mochitsuki

The second Monday in January was a holiday in Japan. My friends, who know lots about Japan since they’ve been there longer than I have, invited me to go to a mochitsuki with them at a temple near their apartment (and my new apartment!). As a lover of mochi and Japanese traditions, I was super excited about this. So, even though I woke up to horrible weather (including snow!), I was still excited to venture out.

There are several temples where we could have gone to see this tradition, but because this one was so small, we were the only gaijin there. And as we were it, everyone was super excited to have us be a part of things. It was amazing. We got to pound the rice. We got to roll mochi balls. We got to take a tour of the temple and were taught a traditional prayer. It was incredible.
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Holiday in Japan = Sake!

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ikebana

When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My mom was pretty sick and in and out of the hospital and so, before I started school, I would spend most weeks at her house about an hour south of my hometown with my little brother. 

The two of us would play in the backyard and go for adventures down to the creek with our grandpa. We’d go for walks with the dogs, play with trucks in the playroom, hide in the storage room, ride the big, red tricycle, and pedal the “surrey with the fringe on top” around the neighborhood. We picked tangerines off of the tree next door, went on trips to the dump with our grandpa, slid down the slide and swung on the bars on the play-set in the backyard. Besides the fact that our mom was sick and we weren’t in our own home, it was pretty idyllic.

Easter in my grandparents’ living room.

I also have memories of my grandparents’ formal living and dining rooms; rooms we weren’t allowed to play in, but that I absolutely loved. Besides the pink settee that I still love, my grandma made these amazing flower arrangements and I have vivid memories of the beautiful birds-of-paradise and calla lilies she would cut from the plants in the backyard and subsequently turn into beautiful works of art using one of her many bowls and a little needle covered block called a frog. These arrangements stayed in the living room where they would not be destroyed by busy children with lots of energy.
Sydne, Ashley, me, and Daphne at JFK as I was heading to Switzerland for my mission.
This was the beginning of my love of flowers. And then my mom’s best friend in the world, Sydne, was an incredible florist (still is, in fact), which only added to it. A little later on in my life, when my mother was healthier and Justin and I had returned home for good, I would often spend late nights and early mornings with my mom over at Sydne’s. I would get to help her daughters put pearl pins in stephanotis or peel damaged petals off of roses in preparation for one of the many weddings she would be doing during any given week. It was so fun to be part of creating something so beautiful for such a special occasion. 
One of the last memories I have of my mom was of her and Sydne making these flower crowns for my senior year Homecoming game. I kept that crown in my closet for years afterward, hanging onto one of the last things I had that my mother had created for me.
Anyway, I share all of this to paint a picture for you. I know there are people out there who think flowers are kind of a waste, and I can understand that point of view. Clearly, though, I don’t share it. So, when I was home last month and made my 23-hour visit to Utah, mostly to see my grandma, I was thrilled when she gave me one of her ikebana books, some money to take a class, and the promise that I would inherit her containers and frogs. (Cousins, I hope you are committing what I just wrote to memory. 🙂 ) 
Since moving to Japan I have been wanting to take an ikebana class. This is the type of flower arranging my grandma has always done and she learned while she was living here in Japan in the early 70s. The book she gave me had a letter in it, written to her by a woman who I can only assume was one of her instructors. A letter dated 1983 and that cost 480 yen to send (the dollar was so much stronger then…). 
So, with a little research on the web, I found an introductory class in English that wasn’t ridiculously expensive. After a few emails back and forth, I scheduled my lesson for this past Saturday. It was everything I was hoping for and more. It started with a couple of demonstrations while my darling instructor, Reiko, explained some of the history behind the art of ikebana and and the different formal styles, including the type of ikebana she practices: Sogetsu. 
She also taught me about the use of different plants and flowers and how each one is said to contain a deity, and so each one represents something different. When I was looking through my grandma’s book, as well as the one Reiko had, I found a number of arrangements that I did not find especially aesthetically pleasing, but after Reiko gave me this part of the lesson, I could see that the beauty of these arrangements was to be found in what they represented.
Nagiere

Reiko first demonstrated the basic upright style arranged in Nageire. To say I was enthralled would be an understatement. She showed me how to make supports in the container in order to position the flowers exactly where they should be. She explained the importance of space and density, angles and lines, colors and lengths.

