On Thursday, I had my last ikebana class/Going Away Party with my ladies. Although it was just one of the many “goodbye” parties I’ve had in the past few weeks, it was definitely the hardest. We arrived early to do our flower arranging (Lilies, Okureruka leaves, and Kemurisomething-or-other, which translates to “smoke something or other”) and then cleared the way for a veritable feast.
My Sensei made the kanpai speech, and we ate for awhile, and then I was asked to say a few words. Normally nervous in situations where I have to speak Japanese in front of a rapt audience, this case was different. I spoke about how I had always wanted to learn ikebana, and how it was one of my main desires and goals this year in coming to Japan. How I told this to as many people as possible, until someone finally took pity on me and introduced me to this group of ladies. I talked about how, at first, I was hesitant to commit to a weekly class because of time constraints and prices, but how gradually, it became one of my favorite events of the week. How on days that I was down or anxious (like Thursday), coming to class, working with the flowers, but more so, just being in the company of such women was a relief, and a respite. How they welcomed me into their group, fed me tea and taught me bad Japanese.
Often, in Japan, I have felt a need to act a certain way; play a certain role. This was exhausting, and sometimes resulted in an intense desire to hide from “Japan.” Ikebana, however, was the one place where I felt completely at ease. That there were no preconceived expectations of me, and that I was free and accepted to, in fact, be myself. And in doing so, I weaseled my way into the hearts of these older Japanese ladies – my obateria. Safe to say, they’d never met anyone like me ever before, and as strange and foreign a creature as I am, they accepted me. And I think they even liked me, too. There were tears when I said goodbye and drove away. That next week, they will be meeting same time, same place without me, feels wrong and sad and lonely. But so it goes.