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Friday, March 20

A Koryu Shoohkai School Demonstration

Yesterday had born another gorgeous spring day, perfect for the day I had planned. My drive to Kamakura Park Hotel for an Ikebana International event brought me along the Zushi and Kamakura coastline and, although Mount Fuji was obscured by haze, the blue green waters filled with wind surfers was still enough to make the scenery magnificent. Our March program for I.I. was for a historic demonstration in the Japanese Ikebana world. You see, the demonstrator, Riou Semba comes from the Koryu Shoohkai School, a school that recently lost its Iemoto (or headmaster) due to the premature death of our demonstrator’s father. When a school loses its Iemoto, generally there is someone who has been groomed for some time to take their place. That person was yesterday’s demonstrator. The historic part of the day was that this demonstration would most likely be his very last prior to being named the tenth Iemoto of the Koryu Shoohkai School at the beginning of April, when he will be renamed in tradition to Rihou Semba III.

Of course, it is well known that Japan carries a special love for its sort of unofficial national flower, the cherry blossom. This being spring in Japan, many areas are already seeing the cherry blossom blooms. In honor of this flower, Mr. Semba chose to use this special flower to create works of art the likes of which I have rarely seen. Before he began the demonstration, he did begin with a presentation he had specially prepared for our Kamakura Chapter, which was to pay homage to his father and the more traditional roots of his school. Using illustrations he found in an antique book dating from 1776, Mr. Semba spent much time recreating these designs and showing us the results, allowing us all to see that they are still fresh ideas in today’s contemporary world. At the end of the presentation, he began his work with three different cherry blossom blooms. The first piece had already been done and had taken him eight hours the day before to prepare. This piece was sitting on the far right of the stage when I had arrived that morning. My untrained eye had observed it and taken the curving willowy nature of the branches to be natural. To my shock, Mr. Semba explained that those curves had actually been created from the long branches he held in his hand by taking tiny wedge slivers out of certain points until the branch curved gracefully in its current position. Let me explain… we are talking solid tree branches here… that have been cut and bent just so to create something even more magnificent than the cherry tree already looks. If this had been me trying to manipulate those branches, I would have accidentally snapped the branches off at all the worst places when trying to bend them.

Mr. Semba then worked on the middle design again showing the graceful curve for which his school is famous for. I guess that curve is best illustrated in the other work of art he had also done the day prior, using pine branches in bamboo containers that all curved in the exact and perfect way as the next one. One last piece was created by three ladies of which I didn’t entirely hear, but I am guessing that they are all sensei in his school. He described this piece in its most traditional form… as a work of art that demonstrates a mountain. The blooms at the top would only be just emerging. The blooms in the middle would be fully opened. And the branches at the bottom of the mountain where it is warmest are already displaying the greenery of leaves.

Sadly, at this point I had to leave. My babysitter was ever so kind to watch Kimono Pipsqueak for me, but with kids of her own, I didn’t want to be an inconvenience on her time. There was to be a Japanese calligraphy demonstration next followed by a four-course French lunch to round out the day’s program. Instead, I picked up my wee one and decided to treat myself to some ribs from the Chili’s restaurant on base before heading home. It was a treat that even KP was fortunate enough to join when one rib jumped from my hands, only to land sticky side down on the child, splattering barbeque sauce across his face and over his head. Perhaps it was a good thing I didn’t stick around for the fancy lunch. I was surely dressed up, but proved once again that you just can’t take me out.

Sunday, March 1

Travelin' Little Man

While out with an American friend and his Japanese girlfriend this past weekend, I took the opportunity to get some answers about Japanese moms from her. Now, she is not a mom, but her sister is… with a child only about a month older than KP. Perhaps it is my overly sensitive nature, but I get the impression from an American or two that they find it odd I don’t run around Japan as much as I used to. I have explained the biggest reason before… why run around when you have something so small and so perfect in your own home to occupy all of your time. And I have explained the second reason… that it just isn’t as easy to run around here with an infant like it is back home in the states… but I think that one is pooh-poohed a bit. When I spoke to my Japanese friend, I didn’t state any of these reasons, but simply asked her about what Japanese women do with their infants. Her response – “they just don’t go many places the first year, beyond the occasional trip to the mall.” This was wonderful news to my ears and, frankly, made me feel like much less of a failure as a hip, modern and mobile mom.

