Saturday, 19 June 2010

Flowers of Egypt

I was just asked "what sort of flowers are there in Egypt?"

Flying into Egypt at the age of three, I remember the desert and was delighted by the "big sandbox". Most people have the impression that Egypt having a huge desert would not have many flowers. In fact flowers and oils of flowers like jasmine are a big export to France for example for the perfume industry.
In relation to ikebana as a child I observed the big flower arrangements for weddings being arranged by using a flower holder made of dried reeds held together.
In some schools, like the koryu schools a similar type of stay is used.

Bird of paradise, roses, tuberose, gladiolus flowers, nasturtium, bougainvillea and for trees silk tree, date trees and other palm trees, mango trees. For water plants giant reed, papyrus, lotus, nenuphar lotus water lily, other plants rice, cotton and sugar cane, root plants like potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin. Vegetables like okra, peppers and artichokes that are a favourite vegetable but an exotic ikebana material in Japan.
Other vegetables that are typically Egyptian are aubergines or eggplant, there is a white albino variety in Egypt besides the usual purple coloured one everywhere else in the world.
As the climate is usually hot and there is no severe winter, or autumn there are no autumn colours.
Cherry blossom trees have been donated by the Japanese but I have not heard of how they have survived or blossomed in Egypt.
The plants and flowers of Egypt were very well documented in 1798 when Napoleon Bonaparte was in Egypt. The Description de l'Egypte is available online through the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA), the 11 plate volumes and the 9 text volumes owned by l'Institut d'Egypte. A useful search engine can be used in English and French.
Specifically the Histoire Naturelle IIbis has plates of the plants.
In 2008 after the last day of Wikimania in the BA I walked into a flower shop and saw many flowers that can be found everywhere like baby's breath gypsophila, not a flower I remember from my childhood in Egypt.
Marigold a bright orange flower was sold in bunches by lady vendors surrounded by their children, their name in local Arabic not very flattering because of their not very pleasant smell are highly regarded in ikebana because of their unique colour, so it is called "kinsenka" kin meaning gold, like in English, not "fisa kelab" dog's gas. Ikebana sees the good side of things.
Since ancient times there were plant symbols for Egypt, upper Egypt depicted by the lotus and lower Egypt the papyrus.
Further reading:

Friday, 9 April 2010

Happy Birthday Kozan School, Happy Birthday Barbie

Tomorrow is my friend Barbie's birthday. She liked the pictures of Kozan School when she was looking at the pictures in the Ikebana International Magazine.
I asked Takeuchi sensei a Kozan School teacher and member of I.I. Kamakura chapter, she told me the Kozan school books in English can still be found. She also invited me to several exhibition, one in Yokohama Sankei-en garden and this year to the 100th anniversary in Ginza, Tokyo.
Kozan school headmaster Okada Kozan started his own school that emphasizes naturally arranged flowers.
Pictures of the exhibition will say more than I can.
The present Headmistress is a young mother so she did not mind posing with my five-month old grand daughter who was visiting her first ikebana exhibition.
Before the exhibition we had lunch so Chiyoko could see her auntie and Ginza with the Apple store a perfect place for men to hang out.
What I particularly liked was the layout and the way the arrangements were grouped with similar flowers or branches. The rope around different coloured stones defining areas was extremely effective, for example white stones just perfect with the big cherry blossom arrangement, the background white fine strings.
Happy birthday Barbie have a perfect day, and to your 100th birthday.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Palace ball and winter peonies

winter peonies
in Japanese they say a lady sits like a peony. Peonies are also auspicious in the New Year.
Kimekomi palace ball

Ikebana International Kamakura Chapter #51

18th of February 2010.

Place: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Naoraiden Hall

At 9:30 there was the Shrine Maiden’s Dance and Shinto blessing. Early in the morning a sudden heavy snowfall foiled my plans to join.

Made it to the workshop but had to join a Japanese speaking group. As with ikebana one just has to watch to understand what should be done, language is superfluous as was the sheet of instructions in English obsolete due to the microscopic print and missing text at the bottom.

A bonus was being at the table of the teacher. She first learned to make dolls in 1971 and has been teaching for over 30 years. That was obvious by her choice for our workshop of making a palace ball. Instead of the usual silk thread ours was to be in the Kimekomi way, done by tucking beautiful colourful cloth into grooves filled with glue. A golden tread is used to cover some grooves. (excellent way of recycling old or left over kimono material)

Everyone was tucking away at the still uncovered part of the ball, the teacher kindly prepared half the ball for us so all we had to do is copy the other half.

I moved into a sunny spot to get some warmth and to eat my sandwiches during the lunch break.

The rest of the time everyone was concentrating so hard on the finishing touches, and on fixing the clever red tassel. Unfortunately there was little time to chat, as always it was too soon to leave the friendly atmosphere.

After the February meetings I make a point to visit the garden with the winter flowering peonies.

The best part was when my 4-month old grand daughter played with my hand made palace ball. I can see it decorating a big Christmas tree next year.

Thank you Sensei and all her friends who helped us achieve so much in such a limited timeframe.

