A New Name

A few months ago, my friend Azusa and I sat with our smart phones in a crowded Omotesando yakitori bar. Between delicious skewers of chicken, various delectable side dishes, wine and Japanese highball (a whisky-based soda drink the Japanese have reinvented and made their own) we listed flowers I loved and a few she suggested. Then we considered their Japanese names.

Question: Why were we doing this?

Answer: When I finished Level 4 of Sogetsu Ikebana and applied for the certificate of completion I discovered that I was expected to choose a flower name for myself. 

That is no simple task. I didn’t get to choose my own name, its sound or its symbolism.  However, in choosing a flower name I felt compelled to find a flower I loved which was emblematic and also sounded mellifluous in Japanese. I was surprised at how many flower names sound quite spiky and harsh in Japanese. At evening’s end only two had made the list.

I spent the next days considering additional flowers. Thankfully, the information required was at my fingertips. With a few clicks and swipes I checked and eliminated various options in two languages. Throughout the process one flower of the two Azusa and I had on our shortlist continued to resonate.

Gentian. An autumnal flower, it has been extensively bred by the Japanese to produce a wide range of variations and colours that are at once strong, soft and elegant. In addition, the flower’s Japanese name Rindou (or Rindō) is similar to the way my name Lynda is pronounced in Japanese: Rinda.

That done, another more daunting task remained. I needed to choose Chinese characters for the syllables Rin and dou. Complicating matters is that any given Japanese syllable can be rendered in multiple Chinese characters. These often carry more than one meaning and may change pronunciation in Japanese.

Not knowing Chinese or Japanese and not wishing to choose something which unbeknownst to me might harbour some dodgy or ridiculous connotations, I solicited the help of friends who were knowledgeable in these matters. However, even for them the numerous options could be confusing.

For many weeks I considered suggestions and advice, including the recommendation of the Services for the Membership Department staff at Sogetsu Kaikan who administer the certification and issue the diplomas. Eventually I went with their recommendation and chose these characters 竜胆 meaning (among other things) bold.

The choice was sealed by additional pertinent element I discovered during my extensive research. The autumnal gentian’s ravishing colour and highly nuanced symbolism are referenced in an Emily Dickinson poem “God made a little Gentian.” The final line asks: Creator—Shall I—bloom?

I shall–indeed! Boldly! Here’s to my new flower-name and all ravishing, late-blooming creators.

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Out of This World

When astronauts return from time spent in space, how do they react to their return to earth? The Human Research Program at NASA notes that astronauts experience various disturbances to human physiology as a result of sleep disruptions, confined environments with limited social interactions at long distances from home which have predictable effects.

Without belaboring the extensive research, an astronaut’s experience in space can include strain, distress and negative states of mind requiring medical intervention.  However, it can also contain joyful highs, a heightened sense of beauty and wonder, as well as the feeling of being connected to a larger whole. On return to earth it’s not uncommon to experience shifts in mood states in spite of the growth-enhancing experience, changed perceptions and the pleasure of coming home.

Though I don’t equate a 10-hour flight to a destination on this planet to space flight, I am not surprised to find parallels with my state of mind four months after my return from Tokyo. Sleep disruptions, confined environments, limited social interactions were characteristic of my experiences abroad, too. However, a difference between me and astronauts was that I had no home or homecoming to anticipate with deep joy.  Though I wasn’t living rough by any means, after two and a half years in Victoria I was not yet settled. Essentially, I still felt homeless.

Joseph Campbell in his seminal work The Hero’s Journey describes another point regarding returnees once the quest is over. On his return the hero finds himself quite out of sync with those whom he left behind. Similarly, in addition to feeling homeless, after leaving my intense and often rapturous program of ikebana studies and Tokyo adventures I found no one with whom I might fully share my experience. 

Fortunately, on my return to Canada I had major undertakings to fully occupy my mind which  protected me from any serious downward plunge into variable mood states or adjustment disorders. As described in my last two posts I began a search for a property to call home and plunged into Victoria’s broad range of Christmas festivities. Even though I had not yet found a suitable property, as a gesture of faith and concrete intention I started packing on Boxing Day. Shortly after New Year the offer I made on a condo was accepted, and day by day I ticked items off my To Do lists in preparation for the possession date before month’s end.

