Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Sugar and spice and all things nice! This post is for you girls out there.

Let's talk clothes! First of all, the Japanese are very conservative. There seems to be a kind of uniform worn by office workers and store assistants and it's typically some form of black suit, be it pants or skirt, and white shirt. The clothes are all impeccable and fit their slim builds beautifully. Even the school children in their uniforms are clean and neat as a pin, not to mention polite and well behaved. I'm sure there are exceptions but I haven't seen any.

For those not in 'uniform' the word 'conservative' also applies. The colours are muted and bland with the most popular garment being the beige trench coat. Those of you who know me may remember that I like bold colours and unusual designs, as a consequence of which I'm drawing a bit more attention than I would wish.

Shopping is disappointing for people like me who want to buy uniquely Japanese products. The products are mostly imports and prices very high. But even the imports of the big labels tend to be bland and uninteresting, probably because that's what the market here dictates.

So I've given up on shopping except, of course, for ikebana containers. But here lies another problem - that of weight. I'm looking into freight costs before I splurge on more unnecessary but much wanted containers.

Enough about shopping. Let me tell you about my first hairdressing 'Experience' here. Shortly after Sam left, I ventured out on my own, found the Takashimaia department store, went to the 12th floor and found the hairdressing salon. In my very broken Japanese, I made an appointment for a fortnight later.

By the time the date arrived I was a lot more comfortable in getting around, so I made my way there with ease. I was taken into a cubicle where a gown was ripped out of its plastic covering and given to me to wear. My bag and earrings were put in a locker and the key given to me.

I was taken to a chair and was met with a young man (Shigenobu san) with no English at all and I had to make him understand what I wanted. I have to confess here that I am a dreadful creature of habit, as is evidenced by the fact that I have had the same hairdresser for over 30 years. So I was filled with trepidation but my consolation was that no matter how bad it's cut, hair does grow back.

My hair was to be wet, cut and then shampooed. The chair at the basin reclined and supported my neck perfectly. With my hair wet, I was shown to another chair where the cutting was to take place. Shigenobu san looked carefully at my hair and, as he started to cut, he turned into Edward Scissorhands! There were hands and combs and scissors flying all over the place. I've never seen anyone cut so fast. I was terrified and kept my eyes closed, peeking every so often to make sure I still had hair.

He finished in less than half the time it takes my hairdresser to cut my hair and, I need not have worried, because he did a beautiful job.

Then he guided me back to the basin and introduced me to a young lady who, not only washed and conditioned my hair but also gave me a head massage and finished off with a hot towel under my neck while she gently dried my hair. Ahhhhhh.

So then I was taken to a different chair for blow drying and finishing but before Shigenobu san came back she asked me if it was ok for her to massage my shoulders and neck. I wondered if anyone ever said no to that question. Certainly I didn't. After about 10 minutes of bliss my young man came back and finished my hair.

After all of this attention I expected the cost to be high but was pleasantly surprised at how reasonable it was. I am willing my hair to grow back quickly so I can go back.

This morning I stumbled across a quilting exhibition in the Park Towers, which is across the road from my apartment. Quilting is not something I was ever interested in doing myself but, as a sewer, I can appreciate the work involved.

Over the years I have seen some interesting quilts but these blew me away. I can't find appropriate words to describe the exquisite beauty of these works. I believe they are of museum quality. As I looked at each one I kept wishing I could have had with me my two friends, Debbie and Loretta, both of whom are expert quilters. They would have been in Quilters Heaven!

 They allowed me to take photographs but not with my camera, only with my mobile so the quality is not great. Below are a few to give you some idea of the quality of the work but they are a tiny snippet of what was exhibited. 

It was difficult to pick one but this next one was my favourite.

On our way to the Nezu Museum, my sister, brother-in-law and I came across this amazing building. It was such an architectural marvel that it deserved a photo. Turns out it was the Prada building, girls and I recommend a visit just to see it never mind the handbags.

Bye for Now,

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Hello all,

Last Sunday I spent a delightful afternoon with Kazuko Yano. Many Victorians will remember her from Ikebana International. We had arranged some time earlier to go together to an event called Flower Dream at Tokyo Big Sight. This is very similar to Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show except they only have flower exhibits, not gardens.

