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Thursday, October 19

Not Your Everyday Boring Arranger

Not at all what I was expecting. Let’s start off by saying that about this month’s Ikebana International meeting, a floral demonstration by Masaru Akai held at the Kamakura Prince Hotel along the ocean. Before you even turn away and think I am going to tell you about traditional Ikebana… this was anything but.

What I was expecting was just that, but what I got was a room that went dark. Hard, driving music began blaring out human-sized speakers. A white curtain hung over a white stage with a white television placed dead center. In the darkened room, light images began swirling about us, first in blue and then to white as the music thumped louder.

Please do not forget that the Ikebana International group is made up of mature ladies who have and are studying a traditional Japanese art form known for understanding the spirit of life. Place these ladies in a hot techno club laden with delicate porcelain on the tables and that was the room I sat in. The table I was at was actually filled with Japanese women as I came with my friend Fumie from class. We sat with her friends rather than the Americans I have only acquainted with once before and not shared more than a handful of words with. Plus, Fumie’s friend gave us much better seats than I would have had if I sat with the women from base. Now back to the scene and please keep that image of those formal ladies in your mind’s eye.

From the TV came blaring static over the already very loud music. Bursting onto the screen was a slide show with the characters of Masaru Akai’s name dancing on the screen. The screen turns white with a man in a black hat, trendy black glass, black shirt, black pants (you getting the picture?) and placing vivid red carnations into a ball on top of a glass vase. One by one he places the flowers into the ball with much speed and consideration as the light show continues overhead and the music plays on. The ball complete, the man on the TV picks it up and walks out of the view of the screen, only to come out from behind holding the ball in front of him and searching the surrounding darkness for a place to present it.

There are five empty vases along the stage and the first ball after an ‘act’ of searching and searching is placed in one of those empty vases. Four more times, Masaru leaves the stage gets another full red flowered ball and searches for its place along the stage edge. Once he even wandered all over the darkened room looking for that spot, weaving in and around tables as he went. As he moved, the TV screen still reflected his every move back at us in larger than life form, even when he stood right in front of it – Masaru on Masaru.

At this point, I am more than a little confused about what is going on. What about a demonstration? Like the Sensei from the other week? Shouldn’t you show us how to create? Only the show continued as it had started and I peaked around to notice that other ladies also wore their own various bemused expressions.

All the red balls are filled and then he brings a bigger one out and places it flat on the stage. No vase. Next he carries out a ball covered in leaves. He places it next to the red flowered ball on the stage. Off he goes again and back, this time with thin twigs which he spreads on the floor, followed by handfuls of loose leaves. Then the ball to end all balls… almost two thirds his size and covered in moss… rolled out and placed over the leaves and twigs.

Keep picturing the ladies, please. I wish I knew what they were really thinking.

More music, more lights, more searching, more act and he comes out with handful after handful of Spanish Moss and drapes it over the red flowered balls.

And that was it. For the act anyway. He stands frozen in front of the TV while the applause begins. I will admit that I am still thoroughly confused but was enjoying this obvious difference to everything I have seen so far of traditional Japan.

Masaru has a surprise for us. Three chairs are brought out and another light show starts, this one reminding me of ‘The Dating Game’ from the 70s. I had to suppress a serious giggle.

My analysis of the next part is going to be sketchy at best. There was a translator but often both translator and artist were talking at the same time and I didn’t get half of what was going on.

Masaru introduces a supporter of his, a Kabuki actor who comes onto the stage. They sit and chat and I miss out. Then a second surprise as he introduces a woman supporter, a model, I think, and she takes the third chair. Then they all chat and I miss out some more. Yes, this is very bad commentating but I haven’t the faintest idea half of what was said. My impression, however, is that they were discussing why Masaru’s floral design, though not traditional Ikebana, it still evokes the spirit of the flower, which is what the traditional art is all about. He has created this new school so people can see that there are differences in his work but it is still in the same spirit of its origins and can still be appreciated for those reasons. I don’t want to lose his message in my ignorance of the language and I do hope I am sharing this correctly. I will also not deny that I continued to play ‘The Dating Game’ in my head the whole time they sat up there and may have missed a few words due to this fact.

This show was something like I would expect some very artistic type wearing a beret and speaking in constant haiku would be showing in New York City to a room full of people wearing black. His arrangements were pretty and I appreciated what I got of his message and I am sure there is more to it. Or should I say, I hope there is more to it. And those ladies that filled the room? Even those that understood the language I felt were a bit mystified at the end of the demonstration. It was a nice day for seeing both sides of a coin.

Lunch was served while Masaru went around the room taking questions. I could have asked a million questions and still not gotten what I just saw. Instead, I focused on the fact that on my salad what I thought was cheese turned out to be tiny whole fish. After half the salad was eaten, I felt pretty committed and just kept on keeping on. Pumpkin soup was served which I must learn how to make, followed by the main course of what was thought to be scallop cake (ground scallop mixed with breading and egg) smothered in a cheesy, creamy sauce. Dessert was strawberry custard with coconut milk on top and fresh fruit of kiwi, berries and pineapple.

We chatted with many women and I met some new women and re-met some others. The Spanish moss that was used in the demonstration was actually a huge point of conversation. I didn’t realize but they do not have it here. I mentioned what we called it in English and opened the door for many more questions about it. I’m no expert on moss but I shared what I could. It was actually nice to feel that I knew something about anything for once and people were learning from me.

The afternoon winded down and my dear friend who had been so kind to pick me up and drive me to the meeting made her way back towards my house. We were turning off the toll road when I saw a sign that pointed towards Zushi. Wouldn’t you know that the sign meant that it was the entrance from Zushi onto another toll road? Who puts a sign with the place where you are at on the sign and not the direction you are in fact heading? We had to go the whole way to the next town, pay more tolls get off and drive the whole way back home. Thankfully Fumie and I laughed about it but I felt so bad for my poor sense of direction. Someone send me a map… please! Or she may never want me to go with her again!

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