kenzan from view, but that probably wouldn’t be an issue if I changed the vase.

Overall I liked my attempt but I had to ask the sensei to teach me how to use the Acacia. From there I learned a lot of new tricks.

Teacher’s Lesson

I learned was that when using the long thin branches like acacia you must not let them hang or droop. The best way to do this is by simply turning the branch 180°. This creates tension against the natural grow giving the flowers a playful bounce and a lively appearance.

The second lesson I learned was that you can turn tulips INSIDE OUT. Mind blown. It doesn’t even look like a tulip anymore. Now the tulip has a big presence full of like that draws eye to it.

Now the arrangement looks more alive and like something you might see in a Dr. Suess book. I was skeptical at first but the more I look at it the more I like. My first attempt was cool and elegant but it feels like it was frozen in time. The new arrangement is bursting with life and fits the vase nicely.

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