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

The Wonderful World of Eye Candy

I can easily be distracted by visual displays of color and pattern.  I relate to infants watching a mobile; their eyes are bright with excitement and their chubby little legs  kick with glee.  If I were a bird, I’d be right after the mate with the most colorful and hypnotic plumage.

So I guess I was ready made for Japan.  On my first visit there I was immediately attracted to…..almost everything.  So much eye candy (for lack of a better description).  I was fascinated by it all.  Pity anyone who was with me.  They were required to move VERY s l o w l y, so as to savor and attempt to consume it all as I pointed out each thing that caught my eye, foolishly hoping my companion would get the same jolt I did. I clearly did not  trust their own abilities.

eye can·dy
/ī ˈkandē/

noun

INFORMAL
visual images that are superficially attractive and entertaining but intellectually undemanding.
“the film’s success rested on a promotional campaign showcasing its relentless eye candy”
California super bloom 2019
In our culture, the term eye candy seems mostly used to define a buxom, brainless young woman.  For me, it  means something visual that I can take pleasure from.
Think of the current superbloom of wildflowers in California. Possibly,  a once in a lifetime treat. If this isn’t eye candy, what is??  Add to these floral enticements the staggering beauty and gasp- inducing wonder of a mature Japanese cherry tree in blossom, probably made more magical by its ephemeral nature. Certainly more bittersweet.
Japanese cherry blossom in Kyoto, Maruyama Park, night illumination.  This tree brought me to tears the first time I saw it.

 

Japanese munchkins, vintage photo. irresistible.  They’ve cornered the cuteness market.

 

Hot weather matcha sundae. Irresistible layers of flavors and textures and coolness. ( I eat it all.)

 

contemporary patterns in Japanese umbrellas. Raised to an art form. Rainy season wonders.

 

more sakura

 

Seasonal Japanese postcards. Glorious.

 

matcha latté

 

Sakura in Rokkokuji Temple. A neighborhood wonder.

 

New chocolate shop in my neighborhood. Note seasonal designs. Help yourself.

 

Japanese ceramic vessels. Be still my heart.

The diversity, power and beauty of Japanese ceramics and its long tradition make this art form one to be savored.

spring ikebana arrangement

 

someone loves frogs. Display in coffee shop.

 

Autumn in Sanzen-in garden.

 

seen in arcade. The power in numbers!

 

Child’s drawing in Miyajima.

 

 

 

sake container
Tower of fresh peas
Clouds!!!
In the course of writing this blog, I realize that most of what I consider eye candy in the West, is found  in nature.  In Japan, it can be man-made and intentional as well as natural.  The Japanese seem to have an innate artistic sensibility that  can raise my heartbeat. What is the magic formula that allows this ability?
I have thousands of photos of things that inspire me when I’m in Japan.  I’ve shared just a small slice of them to give you a sense of my encounters!  I imagine on an Eye Candy Sensitivity Chart, I might be off the chart.  Don’t know. What is clear is that these visual delights bring me great pleasure.
Sometimes, I wonder how many more years I’ll be able to make this trek.  Unknowable.  But, for now, I’m gearing up for another round, leaving this world on May 1!

Continue reading “The Wonderful World of Eye Candy”

WHEN IT’S TIME FOR A PARASOL, OR WHEN IN ROME!

When out and about on the streets of Kyoto, my attention, in the summer, was quickly drawn to the myriad displays of fans and parasols that pop up in department stores and other retail spaces, as well as on women in the street.   I had thought these accessories were just a leftover affectation or vestige from ancient Japanese culture, used as elements and add-ons of intriguing design.  That was, until this summer’s visit to Kyoto, when the word ‘heat” took on a new dimension.

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Lolita parasols
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Schoolgirls with Parasols

The humidity in Kyoto ramped up suddenly towards the end of our visit.  Suddenly, I found myself having difficulty breathing, drenched in perspiration and chronically tired.  I immediately understood the necessity of having personal accessories, like a hankie, parasol and fan, in order to have a fighting chance of survival when venturing out-of-doors!  If possible, I would have had no objection to adding two sturdy men to carry me around,so that my exertion level could be reduced to zero.

