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

New Ways to have Enough fun on Vacation while approaching 80

I’ve learned to redefine what it takes to enjoy a vacation. Enjoyment and enough being the key word here.  Non stop activity has largely vanished as something to be desired or enjoyed while vacationing.  It’s been replaced  by a more laissez faire point of view.  

In the mornings, no longer do I have to hit the streets running which is good because that would literally be an impossibility with asthma and hip bursitis.   It’s rather delicious to linger in the morning for much too  long  over my cup-o’tea.  I can  leisurely check my email, stare at the beautiful color of apple green that I painted on an outside wall, and idly wonder what happened to the butterflies that were supposed to be inhabiting the butterfly garden in front of my house.  They were here en masse the last time we visited.  At some point, it will feel right to take a shower and consider making  the bed while deciding which colorful t-shirt to wear to complement this bright and  sunny day. Continue reading “New Ways to have Enough fun on Vacation while approaching 80”

There’s Still Time

I wanted to love it, and I occasionally did almost enjoy it.  It had its moments.  Just not enough of them.  It was a blockbuster digital art show presented by the Mori Art Museum called Tokyo Lab Boundless.  It is state of the art of digital technology.  Tickets were scarce, but I got one.  I waited in line to enter as my anticipation built, while knowing instinctually that I might not like the manipulated world that awaited us.

How to describe the encounter?  It was an encounter, because the visual overload was close to overwhelming. Visualize many large overlapping spaces contained within a huge hangar. Within the hangar are rooms with different visual displays, mostly relating to nature.  Rooms ultimately morph into other rooms and the spaces purposely become “boundless,” constantly moving, shifting and reappearing. Hints of eternity?

Envision being in a space where every surface is covered with some of the following in a digital rendering; flowers of all kinds and shapes, a waterfall room where people lounged on a large rock as a digital waterfall cascaded over them.  Butterflies flitted and birds flew, thousands of straight strings of l.e.d. lights  changing colors were the Ultimate Christmas Display in my opinion, alluring and transfixing. At the top of a long flight of stairs waited a room with hundreds of suspended  lantern lamps changing colors as well.

Most of the projections were symbols of the natural world. The images covered every surface including ceilings, floors and visitors.  MIrrors added to the illusion of infinite space.IMG_1092

The spaces were crowded. Optimally, I would have liked being the only visitor. Disorientation was part of the experience, but after a while, looking for a way out of this manipulated world became a distraction as well.  There were moments when I thought “how cool, or how beautiful” but they did not outweigh the discomfort I felt at this whole idea.

With our planet in the throes of seemingly unstoppable and accelerated climate change, was this display the way of the future?  An idealized manipulated version of what was the natural world? Is this what will remain when nature collapses?  Just memories lacking the realness of texture of scent of birth and decay?

Was I the only one to interpret the dark side of this extravaganza?  Maybe to most visitors, this would be a more than acceptable substitute for the real thing.  Just as some climate deniers are suggesting we could all move to another planet?

Suddenly I wanted to be released.  Not so easy to find an exit though the endless rooms. I had to first find a worker who slipped me out of an unmarked back door, after I was insistent about wanting to leave.

Relief!  Light!  A genuine, living, glorious flower presented itself.  There’s still time. There’s still time. There’s still time.

OH, Japan!

Oh, Japan! Never could I have imagined the impact that a short trip to accompany my husband on a business trip to Japan in the 1980’s would have on my life. The impact was profound and has continued to influence my life in ways small and large.

Suddenly I was presented with a very different way to see and be in the world. It was as if I’d fallen down the rabbit hole into a fascinating new world that I had no idea existed. I found an ancient culture that revered its traditions as it continued to innovate creatively. I found people who appeared always to be generous and polite. I found an attention to detail that captivated me. I found a culture that revered nature (most of the time). I found stark contrasts between old and new, the sacred and the profane. Juxtapositions exist everywhere.  It was stimulating and inspirational. It got my attention. In a week’s time, I quickly became obsessed with all things Japanese. It was clearly a case of love at first sight. In the ensuing years, I’ve come back to Japan many times. I now live part time in Kyoto.  It’s become my Source.

My obsession can puzzle those who’ve never been to Japan. I do my best to explain it with the following examples. Continue reading “OH, Japan!”

The Cat and the Mouse

cat and mouse

I knew we were in for a visual fest when we received an invitation to join our friend Masa to visit a garden at the Daitoku-ji that is only open to the public for a short time in the spring and autumn.  I didn’t know that the visit would prompt a spontaneous game of cat and mouse.

graphic guide to Oubai-in
Japanese maples surrounding the bell tower at Oubai-in

It’s been a glorious few weeks. A streak of fine weather prolonged sakura season and the warmth prompted other spring flowers to swiftly come into bloom. I’m always awed by the urgency of spring. The Japanese maple trees were barren a few short weeks ago when we arrived. Now they all are displaying their bright green new leaves of spring. Pops of azalea blossoms and best- of- all -Chinese peonies are vie for attention too.

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The tiny blossoms of the maple cover an entrance gate of the temple.

 

 

Obaii-in was built in the 1500’s at the direction of a very wealthy family as a memorial to their deceased father.  It’s way  off the beaten tourist path so we had it almost all to ourselves with the exception of a few eagle eyed staff who roamed the grounds, knowing all too well, I’m certain, that people like me pose a real challenge to their rules.

 

I was dismayed to see a very visible “no photography” sign at the entrance of the temple. However, I was unable to restrain myself, nor did I try very hard when inspired, from taking photos of  the splendid buildings and gardens. An attentive  staff member spotted me and my i-phone at one point and walked over to politely but sternly admonish me.  From that point on we played a game of cat and mouse with each other.  She seemed to lurk around every one of the many corners, while I adeptly looked around to see if she was in sight, before quickly taking my photos and cooly slipping my i-phone into my jacket pocket.

I know not to take photos of sacred altars and certain works of art, but my bad-ass teen age self emerged in full power when restricted from taking a photo of the buildings or the gardens. I easily decided to disregard such an admonition and my sweet Japanese friend fortunately did not discourage me. The gardens were practically begging to be photographed. I heard them call to me. Each corner turned revealed a new vision of the spring life force as well as the simple beauty of Japanese design.

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As the Japanese do so well because of the influence of the tea ceremony, the layout of the grounds and gardens are  fashioned  to reveal only small parts of the entire scene at a time.  This slows down visitors and invites them to examine more closely what is immediate as well as to anticipate what surprises and delights might lie around the next bend in the pathway.

Obai-in contains a dry landscape garden covered with moss, designed by the most celebrated tea master Sen-no – Rikyu. The placement of the stones is symbolic.

Jikichu-Tei, dry landscape gatden designed by Den-no-Rikyu

What a wonderful visit. I felt my brain waves realign themselves while in that space. Playing my own little game of cat and mouse heightened my sense of adventure.

Kyoto offers an endless vault of these sort of unexpected experiences for which I will always be grateful. Despite the fact that I’m allergic to cats.