Yet, before the ink was dry on the documents, thoughts about whether it might also be possible to return to Tokyo drifted in and out of mind. Email conversations with the school liaison regarding my certification documents and the choice of my flower name (which I will get to in another post) prompted night dreams of fellow students at Sogetsu Kaikan and the streets of Gaiemmae where my spirit wanders still.

Though I am continuing my ikebana studies in Victoria, after Anne and Aude from International Class sent photos, yearning for the Tokyo classes I deeply miss grew. I wondered whether I could manage a return to receive my certificates from Sogetsu Kaikan in person rather than having them sent by mail.

That tantalizing prospect has also been intensified by frequent longings for CITRON’S matchless lemon tarts. Nothing comparable exists here. My last morning in Tokyo before heading over to Shinjuku Station where I caught the JR Narita Express to the airport, I left my apartment and wandered around the corner to CITRON. Since I wasn’t going to enjoy this indulgence again for a long time, I ordered two slices and asked Benjamin to plate them to look like a single slice. He laughed when I confessed sotto voce that I didn’t want to suffer any Japanese side-eye over this foreigner-style excess. But I digress.

Even during moments fraught with frustration and the significant challenges inherent in stepping out of my own culture and language, my Tokyo days were out of this world. Not perfect. Not always ideal. Nothing I should consider superior to the life I relish in my new home in Victoria.  However, my Tokyo time was most definitely a matchless interlude I cannot replicate on this side of the Pacific.

I can’t walk into a classroom with resplendent views, take instruction from numerous top-tier teachers or enjoy as many as seven (though I usually took five) classes each week. Here I also study with a nice group, but that number of weekly lessons is spread over three months.

In Victoria I also don’t have the vast choice of materials grown especially for ikebana or full range of supplies on hand. In addition, I miss the connection formed with kindred spirits I chanced to meet and ikebana artists who found their way to Sogetsu Kaikan from all over the world. Women whom I grew to admire and cherish over the five months spent together.

Then during the time outside of class, the city and all its myriad offerings—high and low, sacred and profane—beckoned. I’d be a poor specimen of a sentient being not to miss it all. As a result, I will return to Tokyo-related themes on this blog as I get settled in my new home. Some of the stories of my Tokyo days remain untold. Though part of me questions whether it’s not too much of a bygone after all these months, another part wants to keep that out of this world experience alive. 

*Photos of Japan from space used with permission. NASA & Shutterstock.

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Busy Days

Since acquiring my new home I have been busy. Creating blog posts has not been priority one. Instead, I revved up into high gear the moment the keys were mine. Continue reading

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Almost Home

Today is much like one of those evening flight, waiting-around-with-nothing-to-do at the airport days. Except that no one is going to bring me drinks once I’m on board.

In 9 hours I get the keys to my new home! Continue reading

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Merry Christmas from Victoria

I was surprised during a visit to a local mall to view a Christmas tree display to find a compass rose pointing to Tokyo more than 7500 kilometers distant. Sometimes it feels as if it were that many days. Continue reading

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Lunch at Lature

With Chef Murota and Anne at Lature

Over the years Anne has been a splendid dinner companion with whom I’ve enjoyed numerous restaurants in the Vancouver area. There’s never been a dud among the numerous options she’s suggested. Continue reading

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Small Successes in My Ikebana Studies in Tokyo 5

4—[18] In a Suiban without Kenzan

  • Alder (Alnus) branches and long-stemmed green roses (Rosa) in a green suiban (flat dish).

Continue reading

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Small Successes in My Ikebana Studies in Tokyo 4

4—[15] Keeping in Mind the view from Above

  • Japanese witch hazel (Hamamalis japonica) branches and cosmos (Cosmos), also known as the cherry blossoms of autumn in Japan, in a two-toned blue container with five openings.

In an arrangement for a low table or the floor, the objective is to create beautiful line and a composition which is attractive from any viewpoint. Continue reading

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Small Successes in my Ikebana Studies in Tokyo 3

4—[14] Keeping in Mind the View from Below

  • Asparagus fern and mauve Phalaenopsis orchids in a three-throated, cream-coloured, tubular vase.

Some arrangements are placed above eye level and the composition must reflect that point of view. Continue reading

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Small Successes in My Ikebana Studies in Tokyo 2

4—[12] Focusing on the Uses of Water

  • Fruiting Mikan (Citrus unshiu, or satsuma mandarin) and Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum) in a brown pottery suiban (flat dish). Not fixed with a kenzan (spiky frog).

In this arrangement attention is given to the water as the primary element. Continue reading

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