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Saturday, February 9

Saving Graces

For all the mistakes I made on Friday, it still turned out to be an amazing day. The day’s plan was simple… meet up with a Japanese friend at my local train station where she would drive me to my first Ikebana class in the Kozan-ryu School and then we would all go to lunch afterwards. Simple, right? Well for me, it just never is.

The meeting time had been set for “10 of 10.” Perhaps I have never quite gotten the hang of this “of” stuff, but my interpretation of this was that my friend meant 9:50. In my usual way (as inherited by a perpetually late mother whom I totally blame), I left my house with little time to spare, through no fault but my own. I had spent my morning dilly-dallying around organizing things that I had left sitting out for months. Why did it start bothering me now that I chose this day to do something about it? Who knows except to say that is my way. In my head, I kept telling myself to finish getting ready and then do this little stuff afterwards. But even I can’t make me listen to myself. It takes seven minutes to walk to the train station. Because of my morning piddlying, I had left myself with exactly ten minutes to make a last stop at the bathroom, eat breakfast, get dressed, do my hair AND walk to the train station. Shockingly, I arrived only two minutes late at 9:52, which totally should be a record. Of course, I forgot to mention that I had made the plans so many weeks ago that I was no longer sure which train station I was to meet at… Shin Zushi or Zushi? And if it was Shin Zushi, was it the north side or the south side? And in my haste, I had left my friend’s number at home. After checking both sides of Shin Zushi, I decided to hightail it to Zushi Station further up the street. Now, if this was the spot and I was incorrect in my first stop, then I now was very late, bordering on 10:00. In the Japanese world of punctuality… this is totally not acceptable behavior. I was fretting. While walking, I rang three different people whom I did have numbers for that might have this mutual friend’s number. No one answered. That didn’t stop me from trying a second and third time to those same numbers. Doing anything was better than nothing. When I arrived at the Zushi station, still no friend. All I could think to do was walk back to my original position and hope she might still be waiting there. My panic at an all-time high, I finally managed to reach a friend who was sitting at the airport. She (god only knows how I got so lucky) happened to have the number anyway as she had a business card tucked in her wallet from our friend. As the phone rang for my pick-up, I was preparing all sorts of gommensai’s (sorry’s) in my head for being so unorganized and confused. And what does my friend say when she picks up the phone and without any sort of urgency or perturb? “I’m a minute away now. We’ll be right on time.” Right on time? It was 10:10. Apparently, “10 of 10” meant 10:10 to my friend. Did I get it wrong? Even now, I have no idea.

Thankfully, I had time to compose myself before she pulled up alongside the curb.

Arriving at class, I was not sure what to expect. I had stopped going to my last school mainly because I just didn’t have the time, but also because I have to admit that I avoid the military base for anything other than essential errands. At home, I have arranged for myself here and there, but I really feel that it takes some guidance to know true Ikebana. I have been looking for a sensei in the Ikenobu School without much success, but at last month’s Ikebana International program, I was introduced to this one particular sensei for the ump-teenth time. Now switching Ikebana schools is no small thing. The sensei of the new school will feel like they are stealing students from someone else and will be very hesitant to take that new student on. It is quite hard for a foreigner like myself to express that I just really want to get some skills under my belt and probably will never get the opportunity to become an expert at any school, nonetheless hers. Expert levels come after decades of study and practice. I don’t have decades in Japan. I have a year or two at max. All I want is to get down what I can. Trying not to step on anyone’s cultural toes, this new sensei agreed to teach me. Of course, this was only after she spoke to a few other people to make sure that she was not committing a faux pas in the tightly woven Ikebana world. As the discussion came to a close and sensei made her decision, I came to discover that two other Ikebana International Board members study under this sensei; one was willing to drive me there directly so I wouldn’t get lost in a strange city. Finally, the stars aligned allowing me to revive my Ikebana studies… this time around from the Kozan school.