Freestyle

She then demonstrated a more modern or freestyle arrangement; the type of arrangement you can do one you have mastered the basics.

Reiko’s example: Moribana

And then it was my turn. Well, almost. First she demonstrated the most basic style, basic upright arranged in Moribana, using the same flowers I would be using. While I would have loved to have arranged it in Nagiere (seriously, creating supports from stems is just cool), I was so excited to finally be playing with a frog (aka kenzan in Japanese) having seen them so often during my childhood. And I was thrilled about the irises. I love irises.

My first try at ikebana: Moribana
It was so fun to being arranging flowers and to have to think about space and lines. Once I was done, we moved the arrangement from one container to the next, experimenting with different colors. I started with a navy blue container, then tried white, and finally decided this was my favorite, even though I didn’t think the colors would look good together, it just felt the best. And that was the end of my first class. 
In case it wasn’t obvious, there will be more. And, on top of having this awesome experience, I got to take all of the flowers we used home with me. Once back in my apartment, I pulled out my little vase and went to work. It’s amazing how just one lesson in ikebana helped me so much in my western style of arranging flowers. I used space and variety more. I thought about angles and lines. And I was pretty pleased with the finished product.
Of course I like to find metaphors in art whenever possible and I think ikebana, when compared with western flower arranging, is a perfect representation of how my life in Japan feels versus my life in New York. My life in New York was beautiful because it was full and I carefully fit as much into my days as I possibly could, ensuring I could see everyone I wanted to see and do everything I wanted to do and not miss out on anything. Like a western arrangement, it was about being full. And, as I said, it was beautiful. 
My life in Japan, on the other hand, is not as full of people or activities. I am much more thoughtful about what I want to do and everything requires a little more effort because the culture and language are not native to me. I have to think more and do less. It is also beautiful, but it’s a beauty that is as much a result of what is there as what is not there.
And if I take this idea to its logical conclusion, the end result will be that, when I return to my New York City lifestyle, it will as one who has seen a different way and will be able to take the lessons learned from my life here to make my life there that much better, easier, and more beautiful. Kind of great, right?

my birthday – japan style

I have lots of blogging to catch up on. A trip to the states, lots of birthday celebrating, etc, etc. But this weekend, instead of doing that, I was busy getting my karaoke on and relaxing after a really stressful week at work. So, for now, I’m going to give you this little gem from my first birthday dinner with my friends here in Japan. I have to thank Chelsea for encouraging me to go ahead and let them do the whole singing thing. So. Worth. It.

kyoto – day two (east and west)

I don’t know if there’s anything better than the quiet of the early morning, seeing a city come to life in the glow of the sun as it starts coming over the mountains. I was so happy I headed out early on my second day in Kyoto so I could do just that.

I had a very “American” breakfast (ketchup?) at a lovely outdoor cafe where I was able to watch the city as it woke up. And the toast was delicious. I hadn’t realized how much I had been missing bread until it was put in front of me all toasty warm and covered in butter.

After breakfast, I wandered through the rest of the streets on the east side of the city–the ones I hadn’t been able to get to the night before–on my way to Kiyomizu-dera. There were also a number of other neat things I got to see along the way.

The driver thought he could make this corner. He was wrong.

Not sure what this is, but it was pretty, so I took a photo.

Also not sure what temple this is. But it was also pretty.

Singing (chanting?) monks were walking down this little street about 50 feet apart. There were about five of them. I couldn’t have planned it better.

Loved these stairs up the hill…and all the shops along the side. 
Just a little garden I popped into.

The entrance to Kiyozumi-dera.

The view from the temple.

It was a busy day here. Can’t imagine how crazy it will be in another month.

From across the valley.

I stopped to take a little break at this lovely park.

After the rest of my adventures on the east side, I headed back to the hotel to grab my bag and go to the train station to store it in a locker before heading to the west side. Very convenient, those lockers at the train stations. And, unlike airports, train stations are typically very central, so it didn’t take too much extra time.

At this point, I had spent more time wandering (and shopping) than I’d intended, so I knew I wasn’t going to get to everything I’d had planned. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to Kinkaku-ji (the Temple of the Golden Pavilion). I’d seen post card pictures of it around town and it just looked like a little much. But it is one that all the tour books and anyone I spoke to said I needed to see, so I went. Totally worth it. The post cards do not do it justice.