Travel by kago
Travel by kago

I developed a new appreciation for hankies as well. In Japan, there are hundreds of choices available for that small square textile, from dainty to outrageous.   I had already learned to carry one in case there was no alternate drying method available after washing my hands, but I’d never had to rely on it to keep me from looking like I’d just run a triathlon! Now, they too became indispensable for coping with the heat.

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At the beginning of our trip, I’d purchased several paper fans that appealed to me for their seasonal beauty. I parked them in a bamboo fan stand right in the middle of our dining room table.  Their designs ranged from painted hydrangeas to blue and white gingham check, to cut outs of morning glories.

My morning glory ujiwa fan
My morning-glory ujiwa fan

They quickly became my first “don’t leave home without it” item.  I also recognized the importance of carrying a parasol and soon carried one without any degree of self-consciousness.    Unfortunately, being uninformed on the practice of buying a parasol, I bought an inexpensive one, which although pretty, didn’t do much to block the sun’s penetrating rays.

I’d met my match weather-wise and ultimately admitted that I was, for once, relieved to be leaving Japan and going home to Santa Barbara, to the land of perpetual low humidity, comfortable temperatures and endless blue skies.

The parasol, the hankies and the fans, were all put to rest.

The SUPERB SIMPLE JOYS OF SUMMER IN JAPAN

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If we were sweltering in the heat, our summer travels in Japan might not be as enjoyable.  As luck would have it, the heat has not been oppressive, nor has the rainy season rained on our parade.  There’s been just enough heat so that when I pass a seductive soft serve stand, there’s not a minute’s hesitation about buying one for immediate consumption.  My granddaughter is cut from the same cloth, I’m happy to discover.

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Yesterday, we discovered a 1950’s era small vintage amusement park in Tokyo.  It was a little shabby around the edges, but delighted me because of its total simplicity and easy charm.

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The kids were all having a wonderful time.  It brought back memories for me of Mountain Park, a long – gone amusement park in the foothills of the Berkshire Hills in Western Massachusetts.  I grew up idling away many a fine summer’s day there, neatly ramming other friend’s bumper cars and eagerly reaching for the golden ring on the carousel. Those pastimes provided hours of pleasure.

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The setting of the park in the center of Tokyo provided the same joy to a new generation of children as Mountain Park had done for me.  The playful and colorful surroundings shouted “summer!”

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The summers of my childhood seemed endless at the time, but in retrospect, it was fleeting and precious as is life itself.

For a brief time yesterday, I captured the intoxication, joy and squeals of a summer’s day.   

MY BLUE HEAVEN, aka A Flower orgy

The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers. ~Basho

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There are two distinct  kinds of temple/shrine goers in Japan.  One type believes that if you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all.  The other’s credo is that it is impossible to find a temple that doesn’t have something to admire.   I’m in the latter category.

There’s an affinity in temples and shrines for splendid gardens, sometimes grand, but often intimate.  For the temple addict, the beauty of the natural world is heightened by the artistry of the designed landscape.  The garden provides inspiration, while the temple or shrine set on site, provides the opportunity to give thanks.  It’s a perfect marriage.

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I gasped at the first sight of 10,000 hydrangeas simultaneously in bloom at the Mimurotoji Temple garden. I entered into a dream world of blueness, in delicious shades and tints of the blue spectrum.DSC03962

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An outdoor café sits in the center of the garden.  It’s a perfect place to indulge in a chilly green tea  shaved ice or a green tea parfait that helps to cool the summer heat.

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When I finally bid goodbye to the hydrangeas, I went to visit the temple.  I climbed three sets of very steep stone steps, discovering that this ancient structure was framed with hundreds of regal blooming lotus.  What a fine day!

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