As you may have gathered—I am emphatically not a city girl! Thus, living in Tokyo, one of the largest cities in the world, for two years was initially very challenging for me. I was saved by flowers. Spending time in Japanese gardens gives you a feeling that is similar to being in nature. My favorite garden was the Meiji Jingu, a simple but elegant garden with hundreds of types of iris and a little thousand-year-old tea house nestled in a cozy nook. In addition to the occasional escapes to gardens, I took weekly flower arranging (ikebana) classes with a kimono-garbed sensei (teacher) in an elegant room above a flower shop in a good neighborhood of Tokyo. Each week I could feel myself unwinding as I took the metro to the class. Then there was the ritual of buying flowers, carefully choosing flowers of complimentary dimensions, colors, and character under the watchful eye of my sensei. My Japanese classmates and I spent the next hour arranging our flowers, then sipping tea and admiring each other’s arrangements, making a few corrections at the gentle suggestion of sensei, then disassembling the arrangement to carry it home in our specially made flower bags. On the subway on the way home, I received approving glances from my fellow passengers. Their eyes said, here is a gaijin (foreigner) who is really taking in our culture, not just blasting through temple-gazing. The whole experience was lovely.
Mostly I did a pretty good job fitting into Japanese culture, but it became increasingly difficult the longer I lived there as the expectations of my conforming to the culture increased with my knowledge of it. I occasionally rebelled, not purposefully but just because I couldn’t stand acting Japanese for a minute longer. One such instance involved ikebana. It was fall and I was on my way to my ikebana class when I passed a gingko tree in full fall colors. I cut the requisite three branches and headed off to ikebana, feeling pleased with myself but a little like George Washington must have after he cut the cherry tree down. It made for a great arrangement, but my ikebana sensei was not impressed. I didn’t repeat the offense!
I brought my ikebana equipment with me when I came home to Southeast Alaska and have been reveling in the abundance of luxuriant foliage to make gorgeous flower arrangements ever since. My current style is more ikebana-inspired than strict ikebana. I especially like to combine wild, home-grown, and store-bought greenery and flowers. It’s a great way to make special flower arrangements and saves you tons of money. As always, take care not to impact your community by overharvesting right off the trail and . . . ENJOY!!