After that, I wandered down to the Zen temple Ryoan-ji, which is famous for its gardens. Along the way, I finally figured out what smelled so good as I had been wandering through the city: these little blossoms. There’s nothing like a happy scent to add to a perfect atmosphere.

The gardens were every bit as amazing as the books promised. Seriously stunning.

Japanese Maples are probably my most favorite tree. We had them in our backyard growing up, so they remind me of that. And they are just gorgeous. I’d never seen such big ones, though, as the ones in Kyoto.

And with that, I was out of time. Not knowing how long I’d have to wait for the bus and judging by how long it had taken to get to this part of town from the station, I decided better safe than sorry. I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss my train.

There was so much I didn’t see that I still want to see. And the city just has this amazing vibe. I loved it (in case it wasn’t obvious). So, I will definitely be back. Plus, it was pretty cool to ride the bullet train down there.

kyoto – day 1 (the eastern side)

Sometime after I got back from Okinawa, I decided I needed to go to Kyoto. And since this past weekend was our conference weekend for my church (meaning I didn’t need to lead the music), I decided it would be a perfect weekend to go. I booked a ryokan (a TripAdvisor recommendation) and bought my ticket (or what I thought was my ticket) for the Shinkansen. I decided I’d head down early-ish (not too early, though) Saturday morning and back Sunday night. It was a perfect plan. Except that I got to the train station later than I’d planned and, as it turned out, had only paid for my reserve seat, not the actual ticket. Thankfully, there are trains every 10 minutes, so I was able to get on one about an hour later (I needed a window seat, thus the wait).

And the window seat proved worth the wait…

Instagram shot of Fuji-san…I’m pretty much in love with this photo
nice camera on crappy settings…maybe if I edit it?

So,  I arrived in Kyoto and took a taxi to the very lovely Gion Maifukan to drop off my stuff before heading out to find some food and start touristing. The super nice desk staff gave me maps and directions and I was off.

I had a lovely lunch (I love udon noodles soooo much!) followed by a lovely treat and a Japanese treat shop (recommended by one of the managers I support at work and conveniently close to where I was staying) of this crazy cold noodles that you dip in this black, treacly goodness called kuzukiri. Amazing!

Udon served cold with dipping sauce and amazing tempura

kuzukiri

After eating, I hopped on the bus up to the Silver Temple: Ginkaku-ji. It’s in the northwest corner of the city and there’s a path you can follow that leads back to where I was staying with several templs along the way, so I decided to start there. But, before I got to the temple, I had to snap a shot of these pedi-cabs powered by humans running while wearing ninja shoes. Kind of awesome. Talk about a great way to keep in shape!

Well, the Ginkaku-ji (or Temple of the Silver Pavilion as it’s called in English) was incredible. I knew at once that I had made the right choice by coming to Kyoto and doing it before things got too crowded. The fall (which happens mid-November) is amazing and it draws huge crowds. So, while I would love to see Kyoto in its full autumn splendor, I was happy to not be contending with crowds any bigger than what was there last weekend.

Proof of the craziness that Japanese women inflict upon themselves
The street that leads up to the temple…can you imagine what it would be like more crowded than this?

I then started walking down the Philosopher’s Walk, but found myself quickly at another temple, Honen-in. This one much smaller, but beautiful in a very quiet way.

And then it was back down the path. I understand why philosophers would have walked along this particular way. It’s so quiet and peaceful and the perfect combination of water, trees, views, and light. I could have walked along the path all day and then some.

This moth/bee thing was crazy, so of course I needed a photo.

Just a fish swimming upstream…

My last temple stop of the day was Eikan-do.

And with this, the temples began to shut their gates.

So, still being quite a trek from my little Japanese inn, I found the bus and rode it back to my part of town. At this point, my room was ready and I took a much needed break on my very comfortable futon.

And then I headed out to find dinner, but first I had to capture proof that I can be a cute tourist.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any shots of my lovely dinner. I found this great little teppanyaki place (Japanese style, not American) and had a lovely noodle dishes and a very dry ginger ale. A perfect end to a close to pretty amazing day. Up next…day two!