Love at First Sight

Each year, the world wide obsession with  (cherry blossoms) seems to increase.  To be in Japan during this season is to experience a spectacle unlike any other.  Its arrival throughout the country is calculated carefully by meteororologists, its likely bloom period examined, from buds to peak, to the emergence of  leaves marking the end of the season.  Its affect(effect?) on Japanese culture cannot be underestimated.  It’s an immersive, communal, joyful, yet bittersweet experience.  From specially designed foods and drinks, to store window displays, to accessories and clothing, you surrender to it while in Japan during Sakura season.  It’s frothy and short-lived, but that only reinforces the sense of urgency to enjoy it while you have it, because it all will disappear within a few short weeks. It reminds us of the impermanence of life.

It quickly becomes party time in Japan as the blooms emerge and friends and colleagues gather together under the blossoms to sip sake and eat pink colored rice.  The mood of the crowd is buoyant and contagious. Must be seen to be believed. Crowds of tourists, however, have made the more popular gathering spots decidedly less enjoyable for this visitor.

Sakura season is not unlike the sequence of Think Pink in the movie Funny Face, depicting  a pink world , https://youtu.be/KX6TaA6IRkk. A good dose of Pink can brighten anyone’s day, as good as looking at the world through rose colored glasses, or at least through pink cellophane as I loved doing as a child through a lollipop wrapper.

Had enough cherry blossoms?

Enter the humble morning glory, a flower of summer, taken to new heights by the Japanese delight in them.  I first knew I was going to love Japan, because during  my first trip to Tokyo, I discovered the Morning Glory Festival.

Iriya Asagao Matsuri (Morning Glory Festival)

Iriya Asagao Matsuri, held from July 6 to 8 every year, is the largest festival in Japan dedicated to morning glories. The 60 producers and 96 fair stalls that line Iriya Kishimojin—meaning Iriya’s goddess of childbirth and children, and the common name for Shingen-ji Temple—and Kototoi-dori Street attract as many as 400,000 people during the three-day period each year. (In Tokyo)

The morning glories of Iriya are said to have gained fame around the late Edo period. The flowers were initially cultivated in Okachimachi, and as times changed they switched hands to producers in Iriya. By the mid Meiji period, the Iriya breeds were so attractive that they became popular as decorative plants.

In their heyday, Iriya’s producers created some thousand varieties of morning glory through deliberate cross-pollination. The flowers momentarily vanished from Iriya in the Taisho period. And after the Second World War, a team of locals and the Shitaya Tourism Association revived the tradition and organized the Asagao Matsuri as we know it today.

Visitors to the three-day seasonal event are sure to experience the summer of Edo through the morning glories that have delighted natives of every generation, from Edokko to Tokyoites. Gotokyo.org.

Way back when, we woke up very early in the morning on our first day in Tokyo.  Going back to sleep was not an option even though it was still dark. I was restless, eager to discover a new city.   I’d read in a guide book that the Tsukiji Fish Market opened for business very early.  Bingo.  Something my husband might enjoy because the name fish was attached.  An ideal destination. He gave me no resistance, even though it meant crossing the city. Little did I know that it was the time of Asagao Matsuri (Morning Glory Festival.)

As we approached the market, I noted small pots of deep blue morning glories along the sides of walkways.  I think this was the moment I first fell in love with Japan.

I immediately decided that a country that sets aside a few days to honor a humble flower, must have something going for it!

I have since learned there’s history and art behind the crowning of the morning glory as an important summer flower. It was imported originally from China for the medicinal uses of the seeds.  The Japanese were the first to grow if for decorative purposes.  During the Edo period, it reached the height of popularity.

In this vivid display of rich blue and green against a gold-leaf background,Suzuki Kiitsu concentrated on the proliferation of the blossoms and leaves by omitting any indication of space or context. The exuberant outburst is carefully orchestrated into two movements: the blossoms on the right rise up from the ground, while those on the left cascade down as if supported by an unseen trellis.

Trained as a textile dyer, Kiitsu studied painting under Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828), with whom he prepared an illustrated compendium of classic Rinpa art, One Hundred Paintings by Kōrin (Kōrin hyakuzu). Evident in these screens, especially in the brilliant decorative effects of thick mineral pigments on gold leaf, is the influence of both textile design and the Rinpa school.  Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Here a more spare interpretation of morning glories  by artist Tawaraya Sori, 17th C,

Needless to say, I came home and tried to grow some Japanese strains of morning glory, ordered online from seeds . They were pretty, but I obviously didn’t have the knack of it to go from pretty to breathtaking.  I was lucky to get three blossoms the entire summer.  A dismal record.  This year I’m going to try again.

Each time I see a morning glory brings me back to the First Time I saw them celebrated and displayed in Japan and the feeling I had of Love at First Sight. There’s nothing as intoxicating as Young Love (nor any flower more beautiful than a morning glory!)

P.S.If you’re intrigued you can easily find sources for seeds online.  Let me know how it works out for you1

Almost Never Enough PINK

Since I was a bit long-winded in my last blog, I decided to cut to the chase today.  As I mentioned in my last blog, one reason I’m in Japan now is to celebrate spring in Japanese fashion.  The arrival of the cherry blossom season here is feverishly anticipated for weeks before the actual blooms appear. Forecasts for every part of the country tell the Japanese public exactly where and when to go to the sights with the most bang for the buck.  I pay attention to these forecast and follow the festive crowds, or more pleasurably find an off the beaten path spot to witness the extravaganza.
It’s a wonderful tradition and everyone gets swept up in it.  Year after year.
Pink swatches

Pink is a combination of the color red and white, a hue that can be described as a tint. It can range from berry (blue-based) pinks to salmon (orange-based) pinks. Its symbolism is complex and its popularity is subject to so many influences.

