Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ikebana International

I have been interested in joining one of the Japanese/American groups that some of the military spouses participate in and I heard lots of good things about one group in particular - Ikebana International.

From their website:

"Ikebana, an art now part of our daily life, found its roots in the 6th century with flower offerings before the image of Buddha as Buddhism was introduced from China to Japan. Lotus flowers were the preferred flower as a symbol of renaissance and eternity. The Japanese sensibility and love for nature and perfection transformed these religious offerings into a decorative art discipline.

Flowers and plants are endowed with a unique shape and appearance; nature has made them perfect as they are. Humans mastered technique and added artistry to create a unique and disciplined art form, ikebana, which goes beyond the intrinsic beauty of flowers to express deep feelings of joy and harmony, bringing together nature and humans in some greater unity.

In 1956 Tokyo, a visionary, energetic and fervor enthusiast of ikebana, Ellen Gordon Allen exclaimed, “I see no reason why ikebana cannot become a veritable garland of flowers surrounding the world with beauty and binding all of us together in real and lasting friendship - magnificent contribution from Japan to the world at large.” Ikebana International, a nonprofit association aiming to promote mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and other countries through ikebana, was born from this lofty vision.

Under the motto “Friendship through flowers”, Ikebana International became this garland of flowers surrounding the world and transcending all nations, ethnics, genders, religions, schools and art forms. Ikebana International members dedicate their life to teaching and promoting ikebana, bringing peace and harmony through flowers and friendship. Their efforts have made ikebana an internationally renowned art, practiced and appreciated by people around the world. Through ikebana, individuals discover profound meanings to their lives, filling their soul with sweetness, peace and generosity and bringing light, joy and beauty to all around them. Together let’s sow ikebana seeds, for tomorrow they will bloom around the world, a peaceful and better world."

I attended my first Ikebana meeting yesterday and it was FABULOUS! The meeting was held at the home of the Sato family - the head priest of the Great Buddha in Kamakura. I was lucky to have a friend go with me and as we walked up to the house, we were just in awe to see beautiful Japanese gardens and on the other side of a stone wall, the head of the Great Buddha reaching up above the trees. We slid back the front door of the residence and were immediately greeted by several Japanese women in traditional kimonos. We slipped off our shoes, grabbed our nametags, and headed into the large meeting room. I loved seeing all the kimonos and couldn't help but feel excited and grateful that I was given this opportunity to live in Japan.

After a few business items to discuss, we watched a Wakaido performance (traditional Japanese drums) and it was awesome! I took a video of the performance so that I could share it with all of you.

After the drums, we were invited to head outside to see some traditional mochi pounding. One guy pounds a giant ball of rice with a wooden hammer, while another guy adds hot water - with his hands - in between the hammer coming down. Mochi is a gummy little ball that you can eat with different sauces and toppings. I personally don't like mochi that much, but I will say that it tasted a little bit better than the first time I tried it a few months ago.

After we came back inside, we each picked up a bento box lunch (or a sandwich box if you preferred) and a wooden sake cup (apparently, the square wooden cup is more traditional than a round ceramic cup) to take home as a gift. I got a bento box for lunch, and though I don't know what most of the food actually was, it was pretty good! Oh, by the way, see that small white ball down there in the center? That's mochi. It was filled with a sweet bean paste.

Overall, I REALLY enjoyed the Ikebana meeting and I will be sending in my registration this week. For Japanese nationals, I have heard it takes a few years before they are able to join. However, for Americans who are here with the military for only a short period of time, the membership requirements are waived and we can simply pay the membership fee. It's about 8,000Y for a year membership, but considering many of their events are somewhat exclusive and special, I think the fee is totally worth it. For example, in upcoming months, Ikebana will be visiting the Embassy of Omar in Tokyo, having a private ceremony at the Hachiman shrine (a behind-the-scenes sort of thing that regular tourists never get to experience) and a craft lesson afterwards, and a violin recital by one of Japan's most famous violinists. Awesome right?!

I am very excited about being a part of this community, making more Japanese friends, and experiencing so many traditional and exclusive aspects of Japanese culture. And I just can't thank my husband enough for listening to his wife when she begged him to work overseas. ;)

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