Kazuko is so thoughtful and kind that she offered to meet me part of the way because I was not familiar with the particular train line I would have to change to (the Yurikamome for those of you who know Tokyo). This was fabulous. Not only did I have the pleasure of her company but I was able to enjoy sights I had not seen before around the waterfront because the train traveled above ground, unlike the subway, which I use daily.

Ikebana International had been invited for the first time to take part in this exhibition and Kazuko was one of the exhibitors. Naturally, I wanted to see the ikebana work first and I was not disappointed. The work was interesting and varied and I enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere.

Kazuko behind her elegant arrangement. Sadly the photograph cannot do justice to the beauty of the arrangement or its creator.

There were, also, the usual competitions and stalls selling all sorts of flower related merchandise.  Nothing could compare with the magnificence of the bonsai. Here are three examples.

One of the highlights for me was to watch 3 high school girls, in their uniforms, demonstrating ikebana on the stage. They were the winners of previous competitions  and had not seen the containers or materials beforehand, so the work was spontaneous. They did 3 different and beautiful arrangements. I was so proud!

There was so much to see, some good, some not so good, however the one display that took my breath away was this huge, stunning ikenobo arrangement. I am showing two views so you can get an idea of the work and expertise involved in getting the whole thing to balance on that narrow base.

And then there was the clown -
He sold a lot of flowers wearing that hat.

Bye for now,

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Hello all,

In this post I will refrain from writing about Ikebana for the sake of my non-Ikebana friends.

Last Monday, due to a lucky turn of events, I enjoyed a once in a life time experience.

After class I was talking with Ms Takahira about cherry blossoms and she inquired if I'd seen any and would I like to go with one of the other students, who was going to see some that afternoon. Of course, I said yes and I found myself in the company of Jacqueline Wyss, a lovely lady from Switzerland, going to visit The Royal Palace Gardens no less!

Fortunately, Jacqueline knows her way around and she got us there on the metro. From what I was given to understand, this was an event that hasn't happened before. The gardens of The Royal Palace were opened for the first time to the public for 5 days as a celebration of The Emperor's 80th birthday.

The only problem was that hundreds of thousands of Japanese also went there as some sort of pilgrimage. We queued for kilometres, the whole time fearing that the gates might be closed at any oment and people be turned away, as happened to Jacqueline two days earlier. However, luck was on our side and we made it through the gates and security checks.

(I now have the ability to crop out unwanted parts of a photograph such as the hand in the picture above. However I chose to leave it in to show how difficult it was to get a clear view past all the people)

So, now we're in this long and wide avenue bordered by magnificent trees of all description including the much revered Sakura. It was just as well that we were looking up at the trees because we could not see anything lower down other than a sea of people. This exercise took hours but was worth the effort. But as beautiful as the trees were in the Palace, I much preferred the trees hanging over the walls outside the palace and being reflected in the water of the moat.

If you look closely at the picture below, you'll get an idea of the number of people that walked through the gardens.

From there we walked around Tokyo Station and stopped for coffee to allow some of the hoards of people to disperse before attempting to board the train for our return home. Despite my very sensible walking shoes, I was very tired when I got home.

Me in front of a lovely water features near Tokyo station

I'm indebted to Jacqueline for this marvelous experience because without her I would not have been able to go there nor would I have known about it. As it was, we enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon and I am able to include her in the list of people I'm getting to know through my classes at Sogetsu Headquarters.

Bye for now,

Friday, 11 April 2014

Hello all,

Firstly, I'd like to draw your attention to an added feature of my blog. On the right hand side, below my profile is a slot that, those of you who wish, may enter your email address and you will receive automatic blog updates. I have Lucy and Christopher to thank for this, the former having created it at the suggestion of the latter. I am very grateful to them both.

Today I'd like concentrate on class work, the first two of which were Iemoto Classes. However, Iemoto was not present.

The theme for the first was book 3 lesson 1- A Vertical Composition. For beginners the lesson was Basic Upright Style Moribana.

The instructor was Sozan Nakamura and for his demonstration of the Basic Upright he used azalea and campanula in a round red suiban, the colour of which harmonized beautifully with the azalea.

For the Vertical Composition he used two large palm leaves and a branch of magnolia, which he trimmed quite a lot to bring out this interesting line. At the bottom of the arrangement he used some yellow bromeliads and their green leaves, which, he pointed out, he chose because they repeated the shape of the lip of the container.

