ikebana and life in japan

a blog about ikebana and life in japan


It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Christmas -- my favorite time of the year.

Gathering with family and friends, good food and delicious desserts, the way that everyone becomes a little nicer and a little more thoughtful (something that I wish lasted throughout the year), and all of the decorating -- from the tree to the door, to the presents under the tree and the flowers that liven up the space. How could you not love Christmas?

Each year for one of the ikebana lessons in December, we do a Christmas arrangement. But to me, there is always something lacking, something that makes it not look quite Christmasy. This year, I decided that I would try to do something for myself.

It is difficult here in Japan to find nice Christmas greenery, one of the problems when doing an arrangement. I was lucky enough to find some holly and red berries. I also bought a potted poinsettia to add to the flowers. Poinsettia are not usually used in arrangements because they don't drink the water and die very quickly. I have some "magic" medicine that seems to make any flower last longer, so I thought I would try that on the poinsettia and see how they do. I think I ended up with some nice Christmas ikebana.

This is called "yosoi" or combined form.

The top is a form known as Radial Form, which stretches out from left to right, emphasizing the beauty of the branches.

The bottom is called Circular Form. This form can be viewed from any angle -- front, back, left, right, and even from the top. When viewed from above, it looks more like a wreath -- perfect for Christmas!

One of my favorite things to do for Christmas, decorate the Christmas tree. I try to do something new each year, and try to do it without spending a lot of money in the process. I think making the ornaments adds a bit more magic to the tree and makes each season's tree unique and special. I wish that I had a bigger apartment or even a house, and I'm sure I would do much more decorating. But my small Japanese apartment only allowes me to have a tree and a few assorted decorations here and there.

I love to work with paper. It's cheap and there are loads of colors and textures to choose from. I thought that this year, my theme would be circles and I would use Christmas colors only -- red, green and white. I bought several sheets of different shades and textures of the colors and started cutting circles big and small. The tree skirt I had didn't really mach the theme of circles, so I made one out of paper, too! The final effect, a whimsical and playful tree that makes me happy just to look at it.

My circle tree. The white balls of light are ping-pong balls that I cut a small X in and put over the tree lights.

The paper tree skirt. I think it looks very whimsical.

A close-up of the ornaments.
(Sorry, once again I can't figure out how to rotate the picture!)

Now if only it would snow.

Then, it would be perfect!


芸術の秋 -- Autumn of Art

Here in Japan, autumn is often refereed to as 芸術の秋 (geijutsu no aki), or autumn of art. On November 3rd, it is national Culture Day, a day for the promotion of culture and the love of freedom and peace.  Many towns and cities have a city wide culture exhibition where people can show different works of art they have created, including Japanese calligraphy, bonsai, ikebana, water color and oil paintings, and other traditional Japanese arts.

Every year, I take part in the city culture festival here in Hanamaki. This year, I teamed up with another ikebana student to do a large arrangement. At first, we had some beautiful black leaves and purple carnations. We thought the combination was beautiful, a little dark but also a little colorful with the carnations. We decided to keep it in that color palate and create a One-Row Arrangement using 3 white vases. We took up the space that was reserved for the both of us, so it ended up being quite large and noticeable. We both liked the finished product, and I think the people who came to the exhibition enjoyed looking at it, also.

One-Row Style -- Black Leaf, Carnation (5 varieties), Rainbow Dracaena, and Japanese Bitter Orange spray-painted black

There is also a prefectural ikebana exhibition held around the same time each year in the prefecture's capital, Morioka. I like to do something a little different for the one in Morioka. This year, I wanted to use autumn colors, so I went to the local flower shop to see what they had to offer. I found some leaves that had a very beautiful back of fiery red. Usually, the backs of the leaves are not used, but I couldn't pass up showing off the beautiful red of the Croton leaves. I found some red branches to go along with the leaves, and I began to play around, trying different ways to display the leaves and branches. The resulting piece, a Free Style Arrangement with movement.

View from the front

View from above (sorry, i couldn't figure out how to rotate the picture on here.)

And then a couple of weeks ago, the Morioka Chapter of the Ohara School of Ikebana held it's 65th Anniversary Exhibition in Morioka. Around 280 people, including children and adults, participated by doing an arrangement. I volunteered to help out and spent two days helping out with the preparation and two days greeting and showing people around the exhibition. A total of 7,500 people came to the exhibition, exceeding the number of people who we thought would come by a very, VERY large margin. It was a fun four days, but very labor intensive and busy. It was a very good experience for me, because a large exhibition like that doesn't happen that often. Here's the arrangement I did for the 65th Anniversary Exhibition.

View from the front

Circular Form, view from above
 November has been another busy month, but it was filled with flowers, culture, and a lot of fun!


Hello Japan, part 2

I promised it wouldn't be another month before the next post, and here it is!

After the wonderful stay at the onsen, we made our way south to Geibikei. Geibikei is located on the outskirts of Ichinoseki city. It is a beautiful spot on a river where you take a boat ride to enjoy the scenery and listen to the history and songs of the area. We were a little early in the season to enjoy the fall foliage, but it was still very beautiful.

A passing boat -- the man standing in the rear uses a long pole to steer and push the boat along the river.

Beautiful rock faces.

A small shrine tucked into a cave among the rock cliffs.

Beautiful blue sky.

Stopping half-way to get out and take some pictures.