There are good reasons why Japanese women do not travel that first year too far with their wee ones. First, if you recall, the major mode of transportation is train, and still my favorite way to get around for many reasons. However, here are the downsides now that I travel with a little man. Trains can be enormously crowded. Strollers are pretty much an absolute no-no, if only for the simple fact that it would be hell trying to roll yourself and a stroller out of a crowded train before the doors close and it moves on. The only option therefore is to wear your child – which I love to do – but have you ever worn a 17 pound chunk all day long? I can assure you that it takes at least four Tylenol to work the kinks in your neck and back out the next day. Trains are also silent – babies of which are generally not, as they love to coo (nice to hear) and whine and cry (not so nice to hear). Train stations are not right outside your front door, nor is your destination immediately outside the exit. You have to walk to and fro, again with your heavy child who is quite likely digging his hand down your shirt and exposing more than you hoped to ever show outside of your private boudoir. Heaven forbid your train trip takes longer than the short time between feedings (now a three hour window) or you will be figuring out a way to skew your own neck aside so that the long bottle can be plugged into the tiny mouth outlet which screams for it. Need I address diaper changing? Well, you just don’t on the train of course, but thankfully the larger train stations in the cities do usually have very nice changing station amenities. Of course, what if you are far from your destination and the diaper change is imminent. I don’t know how the Japanese feel on this one, but I sure don’t want the front of me drenched in anything that may get squished onto the front of my baby-wearing self, so I just get off and have to get back on a later train. The worst is if you travel by yourself. So here, you have the 17 pounder strapped to you… there is no stroller to carry the luggage that has to be carted around for said chunk, so you have to figure out a way to wrap yet more weight across your body and still walk a straight line when fully loaded.

Drive you say… you have a car! Unfortunately, my car cannot read Japanese road signs and refuses to go all Night Rider on me and drive itself to our destination. I do drive locally, so I do get out to the towns in my own area often. And there is always walking… if I don’t have to go too far or too long. We just have to have the right place or restaurant in mind ahead of time. One where, say, a stroller might possibly fit, which narrows it down to about a third of the restaurants in Japan. We actually went to a restaurant recently where the waiter ushered us right back out after seeing the wee one in a stroller who was tagging along. At another, I tried to book us a trip through a Japanese travel agency to Nagano where we could see the wild snow monkeys. The young lady was as polite as any Japanese person, but it was exceedingly obvious that she was trying every way possible to talk me out of the trip with my little one.

These are not complaints, but simply observations. Observations which will hopefully quiet some of the tsk-tsk-ers that have wagged their little fingers at me for not getting out more. Thankfully, the Japanese are perfectly on board with my new stay-at-home kind of life. Some have actually have scoffed at me on the few occasions where I dared bring my child out into the elements that could kill him. I have oft been told that I should stay at home and skip something because the temperature was below 50 degrees. All of this advice is always so well meaning and kind. And I should certainly only expect more of the same as I continue down this motherhood path. Honestly, the conflicting comments from culture to culture really crack me up. Let me repeat what I have said before… I like this quieter lifestyle! A lot!

We did just have a wonderful visitor to Japan… Kimono Pipsqueak’s paternal grandmother made a trip here to meet him. Before she came, I asked her over and over if she wanted to see Japan or just be at home and spend time with her new grandson. Each time she stated that it was to be a quiet trip for spending time with him; news which I was grateful to hear repeated. I couldn’t just entirely skip Japan though, so we did tackle the train one afternoon and evening to head to Chinatown in Yokohama. I wore KP, while we hopped the train and walked all around the neon lit streets. On the crowded train ride back, there was a new understanding light in Grandma’s eyes. Seeing is believing!

So what do KP and I do all day? We eat out with girlfriends several times a week. We take walks around our neighborhood. We run errands and go to appointments. At the end of each day, I am always shocked at how fast it has gone by. This time with my baby is already flying by. Why would I want to miss a minute of it by stuffing in excursions that would leave me harried with the details of the day? We do have several upcoming trips in the works including: weekends in Tokyo, multiple days and nights on an Australian beach and an extended vacation in several states come summer.

As much of the Japanese culture that I have been able to experience alone or with KH in our years here, it has been amazing to experience it in this new and eye-opening mommy way. It does make me wonder though… when we make our next move… who will I choose to be? The Japanese mom or the American one?