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Sunday, June 1

Flowers and Music at Engakuji Temple

One of my favorite areas, close by to home, to tour around is Kita Kamakura. Kamakura has so many temples and shrines, of which I still haven’t seen the half of. So when Ikebana International planned its May program for the Engakuji Temple, I was thrilled. Engakuji is a famous Zen temple built in 1282 and located in a scenic cedar grove. Well, actually, it is a collection of many buildings of which I do not have all the history on, but I do know that it is one of the most famous temples in the Kamakura area.

The day of the program was a gorgeous day, almost hot when the sun was shining directly on you. By the time I rushed from the train station to the temple, I had broken out into a little sweat. At the entrance stood a few of the Japanese ladies from my group, directing foot traffic to the correct building for the day’s event. Even with their directions, I initially got turned around, eventually finding the right temple hidden behind another and in a lush, little garden. Inside the temple was even better. With all tatami rooms, shoes were left at the door. Walls and ceilings were decorated simply and elegantly in a carved and light-colored Japanese wood. The altar of the temple stood in the center of the room with cut-outs in the wall displaying gorgeously carved wooden Buddhas… the table in front with two large, painted lotus carvings. Shoji screens covered every wall, but when slipped to the side, revealed the stunning gardens surrounding the temple. For those seeking peace and a zen-like existence, I truly understand how these temples articulate that way of life to anyone lucky enough to sit in one of these rooms.

But peace was not to be mine on this busy day… at least not until much later. Lately, many of the American women from my group have been traveling and not available to attend the programs. This is always fine, but it does lead others to pick up and handle their positions in the absence. On this occasion, I had my usual duties in greeting and collecting money at the entrance and then I also would be in charge of the introduction speech. Now there are few things in this world that I honestly do not have the guts for… and public speaking ranks number one on that short list. Thankfully, I didn’t have to right the speech… it was written for me… but I did have to correct it into logical English and then correctly pronounce the points left with Japanese names and places. For the hour before the program, in between my greetings, I read and reread those names over and over until I could get them out as smooth as was possible. For that hour, I fretted so much that I ended up giving myself a migraine as the program was just beginning. That pain and not being able to take anything for it did not help my anxiety at getting up in front of 100 ladies. With only one stumble and probably a bit of rushing, I made it through and literally collapsed into a chair that my sensei had gratefully saved for me next to her.

Mrs. Shibuya Sensho, the Iemoto of Chikusen Ryu School, began her Ikebana presentation that culminated in five different arrangements. Typically when I have seen a demonstration, the demonstrator only creates two or three pieces, so this was a huge treat for those that know little about the school, like myself. Chikusen Ryu is interested in placing the flowers very naturally, without much staging, as if they would appear exactly that way when viewed in a field. One would think this ‘natural placement’ idea would be pretty easy, but I can assure you that it is much harder than it sounds. Of course, Sensho sensei made it look effortless, but later I tried to recreate one at home (thanks to my own sensei winning the raffle and receiving one of the arrangements flowers… which she kindly gave to me) and I can assure you that it didn’t go half as smoothly as what I had seen. In the end, it looked similar, but just not quite there. Guess it takes a Chikusen expert.

While Sensho sensei arranged, we were treated to listening to a new type of instrument, well to my inexperienced ears… the Koto. A woman named Abe Utashhiro, sat in traditional Japanese style in front of a long wooden instrument with strings, and plucked out a pleasing sound for the crowd. The combination of sights and sound in the room made for one of the most satisfying artistically cultural experiences I have had in Japan yet… and that is saying so very much as I feel I have seen quite a lot.

Once the Ikebana and Koto performances were over, bento lunches were served to the room as we prepared an abbreviated Japanese tea for interested attendees. Sadly, bento boxes are a bit hard for me these days as I really can’t always tell what I am eating and therefore have to avoid a good bit of it. If I am being honest though, this doesn’t bother me too much because I really think some of the food in these bento boxes is much too strange for my tastebuds anyway.

As the program winded down and guests began to leave, it seemed like a good time for me to stroll out into the temple grounds. While getting a much better look around, I hopefully planned on gaining some of the peace that initially eluded me, allowing me to liberate my brain from the migraine grip. Indeed my strolls did succeed. I ended up spending way more hours than I had planned just promenading the grounds of Engakuji, literally wasting away my day without being aware of doing so. Not that there is anything wrong with this kind of thing happening, but it is rare that I get so lost in my enjoyment that it would indeed go down that way. For once, I truly didn’t mind.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My sister once had a vinyl album of Bach Concertos played by Koto instead of Harpsicord. Most lovely.