The sensei speaks English, although not fluently. I didn’t have much knowledge of the school beyond it being a very natural school. The four other students are bustling around organizing the room and supplies and I just try hard not to get in the way, throwing in a helping hand where I think I can. Sensei comes over to get me started with the first placement, but I realize very quickly how different this is from the Kofu School I previously studied. There are no rules, people! No rules?? What am I to do with that? Sensei tells me there is only numbers… 1, 2, and 3 and they go in a triangle. Otherwise, it is all about feeling “wind” and making it natural. Umm…yeah. When it comes to trimming, the only rule provided “smaller.” I really have no idea what to do without rules. I can follow rules. But this freedom thing was killing me. I kept thinking that sensei was going to come over and shake her head and tell me to give up now. But she never did, she slowly repeated the directions and tried to show me without doing it herself. When she would walk away to work with others, I would scan the room for some guidance from other arrangements. After everyone was done, and all looked around at each others’ work while sensei made small adjustments here and there, I came to get the whole “wind” and natural thing. It won’t be easy, but I really think this school is going to be wonderful. The size of the arrangements is much larger than I’m used to, but is quite fun to create something on this larger scale. The freedom of the Kozan School combined with the vibe from the sensei and students, I have found a really good nitch for myself in the Ikebana world.

After the lesson, we were off to lunch. Upon entering the class earlier that day, I realized that I might have misinterpreted the invitation for lunch, which had come from a quick call between two people who speak little of the others language. Looking around the room, I was quite certain that the place we would be going for lunch was fancier than me and my cute jeans ensemble were expecting. I rarely leave the house in jeans here in Japan. Women just don’t dress like that here. It’s a much dressier society than back home and I love that about this place! But yesterday, I was expecting a lesson and then a bite to eat somewhere… not the lesson followed by the five-star seven-course meal I received. Yet another lesson learned the hard way… just wear a damn dress everywhere to safe yourself potential embarrassment, will ya?

Sadly, I didn’t write the name of the restaurant down… something like Kuriomaya… a steak and seafood restaurant around Chigasawa. Passing through the roofed outer entrance, we entered a lush, secluded garden. The automatic shoji screened doors slid open noiselessly to welcome you into an immense reception area where a long glass wall gave you an extraordinary view of the inner garden… a mix of immaculately trimmed pine trees and bushes where waterfalls trickled from all sides into the main pool. In this setting, it surely did not go unnoticed that the gaijin was supporting a casual denim look, but thankfully no one mentioned to magnify the mortification I already felt. I only thank God that it was lunch and not dinner where I surely would have been turned around and escorted back towards the front door.

Upon taking our seats at a table dressed in stunning Japanese lacquerware, the first of increasingly amazing courses was delivered. Each course was more artfully designed than the one before. And this isn’t referring to just the food itself. Every detail was carefully fashioned… the bite-size portions and clever cuts of the food arranged ever so specifically, the gorgeous dishes they were served on and the variety of shapes and sizes, the white paper or box wrappings tied with bright red, white and gold wire ribbons. The enjoyment of the meal was made ever so exceptional because of these details. Now, I was one for enjoying the fanciest of restaurants that cost three figures per person back in DC, but never have I seen anything like this. By far… the best meal I have ever enjoyed. It was so much more than just the food at a restaurant like this that makes the experience one for my own personal history books.

So chalking up my mistakes for the day in my head, there was one more left… not expecting this style of “lunch” (which really… does this even qualify? It should be considered an event, for crying out loud…), I was carrying a total of 5,000 yen (about $50) and was more than a little concerned that this would not be enough to cover my cost. Credit card use in Japan is not a widely employed concept. Although surely an establishment like this uses them, asking them to split my part from the check would be not only require more personal degradation, but it also would be a shameful request for a culture who doesn’t care much for the power or convenience of the plastic. Having no other choice, I was ready to suck it up and go for. As we approached the counter to pay though, yet again I was saved from further shame… the ladies from my class treated me to this wonderful experience. Every ounce of this splendid Friday was owed to my hosts for the day, who could not have made me feel more included and accepted.

And that is further proof why the Japanese people are so lovely a group of people. You simply cannot beat their grace. And I say that with the utmost of fondness followed with a superlative PERIOD.

1 comment:

ablykins said...

Kimono K,

Thanks so much for sharing this GREAT story! It is such an amazing testament to the hospitality and grace we gaijin enjoy at the hands of our wonderfully considerate host country friends! Congrats on starting back up with ikebana! It sounds like you had a kaiseki experience to remember!