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

A Foreign Eye on Kyoto’s Jidai Matsuri

Who doesn’t love a parade?

Kyoto has three important matsuri during the year. JIdai matsuri is one of them.  I’ve seen the other two, one in spring and one in the suffocating hot summer.   I had not heard of the Jidai matsuri until a few days ago when a Japanese friend of mine confided that this was her favorite festival of the year.  Given all that takes place here, that’s saying a lot.  I decided to check it out.

The main attraction is the parade of over 2,000 people, all of whom are dressed in meticulously crafted costumes that represent each era of Kyoto’s 1,100-year history. The parade follows a reverse chronological order, starting with the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and working backwards to the Imperial Court of Emperor Kanmu’s reign, and includes members depicting famous historical samurai or politicians, as well as members of the merchant and commoner classes.

From an outsider’s point of view, I viewed the procession largely as a fashion show.  I quickly lost interest in the boring narrative related to us by a Japanese woman reading.about the procession from a book in English.  After a half an hour of trying to make sense of her narrative, I pulled the earpiece out and watched the procession in blessed silence, moved by the historical legacy of this city and the role it played as Japan’s capital for a thousand years!

I cannot relate to you who’s who or which historical period they represent. I hope you don’t care.  There were a lot of warriors.There were lots of dressed up horses too.  There were striking Shinto elements as well.  There were dozens of men in the emperor’s retinue. Many looked tired of walking.

Much of Kyoto’s earlier history was about one war after another. Bloody times.  (and don’t their shoes look surprisingly flimsy?) Life for commoners was challenging and short. Life for the aristocracy brought with it great privilege but seldom peace, except in certain periods.

The straw outcropping on this warrior’s back is a raincoat.
armed for battle
Maybe not fleet of foot, but don’t underestimate his marksmanship ability on his steed.
This warrior needs his own role in the next Star Wars sequel, I believe.
exuding confidence

I hope you enjoy the images and the pageantry I witnessed.  All costumes are guaranteed to be authentic reproductions, right down to a specialist who just does the hair of the participants!  I was amazed at the bright colors and patterns of the attire.  Of course, this procession celebrated the who’s who of Kyoto over hundreds of years.  The aristocracy and members of the court as well as the priests and warriors dressed to impress, no doubt!

I was grateful that the timing of this Kyoto visit coincided with this matsuri.  It’s one of life’s experiences that I was delighted to witness, but feel no need to witness again!

the beginning of polka dot love?  Shinto priest, I believe.
young princess? Would this dress be for going to a birthday party?
empress or favorite concubine? I doubt that the empress would be walking.
Women from neighboring countryside of Ohara who would come to Kyoto to sell their produce.
Look at these colors! The artisans worked long and hard to produce these textiles!