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Posts Tagged ‘Japan culture’

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.

Two kinds of tempura, three different cuts of maguro (tuna), hand rolls, fried squid!, tamago yaki (sweet egg omelet), chawan mushi (steamed, eggy custard), pickled veggies, and seaweed salad

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.

The mango was placed there for express, comedic value

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For my second to last ikebana class, we did flower arrangements rather than ikebana.  All the flowers, instead of being purchased from a flower shop, were donated by my ikebana ladies, grown in their gardens or “borrowed” from who-knows-where.  Very colorful and a nice change of pace from regular classes, as there are no set rules for flower arranging!  Also, the hydrangeas are off the hook in bloom up here, which I remember from my arrival last year.  It’s nice to see them indoors now, too, brightening up my genkan.

I had so much fun I got to make two arrangements!

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Beko Mochi

July hasn’t been the most blog friendly month, and for that, I’m sorry!  Turns out that getting ready to leave the country to return home, at the busiest time of the school year, has made for less time waxing poetic on the internets.  Please forgive.  I’ll try to get in some last interesting tidbits of Japanese culture and thoughts on leaving within the next couple weeks.  Stay tuned.

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Japan, as you might know, is big into sweets.  In addition, Japanese people enjoy several textures otherwise not valued in the Western world.  That of mochi-mochi, hoku-hoku, and neba-neba. (Oh! How I love Japanese onomatopoeia!)  These texture descriptors roughly translate respectively to: springy and chewy (like omochi); technically “not soggy” but I consider it more fluffy (like a baked sweet potato eaten hot with butter); and slimey and gooey (like natto – fermented soybeans – or overcooked okra).  This mochi-mochi aesthetic is very apparent, as almost every region in Japan has their own form or preferred style of making omochi.  Here in Aomori’s Shimokita, they make Beko mochi which is, more than anything, just a way to make something mediocre tasting look pretty!

Mixing the Mochi

Creating the design, part by part

I’ve been given countless gifts of beko mochi in the past year, but I had yet to make it.  Turned out, though, that one of my ikebana ladies is a beko mochi master, and offered to give me a crash course in the production.  Instead of making beko mochi from cooked mochi rice (a sweeter, smaller grain of white rice), it’s made with equal parts mochi flour, regular flour, and then some white sugar.  These ingredients are then mixed together by adding hot water until they form a sticky, heavy lump – not unlike play-dough.  Then small amounts of colored powder are mixed in to create different colors.  These colors are rolled out into logs or snakes (think sculpy) and by way of good memory, mind expansion, and magic are twisted, combined, flattened, and smushed into a cohesive design.  These examples are mostly cherry blossom flowers, but I’ve seen everything from irises, daisies, and cartoon characters.  The final log is then sliced thinly and steamed before being eaten.

Move over best gfs in America - my soulmate might just be this loudmouthed, 60+, Japanese dance teacher with 4 dogs

Wait for it...almost there...

Truth be told, it’s not the most delicious sweet. (A little beko mochi goes a long way in sitting in your belly.) But it’s a pretty cool process and very particular to my region.  I doubt that anyone outside of the prefecture has even heard of it, except now of course, my loyal American audience.

Ta Da!

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One of my last few ikebana classes.  We continue to work on Sideways flowers – yesterday we focused on the angular lines of the Futoi stalk (1st), Leaves whose name escapes me right now (2nd), and Sunflowers (3rd).

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…can be experienced here.

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Another week of Yoko no Hana (sideways flowers): Kakuriko leaves (1st); Shocking! Pink! Carnations (2nd); and something that I can only translate to Hybrid Cheese (3rd).  End of June here – only three more ikebana classes left!  So sad!

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It’s no secret: yesterday was an awful day.  I had slept badly; was anxious; no patience for my kids; taught a lesson that in all regards should have been a hit yet fell flat; it was 40-some degrees and rainy, so I couldn’t run outside; was (am) overwhelmed by my Japanese test cramming studying and feeling guilty that I haven’t yet embarked on my economics online course.  All I wanted to do was read my book, drink tea and be warm.  (Arizona, here I come.)  Instead, I dragged myself to ikebana somewhat grudgingly and pitiful, expecting the further exhaustion that sometimes comes with focusing hard on Japanese and the flowers.

We embarked upon a new style: Yoko no hana (sideways flowers) with Yamashida ferns (1st), Gladiosa flowers (2nd), Baby’s Breathe (3rd), and Futoi stalks (4th) as accents.  My mind was a mess; I couldn’t focus.  The ferns proved to be tricky to maneuver and keep in place.  Where I usually am the last to finish, painstakingly arranging everything just. so. yesterday, I slapbanged my way through and was rewarded with only one change from my Sensei. Just goes to show, no?

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