We can begin an analysis of pink by looking at natural and contemporary sources of this delicate color. First, regardless of your skin color, some part of your body is pink. So are sunsets, watermelons and Pepto Bismal. Depending on your age and culture, you may remember pink Cadillacs, pink flamingos (once considered in bad taste in American culture but now retro-chic), Pink Floyd, the Pink Panther, and the pink triangles of the Third Reich (which were used to identify male homosexuals).  colormatters.com

 

Today I took photos of only things that were pink.  I hope these photos give you a taste of my pink drenched day.  The blooms for the weeping cherries are mostly peaking, many other later varieties to follow over the next week.

Pink Encounters:  From first to last

  1.  Easter bunny in bakery counter of Daimaru Dep’t store
  2.  Ema votive tablets wishes and prayers written by visitors at Kodaiji Temple.
  3. The magnificent weeping cherry tree in splendid solitude at Kodaiji in Kyoto.
  4. More delectables in pastry case
  5. Alstromeria pink
  6. Folk art yarn ball (temari)
  7. Do you need a new purse?
  8. 9.  Better not miss out on Easter

IMG_0133IMG_0135and best of all:IMG_0139

Must be Seen (again and again)

You are familiar with the statement, “Must be seen to be believed.” In the case of cherry blossom season, this is not an exaggeration.  It is truly a take – your – breath – away experience to be ingested and savored.

The attachment the Japanese and I have to Sakura cannot be overemphasized.  Weeks before the blossoms appear, forecasts appear, predicting when and where cherry blossom season will begin and spread across this island nation. The color pink appears in hankies and scarfs, cakes, drinks and candies.  Artificial branches of pink cherry blossoms are hung in shopping arcades.  Increasing numbers of kimono-wearing women appear on the street, adding to the sense of anticipation and sense of occasion.

You would be forgiven if you thought that it’s all overblown, or if you’ve seen it one time, you do not need to see it again.  You’d only think that if you had never truly experienced it.

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Sakura holds a unique place in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people.  Much has been written about the centuries – long attraction of the blossoms to the Japanese.  Now, 21st c. publicity and travel opportunities have contributed to an influx of tourists from many lands, poised to descend on the most famous places in Japan to view sakura.  At times, in certain places, the crowds of people with camera phones become almost comical, if it weren’t so annoying.  The masses of people can easily distract me from the magnificence of the trees in bloom.

Yesterday, as the blooms intensified across Kyoto, we sought to view the flowers in a quieter location.  I wanted to be sure my family saw what all the fuss was about before they headed for Tokyo.  At the suggestion of a Japanese friend, we took our family inside the gates of the former Imperial Palace. Continue reading “Must be Seen (again and again)”

Hanami Overload?

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We (The trees and I) peaked today.  My insatiable appetite for cherry blossoms is seemingly satiated.  Cherrymania was at its most intense today when we traveled a bit out of town to visit the World Heritage Site Daigoji Temple, on everyone’s best-dressed list.  The weeping cherries at this temple are mostly an irresisible delicate pink. They cover acres of vast temple grounds. Many are over 700 years old.   Their dazzling presence casts a spell,  leading you on as if in a hypnotic trance, from one tree to the next.  They’re all beautiful. Each has its own identity, just different enough so that you don’t know when to call it a day.  Our steps were light in the morning when we arrived, but hours later, after taking in so much springtime effervescence, the air went out of the tires! I diagnosed Hanami overload!  At one point, I uttered the unthinkable:  I don’t think I can look at another tree!

What did people do before the use of cell phone cameras?  Hanami is a centuries old custom here, dating back to the 8th century.  Did the earlier observers make drawings, paintings, or just commit the dreamy visions before them to memory?  vintage hanami

Our way of viewing special moments now leaves little to memory alone. We crave evidence. Cell phone cameras make it all possible. Each of us has become an amateur photographer,  getting instant gratification with one little click.   Amusingly, we like the camera focused on ourselves almost as much as on the setting. I watched with fascination as pretty young Japanese women would automatically assume  a wistful, sweet, dreamy, gentle expression when getting ready for a photo. I imagine this is a specific genetic expression assumed when posing in front of sakura, that has been transferred for centuries from one generation to the next.  The women would position themselves so they could tenderly touch a blossom or two, or peak out from behind a lacy branch. Their expression would be impossible for a foreigner to emulate! NO, I didn’t even try.

Below, pink souvenirs of the season.

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As usual, the children steal the show!

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This group of little girls, all dressed beautifully for the occasion, taking delight in what must have been a photograph of themselves.

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This young man won my award for “Knowing What to Wear.”

what to wear

DSC04194We followed the crowds, took our pictures,.  At some junction the procession became tiresome and yet I was reluctant to leave.  We started to feel like the old Alka Seltzer ad from the late 60’s, I can’t believe ate the whole thing.

Before we departed I had to take one last photo of an ancient tree.  It seemed to signify the strength,endurance, yet fragility of this world of ours.big tree