For my own arrangement, much to my embarrassment, I initially confused the lesson with ka bu wa ke and started off with two kenzans. Tamae-san, who was assisting, very kindly pointed this out to me and I made the necessary changes. This was the end result. The materials I used were scotch broom and campanula. In his critique Nakamura sensei nodded and used the word 'success'. He did, however,  move the campanula at the front slightly forward.

The next class was two days later and the instructor was Seiko Ozawa-san. The theme for beginners was again Basic Upright Style Moribana. Ozawa sensei explained that, whilst now in spring we have a lot of flowering branches for our arrangements, in summer there are not as many and we are left with mainly flowers. For that reason she created her arrangement using only flowers. She used calla lilies and roses. She manipulated the calla lilies to get the correct angles and placed them facing different directions. Although I would never have thought to use these materials together, I found the end result very pleasing.


For the Horizontal Composition, Ozawa sensei used a large trough in which she put two horizontal fixtures to support the heavy branch of cherry blossom and the large green leaves.

I used a very basic nageire container for the Horizontal Composition with black coloured pussy willow and dancing lady orchids. Sensei's critique was that the placement of the branches could have looked too separated, however, by placing the orchids diagonally across them it made the arrangement.

I next went to the International class, the instructor for which was Yoka Hosono san. Many of you in Australia will remember her from the workshops and demonstrations she did when she visited us some years ago. I was very pleased when I saw her name in the program.

The lesson was Freestyle and for her demonstration Hosono sensei chose from book 4 Lesson 16 - Paying Attention to the Container and to the  Place where the Arrangement will be Put. She used a strong iron container with Scotch Broom and Green Goddess lilies.

 As for me, I decided to play, so I picked this cute triangular container with an open back and a hole at the front. I used bull rushes to create the triangles and squiggly alliums for the curved lines. I'm sorry the photographs do not show the depth.

Until next time,

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Hello all,

So much has been happening, ikebana-wise that I've not been able to keep the blog up to date. As a consequence, some of the entries are of events that happened some time ago. The photographs below are of two views of an exhibit by Iemoto Akane Teshigahara, which was at the entrance of Takashimaia Department Store. It was a beautiful installation with spring flowering branches and bamboo, which later became the backdrop for a fashion parade. I was pleasantly surprised when I was permitted to photograph the lovely models.

On the 31st March I attended the International Class run by Mesei Ishikawa San. The theme was 'Freestyle Arrangement'. Ishikawa San demonstrated two arrangements - the first 'Emphasizing Straight lines', using bull rushes and delphiniums and the second 'Emphasizing Curved Lines', using spiraea and calla lilies. 

As for my arrangement, I used a container that I have coveted for a long time now - a nageire which  has been split half way down and twisted slightly. I used four large aspidistra leaves and one gorgeous phalenopsys orchid. In her critique, Ishikawa San used a Japanese term which, unfortunately, defies translation. The word she used is 'sasuga', which is a complementary term but the specifics of it I can't express in English. She added that 'container, leaves and orchid harmonized perfectly'.

Front and back views of same arrangement

For visitors such as myself, the International class provides a venue to meet other visiting students who also speak English. One such student is Suzanne Sendelbach from the US, with whom I enjoyed chatting. I have included her arrangement, firstly because it's interesting and secondly because of the technique for bending the bull rushes. She was shown by sensei to wire the bull rushes so that she could then bend them and they would stay. I had not seen this before and I thought it worth mentioning.

As a follow up on my post about spring, this is the view of the palace gardens from the window of the class room at Headquarters. Note the cherry blossom trees in between all that greenery. I'm making a point to work near the window to enjoy this vista.

The photos below are of a beautiful little park in Akasaka opposite New Otani Hotel. You will notice that the ground and the water in the pond are covered with petals. I wish I was a better photographer to do justice to the scenery. 

 I had asked a lady, who was also taking photos of the gardens to take one of me under the cherry blossoms. In my very broken Japanese we had a small communication. We discovered we have something in common - ikebana. She belongs to the Ikenobo School.

Sayonara, once again,


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Hello again,

In this post I would like to tell you a little bit about spring in Tokyo but you may want to make a cup of tea before starting to read it as it is a long one.