More pictures of winter peonies by the pond at the main entrance in Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine. Map

Unfortunately after writing this blog there was another snow storm that uprooted the 1000 year old gingko tree in the shrine complex. This gingko tree was famous for its beauty and legend. Newspaper article description of the incident.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Geisha, seasons, flowers

Sayuki is the first non-Japanese, to become a Geisha. She became a Geisha in 2007 and talked to members of College Women's Association Japan for the 2010 January luncheon.
Here she is, kindly posing for me, as I interrupted her before her talk, she was checking the computer and her DVDs.
Sayuki is nothing you expect, extremely polite and gentle like a real Geisha should be, but also extremely intelligent.
She started becoming a Geisha for her research in anthropology and continued as she liked it.
In this picture she is not made up as a geisha with white make up.
My personal experience with Geisha in 1977:
I had one opportunity of being in a party with Geishas in Kobe, I was the unexpected guest, not too often that a young women (this was over 33 years ago) would join a party of men being entertained by Geisha. I was struck by how the "older" Geisha with a look would orchestrate the move of the others so that they would not be lingering too long with the same guest.
I wasn't too used to have my napkin placed on my lap or that much attention with what I was drinking or eating and the fuss of trying to make me try this or that.
This is when I found out that the idea most have of the role of Geisha is quite misunderstood.
They are real artists, entertainers who help liven the atmosphere of a dinner. Somehow in the same way as belly dancers help liven up a wedding in the middle east.
Seasons and flowers:
According to Sayuki, a Geisha should have at least 13 kimonos. The kimonos worn should be carefully chosen to have the flowers that will bloom in the next month. This is why my Japanese friend felt very uncomfortable taking a Nagoya style obi (belt) with a tulip design to wear in Scotland in the summer.
I assured her that no one would mind as long as she wore a kimono.
The hair ornaments should also reflect the season.
In her DVD Sayuki pointed out the pine design on her kimono and rice in her hair for the winter season. The rice can be used until the 15 of January when rice ornaments are burnt.

A picture of ornaments piled in a rice field waiting to be burned.

Geisha training is for one year and includes dancing and playing instruments as well as being able to perform tea ceremony, interestingly ikebana does not seem to be a requisite in the training.

Another name worth mentioning is Liza Dalby who also studied anthropology and was a novice geisha she wrote a book Geisha published in 1983 and served as consultant to the book Memoirs of a Geisha in 2004. It was also made into a film.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Special exhibition at Edo-Tokyo Museum

Visited the Special Exhibition on Ikebana-A Japanese Aesthetic through Time- An Exploration of Japanese Floral Art.
(after the special exhibition was over the descriptions were removed, now you can find the current exhibit's description)
What does one expect from such an exhibition. At least a real ikebana arrangement. But that was missing.
In the exhibit space they had examples of ikebana arrangements of different schools made out of wax or some other material. The names were in Japanese, I asked the attendant to read it for me, the kanji characters were not familiar, the person in charge came and said they did not think foreigners would need the translation. All other exhibits had both a Japanese and English title.
When the "expert" said the first school is Enshu, I asked which Enshu? Maybe that is why the English titles were left out!
There were several films well worth seeing, many manuscripts or copies of manuscripts important in the history of ikebana.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

For my friend, the end is the beginning of something new

This is a link to some ikebana pictures of arrangements by different schools at the Fair of Tokyo Founding Chapter on the 1st of December 2009.
One very stunning arrangement was that of Wafu School. Now I try to look at various schools more carefully especially after seeing their demonstration.
I also like the very simple arrangement by Yamamura Goryu using pine, two young branches of plum and "senryo" Sarcandra glabra, the design on the pale celadon vase was bamboo.
Unfortunately I got called away and did not take more pictures.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Self Expression

If someone does an ikebana arrangement it is a sort of self expression. An ikebana arrangement mirrors not only the person's character but the current mood.
In previous blogs entitled rock and roll, martial arts and ikebana, examples were given of one headmaster using rock and roll in combination with ikebana, and the other martial art movements in ikebana. Some schools will have music accompanying the master arranging, sometimes it may be very traditional Japanese music like koto, soft background music or a pianist on a grand piano playing classical music, poetry and calligraphy are also used to accompany ikebana.

Whatever helps and enhances someone's imagination and concentration.

When I see something, it gives me an idea to do an ikebana arrangement. For example after seeing windows in Chinese gardens it has always inspired me to make such an arrangement.
The window below is in the Summer Palace near Beijin with a window that has two different paintings on two panes of parallel glass. One painting is on the front glass and the other one on the back glass, framed by the same window and with a view on the lake.(see below)

My arrangement above for the 50th anniversary of Atsugi Kado Kyokai (Ikebana Association of Atsugi) was inspired by the windows in Chinese Gardens. I used a bamboo writing brush holder to hang a small bamboo basket with and arrangement.
In front was another arrangement with the same yellow butterfly orchids and cycad leaves in a glass bowl. The hanging basket also had green necklace and the glass bowl in the front Euphorbia milii better known as "Crown of thorns".
Flower holder: To hold the flowers in the transparent glass bowl, a glass artist, Mr. Murayama made from sahara sand a flower holder. The sahara glass becomes a beautiful pale green when turned into glass. Another window into the past of the desert when it was green.
A window in the Summer Palace

A window in the Chinese garden in the middle of Naha city, carved in the window are peonies.