What do you do when you live in a country with limited space but want to exercise your green fingers or express your love, and even your spiritual reverance, for nature? Well, you can always do things in miniature - ikebana and bonsai are your two main options. Though the word 'ikebana' literally means 'living flowers', it is actually the visual presentation of cut stems, flowers and other features to represent an aspect of nature in miniature. Bonsai, on the other hand, means 'pot plant' and the art form involves raising living trees, often over a period of several years. While they are small, bonsai are not actually different from the trees we see around us, they are not miniature species. Rather they are small branches of a tree, carefully chosen, pruned and cultivated so that they look like smaller versions of their own species. They are also displayed in a way that shows off their best features, usually in a simple, shallow pot. Bonsai is about the combination of the plant and the pot. There are many different styles of bonsai such as: broom style - a tapered trunk topped by a symmetrical area of foliage; cascading style - the pot is kept on a platform and the branches 'cascade' down below it; windswept style - resembles a tree that has grown up in an area exposed to strong winds. Saikei is similar to and often confused with bonsai, but is actually closer to ikebana. Different species of small trees as well as other plants, rocks and sand are used to create miniature landscapes.
Gardening in many forms has been enjoying something of a boom in Japan in recent years and those with limited space have been rediscovering the charms and challenges of this part of their native culture. As I said, bonsai are real trees in miniature and are not usually suitable as houseplants (some species have been developed for indoors). Usually they are hardy and can handle most weather. In fact, their growth may be adversely affected by artificial (ie. indoor) light and heat conditions, depending on your climate and the origin of the tree species. Even a small city apartment balcony can be big enough to build up a collection, something of an oasis for many urban dwellers. The smallest of bonsai, called mame (bean) can be just a couple of inches tall and a collection may also have trees a couple of feet high. The most popular are about 6 inches to a foot.
Waitress Okita from the Naniwaya Tearoom - Utamaro
|The name of this art form literally means pictures of the floating world. The term 'floating world' refers to a generally hedonistic way
of life, and was often used as a euphemism for the bars and houses
of ill-repute which were so popular among artists and literary
types in pre-war Japan. Ukiyo-e wood-block prints first appeared
early in the Edo Period (1600~1868) and depicted stories set in this after-hours world.
Flashy kabuki actors and stylish courtesans were the most popular
subjects. Later artists started depicting scenes from nature and
works such as Hokusai's views of Mt. Fuji (see below) are among the most famous today.
The prints were a collaboration between artist, publisher, wood-block carver and printer although they are almost always accredited to the artist and publisher only.
|In the mid-18th century, techniques were developed to allow full-color
printing and the ukiyo-e which we see reproduced today on post
cards and calendars date from this period on. Utamaro and Hokusai are the big names from this period, and other prominent
artists include Hiroshige and Sharaku.|
Rikka style. Arranged by Sen'ei Ikenobo Headmaster, Ikenobo School
Shoka shinputai style
Ikenobo is the oldest school of ikebana, founded by Buddhist priest Ikenobo Senkei in the 15th century. He is thought to have created the rikka (standing flowers) style. This style was developed as a Buddhist expression of the beauty of nature, with seven branches representing hills, waterfalls, valleys and so on arranged in a formalised way. The present 45th-generation head of the school is Ikenobo Sen'ei. The school is based in the Rokkakudo temple in Kyoto, believed to have been started by Prince Shotoku. Among the priests and aristocrats, this style became more and more formalised until, in the late 17th century, the growing merchant class developed a simpler style, called seika or shoka. Shoka uses only three main branches, known as ten (heaven), chi (earth) and jin (man) and is designed to show the beauty of the plant itself. Another old form of ikebana is nageire, used in the tea ceremony.
The first of the modern schools was formed when Ohara Unshin broke from the Ikenobo school in the late 19th century. The Ohara school generally uses moribana (piled-up flowers) in a shallow, flat container. The school was started at a time when Western culture was heavily influential in Japan and the moribana style made good use of Western plants. But it was still a formal style. Influence from the artistic movements of the early 20th century led to the development of jiyuka (free-style) arrangement. Despite all the changes, ikebana was still only for the upper class. In the 1930's and then more so in the postwar period, interest in ikebana became much more widespread. Ikebana schools opened which attracted people of all social classes. During the occupation, many wives of US servicemen took up the art and later helped it spread abroad. Led by Teshigahara Sofu, founder in 1927 of the Sogetsu school, zen-eibana or avant-garde ikebana introduced all kinds of new materials, such as plastic, plaster and steel.
Kodo literally means "way of the fragrance." Along with sado (tea ceremony) and kado or ikebana (flower arrangment), it is one of the three major classical arts that any woman of refinement was expected to learn. Kodo is perhaps the least well-known of the three, but these days its modern cousin, aromatherapy, is all the rage. When practicing kodo, a mica plate is placed on top of smouldering coals and the incense or fragrant wood is placed on the plate. So the wood is not actually burned, but gives off its fragrance in a subtle way.
It may seem to be all about the sense of smell, but the secret of kodo is in "listening." The participants don't "smell" (the Japanese verb 'kagu') the incense or fragrant wood, but rather "listen" (kiku) to it, opening up not so much their nasal passages as their heart and spirit. Modern western psychologists and therapists know about the power of the sense of smell, how a smell can instantly transport a person back to a place from their childhood. In Japan, the burning of incense and prizing of rare scented wood has been transporting people to a different spiritual plane for many centuries.
Fragrant wood is believed to have first been used in Buddhist rituals in the Nara Period (710-794). As such naturally scented wood is very rare and can take centuries to acquire its fragrance, man-made incense came into existance. As with the incense sometimes used in Christian churches, it was thought to have purifying properties. Even today it is used to purify the long wooden memorial tablets that are offered to the deceased as part of a funeral. Smouldering incense sticks (senko) are regularly placed on gravestones or the butsudan, small altars found in many Japanese homes. Kodo was formalized around the time of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1443-1490), who asked the scholar Sanjonishi Sanetaka to classify all of the incense that were in use at the time. For this reason, Sanjonishi is considered to be the "father" of kodo.