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Saturday, July 12

Personal Advancements in Kozan

Friday saw me back in Kozan class for the first time in over a month. With traveling and work, I skipped all Ikebana in June except for the demonstration I had been a part of right before leaving. Of all the things I missed about Japan, this was one of the biggest. Coming back to my sensei and friends in class was cathartic and energizing in my love for Japan and the culture.

As usual, sensei had chosen three different types of materials of which we are told to choose from. I always try to be one of the last to choose, but the Japanese women always insist that I actually be one of the first. I managed the second spot this time and picked a deep burgundy lily, some type of tree, and some type of yellow weedy looking flower. Yes, the translation does not always get through to me in this class and it has never occurred to me to press for it. I typically choose my flowers on what I think might be a relatively easy material to work with as well as what is pleasing to the eye. In this instance, I chose very wrong. Not on the pleasing part, but definitely on the easy to work with.

After two years of studying Ikebana, including a major switch in schools which entirely changes your knowledge of the art form, I have to date only studied Ikebana using a low, flat dish with a kenzan inside for flower placement. The kenzan is this heavy metal, rectangular piece with thousands of spikes sticking up meant to be used to position each stem of the flower exactly in the chosen and correct place. For class, I chose a beautiful dish and kenzan and got to work. Starting with placing the tree, I trimmed about 6” off the longest stem, leaving the branch at about 2 1/2’ long. Studying the way the branch was shaped and how each leave lay, I positioned in the kenzan as would be best. The second branch was trimmed and placed in the same particular fashion. The only problem was that these branches are really heavy and the angle I was going for could not be supported by the low prongs of the kenzan. I her surveillance of the happenings in the room, sensei strolled by and looked over mine. The angles were fine, but she stopped me in my tracks. For the flowers I had chosen, she said they were mountain flowers, and therefore best placed in an upright, vase-like container.

Now, this is exactly the style I have been hoping to learn, but I don’t think I was ready for it quite yet. If you think it would be easy, just putting each flower branch and stem in just like you do any old vase, you are so wrong. Remember, Ikebana is done with precision, even when it looks like it isn’t precise. With my new upright vase, I started over. The angles were to be the same as in the flat dish, but this was where things fell apart for me. I know what it is supposed to look like when I am done, I had my mind’s visual, but I couldn’t figure out how for the life of me to make the branches stay where they are supposed to be without them rolling into whatever old position they felt like going to. After a ten minute struggle, a classmate next to me heard my large sigh, and came over to offer assistance. Her English is as bad as my Japanese, so please imagine this conversation… she tells me what to do in Japanese and I answer in English. Can you see how we weren’t getting far? In the end, she takes the branch, and shows me what she is saying. Helpful! So I’m off and running, but things are still not so smooth. On sensei’s second pass, she again stops me and shows me another trick. She takes the branch I am so diligently working on (yes, the very first still) and takes a piece of the same branch, slits it halway up the middle, carves the end off the branch that is to be positioned and sticks it like a “T” into the branch piece. With this “T”, I am able to secure the first branch into position. Likewise for the second, who also is refusing to cooperate.

You see, in Kozan, we are not supposed to use things like this at if, but at the least, not more than once. Kozan is natural, as if you found the arrangement just like that in nature. Since the nature gods didn’t create “T”s, neither am I to.

Usually, I am one of the first to be done with my arrangement and can go around the room to watch everyone else. For the first time ever, I was last. Which meant that every one of my five classmates came to stand behind me and watch me in my struggles. I know they do not judge and are just happy with my efforts, but I did feel the need to repeatedly apologize for my inadequacies arranging in this way, particularly since they are all quite prolific in this style. They all gave their standard “oohs and aahs,” and commended me for my noticeable effort. And then they all said sensei would be around to help… a sure sign that it wasn’t quite right in their eyes. I completely agreed actually! That last flower stem, the yellow weedy one, just never suited me no matter how I trimmed and rested it against the rough inner sides of the container. Kozan is supposed to be simple, where you can feel the wind in nature, and I had created a very full piece with my very full materials. I had even trimmed, I dare say hacked, at pieces of each branch to remove leaves and excess stemmage, but to no avail. I conceded and waited for sensei to approach.

It seems after all my struggles, I essentially had the form correct, but she too agreed that it was too full. She trimmed here and there and moved the placement of the lily flowers in the slightest ways, but ways that made gigantic improvements. The eye of the master.

With all evaluations done and class winding down, we snapped pictures of all the arrangements as we usually do, mine snapshots being study material for next class. Sensei had brought tea and a classmate had brought cookies as we all sat down for rest and refreshment. I always get the extra cookie, as they indicate each time that it is for the baby… and I never refuse. It would be impolite… plus what person in their right mind turns down sweets??

Back at home, I struggled to recreate my classwork in an inferior American vase. Not quite. But not bad. I think next class I am going to go for the upright style again. I like a good challenge and the class will surely like a little giggle at my sighs and struggles.

Please check out sensei's page if you get a chance for the entire class's work:


Anonymous said...

One learns most from mistakes. I wish it weren't true, but it seems that way. Keep at it!

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your blog so much! I am learning lots, and the arrangements are amazing. Thanks for offering a peek into a new culture, and for sharing your days of discovery. -Tommasanne