**Note: I am completely ignorant when it comes to Ikebana and this post is just about what I can remember from the one time I tried it. By no means should you use me as any sort of reference on Ikebana.**
In October of 2009, while I was still living in Shanghai, I planned a vacation to visit my friend D'Arcy. She was living in Katsuyama, Japan and I was beside myself that I was going to visit a new country (having previously only been to Canada and China) and that that new place was going to be JAPAN. I'm sure if I had gone with a tourist group, I might have been to more touristy places or more of the bigger cities, but I wouldn't trade my trip for anything. I did my share of "touristy" things, like visiting the deer park in Nara and getting a geisha make-over in Kyoto, but I also spent a few days in small and lovely Katsuyama, seeing what life in a normal Japanese town must be like.
One day, D'Arcy took me to her Ikebana class, which she had been going to for a while. I was thrilled to get the chance to try a new hobby, especially in the country it originated in. I had never done any sort of flower arranging before, unless you count picking out a few types of flowers at Stop & Shop and then having them combine them into a bouquet.
The majority of the class was doing a specific assignment (they had certain materials they had to use), but D'Arcy and I were allowed to pick our own vases and flowers to work with. I picked a low, wide bowl/vase and after some advice from D'Arcy about not going overboard, picked three different types of flowers and a large fern-like-thing...I don't know plants.
The vase was interesting in that on the bottom it had a disc of sharp-ish spikes coming out of it, that way you could stick each flower/stem/etc EXACTLY where you wanted it and it would stay. I had no clue what I was doing, so apparently I was doing freestyle Ikebana. I trimmed and placed and debated. I learned a trick of stabbing smaller stems into larger stems and then sticking those into the spikes. I tried to arrange my flowers in a way I thought looked good, and also a little like I imagined actual Ikebana was supposed to look. At left you can see my eventual product.
I can't remember exactly what she said, but the teacher said of my work something along the lines of that she could tell I hadn't studied Ikebana, but I had a feel for it. Whatever it was, I remember her comment giving me happy fuzzies. Of course she could have just been being polite to the giant foreigner, or since D'Arcy was translating she could have actually been saying I was an idiot but my friend thought to soften the blow. Hopefully not the case!
The teacher was amazing. The place was amazing. Oh...did I forget to mention that the teacher lived in a temple and that's where the class was? After the class she gave me a tour and I followed her, slack-jawed, in disbelief that someone could live in such a beautiful place. I am not a religious person in the least but I find temples and churches beautiful and in an odd way, calming.
For a while after we sat and drank tea and she talked about the temple and Ikebana and her life. I tried so hard to pay attention, but I can't remember anything specific about what she said. I was too busy thinking "I can't believe I am drinking tea in the temple that this woman lives in after doing Ikebana in Japan" over and over again. At right you can see the teacher, the other two students, D'arcy and myself. D'Arcy's arrangement from that class is in front of her, mine is to the side of me. You can see that the other two students were working with these tall, thin green things and big yellow flowers (did I mention I don't know plants?).
Somewhat recently I had an idea for a TV show, either for something like the Discovery Channel or the Travel Channel. They send the host (of course me, its my idea) to a country for a period of time. While there, I learn about, study and attempt a traditional craft from that country. Think of it! Making tapa cloths in Fiji, bilum/net bags in Papua New Guinea, paper cutting in China! It would be a new way of looking at a country/culture. I can't believe I would be the only person that would find a show like that fascinating.
Imaginary TV show or not, I hope I get the chance to try more traditional and varied crafts in the future.