The weather is still quite chilly with the occasional, very welcome breaks of sunshine but spring is definitely here. On my way to the subway one very cold, wet and windy morning, I came across these dear little daffodils. They're growing along the side of the footpath, they're only about 10cm high and the first to flower amongst the other daffodil plants. I felt they deserved the time to stop and photograph them so that I might share their beauty with you.

Of course, there can be no discussion of spring in Japan without mentioning the cherry blossoms or Sakura. The reason I chose to come this time of year was so that I could experience Hanami (flower viewing), something I've been wanting to do for a very long time. And I've not been disappointed.

Last Saturday the weather was beautiful so I went for a walk to a nearby park, from which emanated a great deal of noise and found that there was the Tokyo Outdoor Festival. Although they referred to it as The Outside Festival. There were stalls selling all sorts of things including an Australian one that was conducting wine tasting, promoting Australian Wines. There was also a stall promoting Australian Preserved Flowers, where a Japanese lady was demonstrating the use of such flowers.

But I digress, I went there to see the cherry blossoms up close. They are every bit as beautiful as I imagined but be warned, looking up as you're walking is dangerous! After the first stumble, I learnt to stop and then look up. There are many trees in full bloom and people everywhere stop to capture in photographs their delicate, ephemeral beauty. Hanami is a very special time for the Japanese. There are parties organized, special foods prepared and there is real passion when they speak about it. The shops are selling all types of sweets decorated in flower designs for gifts. Hanami is deeply entrenched in the Japanese psyche and I feel very privileged to be sharing it with them.

There is one thing, however, that detracts from the natural beauty of the cherry blossoms and the parks in general. People are using large, plastic tarpaulin in a very lurid blue colour spread under the trees, on which they sit. I had my photo taken with the cherry blossom tree far into the background in order to avoid the ubiquitous tarpaulin. I've included here a photo with the offending article as evidence.

On Sunday the weather changed and it was cold and wet and windy again. I spent the day indoors but in the afternoon I needed to take a walk, so I rugged up, took my umbrella and set out towards another little park. As a consequence of the wind and rain, petals and small sprigs of cheery blossoms covered the ground. I picked a couple of sprigs that had a bit of stem attached and brought them home to admire up close.

On the 28th April the very special event of Flower Thanks Day took place at the Sogetsu Hall. I initially intended to give this a miss but an email from Ms Takahira on the morning of the event made me change my mind. At the time I was at the laundromat and had to rush home, change and take the subway to the school. Made it just in time. And I'm so glad I did!

The ceremony began with the Iemoto making a flower offering in the centre of three tables, on which stood large metal containers holding oasis. Then, in order of seniority, people followed her example until all the containers were full. The last group to make this offering were those holding Komon and, as I sat watching them, Ms Takahira tapped me on the shoulder and told me that, since I too held Komon, I should join them. This was an unexpected honour and it made me feel that I truly belonged to the Sogetsu community, which filled the hall to overflowing.

And here I am leaving the stage

Following the Floral Offerings, there were a number of presentations of awards by Iemoto Akane Teshigahara. It was a lovely surprise for me to see the familiar name of Ping Block in the list of recipients of Riji certificates. Not only that, she gave the speech as the representative of her group. She did us proud with her speech as it was both eloquent and warm and, best of all, I understood it.

After a short interval, we watched the Graduation Demonstration by the 5th graduates of the 'Let's Try! Demonstration' course. There were 20 people who demonstrated in all but they did so four at a time on the stage. Iemoto made the introductions and spoke, I presume, about each work and also invited each of the demonstrators to speak. Sadly, I didn't understand any of it. Also, because I was sitting very far back in the hall, the photos I took are of such poor quality that they are not worth including here.

This is a very long post but I can't finish it without mentioning two delightful meetings I had, one with Emiko Chishima and the other with Kazuko Yano. Many of you will know these ladies from our Sogetsu group in Melbourne and Ikebana International Melbourne Chapter. It was so wonderful to spend an afternoon with each of these two warm and generous women, both of whom have gone out of their way to be welcoming and helpful to me. It is a great comfort to me, as I am on my own in a foreign land, to know that they are here and I can call them if get into any difficulty.

To those of you with the patience to see this post to the end, I say Sayonara once again, until next time.