Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bonsai chrysanthemum--new information since last post

 One of the pleasures of posting a blog is that I can learn from my readers. I posted in my most recent entry the above photo taken in a hotel lobby in Kyoto last fall. I couldn't tell much about it except that it was a potted plant that extended beyond its pot on some sort of frame. It was very smooth and compact. One of my readers, my ikenobo teacher, "Dan Dell," sent me this information about it: "The yellow mum you saw as a mound is actually a very special kind of bonsai style that is commonly seen in the fall in Japan.  That is a single chrysanthemum that is meticulously cultivated and pruned into shape and then is forced to flower for display.  There are whole festivals in cities like Imbe of this kind of horticultural practice.  Really interesting and special."

I was delighted to learn what I had seen, so I'm sharing that information with readers, along with another photo I took of a similar plant (there were actually many of them) displayed in October on the grounds of Osaka Castle.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Flower arranging in Japan now--some views

Welcome to a florist shop in Kyoto, October, 2012. I was traveling in Japan, and of course, because I love plants and ikebana, I was attracted to flowers and floral arrangements I happened to see on the way. This shop is located in the Nishiki  Food Market and has a bountiful array of flowers available to choose from.

This is an arrangement in the Granvia Hotel in Kyoto Station. Not exactly your typical bouquet of flowers in a hotel lobby. The floral designer's information sheets can be seen on the table, but unfortunately for me they were written in Japanese, so I can't tell you anything about her. Below on the right you can see the arrangement from the side. The long stems have been woven together into a kind of fence with the flowers inserted into it in water tubes.

To the left you can see another arrangement in the lobby at the same time--this one apparently a potted plant. As far as I could tell without being able to touch, the plants were growing in a pot hidden below the mound of leaves and yellow flowers and then attached outside the pot to a frame extension. It was perfectly smoothly trimmed.

I had never seen anything like either of these floral designs, so I photographed them to share with you. Please comment if you have any remarks.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Struggling with Shoka

What you see below is my current assignment. My teacher asked me to do an arrangement of spring branches, in this case, crab apple. The assigned form is shoka shofutai, or classic shoka. What you don't see below is the mess. I started on Monday; this is Tuesday. The floor is covered with spilled water, crab apple petals,  discarded branches, and pieces of my confidence. Yesterday I thought I had it finished. Funny how I think that until I need to photograph it to send to my teacher (see earlier post about an unusual way of studying ikenobo). As soon as I look at what I've done through the lens of my Canon, I suddenly see glaring problems I hadn't noticed before.
Now here's where the mess really starts. I have what I think is a completed, photographable arrangement, the water is all nice and clean as it's supposed to be, the stems are all lined up shoka-proper as best I can manage, BUT omg, all of a sudden, it looks absurd. So I have to start pulling out stems and replacing them with new ones, and the petals shower down all into the water and around me, and the stems I think I did manage to place correctly now fall over, and everything's all wrong.

 At this point I could give up, but what keeps me going is practicality. Today I have the flowers. If I give up, I may not be able to get more at this stage of bloom. So I have to do it NOW. I keep working to find the right shapes and insert them in the right places. I use a little strainer to remove all the fallen petals floating on the water surface (I think they're kinda pretty that way, but ikenobo says NO, the water must be clean). So I tidy up, and then I notice that I should have trimmed off some stubs of stems. I hate to touch anything again, lest it all come apart, but I take my scissors and snip off the stubs. It all comes apart again, petals raining, stems falling over. I knew it.

If you are asking yourself, why is it important to get it just so, I wonder that, too. But then I remember that I'm trying to learn how to create with a certain aesthetic. I don't have to do this. I could arrange flowers free-style and do it however I wish. But shoka, when done properly, offers a unique kind of serene beauty, and the only way I can learn to achieve that, I suppose, is by losing my own serenity in the process.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Boston Event, Part 2, Inspirations and Delights

Above is a rikka arrangement on exhibit at the Boston Ikenobo Anniversary Celebration earlier this month. (For introductory information about the event, please go back to the last post.) This rikka arrangement and the next one below were created for the celebration by contemporary ikenobo teachers in the ancient,
traditional styles, recreating historic arrangements. One of the inspiring moments for me as an ikenobo novice was simply standing and looking at these magnificent, monumental creations bringing to life an art form hundreds of years old. (It helped, too, that a fellow participant standing beside me had witnessed the construction of the above rikka and was revealing the secrets of putting together such an amazing arrangement. First stop: Home Depot.)

In fact, what made me want to learn the ikenobo style from the very beginning was seeing in San Francisco at the Ikenobo USA headquarters a rikka arrangment on display, which before I had seen only in old pictures. Their complex, sculptural, tree-like qualities appeal to me very much. I know rikka is a form difficult to master, and I'm eager to progress to the point that I can begin to learn it.

Even more inspiring to me in Boston was the full day of workshops. Because I've only been studying ikenobo for about a year, I was placed in the shoka/free-style workshop. In the morning we heard a lecture on shoka shofutai, the classic, traditional form of shoka and then attempted our own shoka arrangements. After lunch we listened to our professor from Japan, Professor Kobayashi, explain what free-style arrangements are all about and then, again, tried our best to create them.

This was a wonderful opportunity because I've been studying via email, photographs, and phone calls with a teacher in Colorado (I live Albuquerque, New Mexico). I hadn't seen shoka in the flesh (other than my own attempts), only photographs and drawings.  I had also never experienced a professionally taught workshop in ikenobo before. It was exciting to watch the carts of gorgeous flowers, some of which I had never had the opportunity to lay hands on, arriving in a corridor of the Back Bay Events Center where our workshop was to take place:  brilliant bird-of-paradise flowers, sunflowers, large satiny green leaves, and then later, stems of stunning helleconia, white orchids, palm fronds. I was nervous about what the professor might say about my arrangements as he went from table to table, looking at everyone's work, making large and small corrections, but I was also anxious to hear the in-person comments of an expert teacher from the source of ikebana, Japan.

I was also delighted by the unexpected. I knew that ikebana originated in a religious setting and has great spiritual significance. But I was surprised to find that it also includes competition and game-playing. On the first day of the celebration, the audience was allowed to see a ceremony apparently rarely performed that involved competition. It's called the mawari-ike ceremony and was established by Senjo Ikenobo in 1806 to improve skills through competition. Each competitor created an arrangement quickly, and then a judge selected the best.

Shoka arrangement in mawari-ike ceremony

The many Japanese teachers of ikenobo who accompanied Headmaster Sen'ei Ikenobo and his family to Boston definitely displayed playfulness and a sense of humor. A group of them performed a comic game for us, which reassured me that all is not seriousness in the art of ikenobo. The game involved a group of arrangements in progress before an audience. A bunch of teachers would come on stage, each bearing a leaf or flower from his or her favorite plant, and then be hit with the surprise task: use that leaf or flower for one of the named parts of a rikka arrangement not known to them beforehand. So one by one, each group would have to struggle to insert their usually inappropriate plant parts into ongoing rikka arrangements while we in the watching audience laughed at their efforts. It was very funny, but more than that, it demonstrated to me that all of us could take a lighthearted and undignified approach to their honorable ancient art form.