After a beautiful morning on the river, we headed back north to Hiraizumi, a city with a rich and long history. We visited the temple and shrines there; but unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures of the golden shrine which is spectacular! We saw many other old shrines and very old trees. The city is trying to become a World Heritage Site. Click here to go to the English home page and see some beautiful pictures.

A beautiful bamboo grove.

When the wind blew, you could hear the leaves and the creaking of the bamboo.

An old stone monument.

After Hiraizumi, we headed back to Ichinoseki to visit another beautiful river and Genbikei Gorge. It is another beautiful rock faced river with very bold and square rocks all along it shore.

The rocks here were amazing, too.

A very popular tourist spot. On this day, there were lots of Chinese tourists here.
After a full day of sightseeing, we were hungry; so we went to a yaki-niku restaurant near my house. A yaki-niku restaurant is actually a Korean tradition, but it is very popular here in Japan. At the restaurant, there is a grill at the table, and you grill meat, chicken, vegetables, and sometimes even different seafoods right at the table yourself. It is very delicious and fun to cook it yourself.

A beautiful plate of different kids of beef.

The grill  off to the left and some sauces to dip your grilled meat into in the forefront.

Lettuce leaves and a sauce, you wrap your meat up in one of the leaves with a little bit of sauce.

Meat and vegetables grilling away.

Mom was quite the barbecuer!
On Tuesday morning, the 19th, we went to one of the elementary schools that I teach English at. Mom wanted to see the kids and see what I do. I was a bit nervous for both her and the students, but they both enjoyed it a lot.

Me at my desk in the teaher's room, waiting for the students to come get me for class.

Two girls arrived to escort us to class.

A 5th grade class.

They looked so studious here.

The homeroom teacher -- we team-teach the English classes together.

The 6th grade class with the homeroom teacher. They were nervous because they were giving a speech in English on this day!

The outside of the school and the ground where the children play during recess, with the gym in the back.
It was a fun morning, and I think mom enjoyed it a lot! The next week when I went back to the school, all of the students kept saying that my mom was so beautiful and young. I know she likes that!

The schools that I teach at are about 40 minutes north of Hanamaki. We decided to keep going north and visit Hachimantai in the afternoon. Hachimantai is a city, but it is also home to a beautiful national park. The area is full of nature and has many different onsen. In the winter, it is also an area for skiing and snowboarding, having several different ski areas. Again, we were too early for some spectacular fall colors, but it was still a nice drive and look around the mountain.

All the way up the mountain are these tunnels that are built to protect the road from the snow during the winter months.

Some color near the foot of the mountain.

Another beautiful day with a blue sky.

This is one the many trails through out the park.

The large mountain in the background is Mt. Iwate -- the highest point in Iwate, about 6,686 feet.

More fall colors.

The beautiful blue sky and some fall colors.

That night, we went to eat Okonomiyaki (you can see a previous post about that here). We met my friend Sachiko and had a very good time laughing, eating, and cooking.
Outisde the restaurant with Sachiko and the mascot.

Three types of onion okonomiyaki.


Gyoza -- fried dumplings.
What's in there? I can't wait to eat this!!

One side grilling, almost time to flip it. . .

It helps to hold your mouth just right when flipping.

Sachiko mixing up the fried-rice.

She also did a great job with the gyoza.

All of the food was very delicious, and we were very full afterwards.

On Wednesday, the 20th, we went to my ikebana teacher's house for an ikebana lesson. I wanted mom to experience ikebana, and many of the ladies that I take classes with wanted to meet my mom. I taught mom the very basic form, the rising form, and she did a wonderful job.

Working hard and making sure there is a balance to her work.

The finished work -- very good for a first time!

Some of the other student's works.
In the afternoon, we all headed to another student's house, Naoko, for lunch. Naoko has a beautiful house and likes to cook and have people over. She always has simple yet delicious food, so I was looking forward to the lunch.

The table was prepared.

One of the student's made her DELICIOUS seki-han, which is beans and rice.

(from top-left clockwise) gobo salad, pork, bell peppers with almonds, and baby chrysanthemum leaves and ham

Blue cheese past with mushrooms -- very DELICIOUS!!

The ladies with mom.

They also bought a cake to celebrate the occasion.

My teacher, Hiroko, saying goodbye.
Wednesday was a full day of food, friends, laughter, and lots of fun.

The next morning, on Thrusday, the 21st, we went to the private English conversation school that I teach at to visit some of my classes. All of the students had a good time chatting with mom and learning all about her. (Sorry, I don't have any pictures from this point on. But it's probably better, because this post is long enough as is!)

After the classes, we were off to Tokyo. We took the shinkansen back to Tokyo and stayed the night.

On Friday morning, we took it easy and did a little sightseeing around Tokyo. And in the afternoon, we took a tour on the Hato Bus, a great way for a foreigner to see Tokyo. It was guided by an English speaking Japanese woman, and I even learned a few things about Tokyo and Japan that I hadn't known. That evening, we went to another okonomiyaki restaurant near the hotel and called it an early evening.

We got up early on Saturday, the 23rd, and headed to the airport. Mom had an 11 am flight, so we had to be there around 9 am. We got her all checked in, changed some money, and said our goodbyes.

It was a vacation of a lifetime for me, and I know it was the same for mom. I was glad that she could experience what I had only talked to her about before. I think she understands why I like Japan so much and have been living here for 12 years. I hope she will be able to come back and visit again someday.

But, I promise not to make it such a busy trip for her!