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Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010

JAPAN LITE

Secret life of ikebana


Several days ago, I started finding yellow stains on my clothes. I'd be stain-free when I woke up in the morning, but by the end of the day, I'd look down and see a yellow stain somewhere on my shirt. Sometimes it was just a faint suggestion, other times it was a big stripe of yellow. They started appearing on my husband's shirts too, mostly on the shoulders. And the stains wouldn't come out in the wash.

I stalked myself for days trying to catch the Yellow Stain Culprit. But I came up with nothing. Then I started tracing our activities over the past week, before the yellow stains arrived.

We had been to a Japanese friend's wedding, an event in which about 60 people were invited to a ceremony and reception so elaborate, you'd think it was being put on for hundreds of VIPs. With a wedding cake the size of Tokyo Tower, several cocktail dress changes by the bride, and loads of flowers on pedestals everywhere, you wonder why these weddings stop at just 60 guests.

At the end of the allotted two hours for the reception, it was time for the guests, and the flowers, to go home. "Take these!" said the little Japanese woman running around the hotel banquet room collecting flowers from table centerpieces and handing them to the guests. She must have felt that big foreigners needed big flowers, because she handed us some giant white lilies.

When we brought the flowers home, however, we didn't have a place to put them. Of course we have a tokonoma, a special place in a Japanese house to display ikebana. You've got to hand it to the Japanese. Who else would think, "Hey, we've got an eight tatami mat living room (14.6 sq. meters). Let's use 20 percent of that space for flowers!"

But my husband would have none of that. So now we have a new flat-screen TV inside the tokonoma. I was completely against this of course. I would have rather made that space into a guest bedroom!

I think it's great that there is a designated area for flowers in Japanese houses, as long as you have someone at home who doesn't mind replacing the flowers every few days. This also means you have to either buy new flowers constantly, grow your own, or lasso some wild ones. This is not like a TV, where you can just change the channel when a program goes off the air.

The tokonoma attests to the high status flowers have in Japan. Talk about flower power! The Japanese even display flowers in public restrooms. I once saw a train station restroom that had a faded plastic rose next to the toilet, along with a rose scented air freshener. That's dedication.

Besides the tokonoma, there is a second flower viewing space in a Japanese house — next to the front door in the genkan.

I'm not sure why flowers often grace the foyer of Japanese houses. It hardly seems fair to the flowers, who only get a passing glance a few times a day. Maybe the fragrance of the flowers is meant to cover up the odor of the smelly shoes in the genkan. And what if your ikebana isn't quite up to par? People might look at your arrangement and scowl. If you notice people laughing in your genkan, you might try putting a flat-screen TV there instead.

Ultimately, the genkan is where we decided to put the stray flowers that followed us home from the wedding reception. They smelled so sweet and fragrant when you walked into the house, it was practically overpowering. These lilies were so flirty showing off their large petals and their giant stamens.

These big flowers in our tiny genkan demanded your attention. And they seemed to be loving it. So flamboyant were they, I began to suspect that perhaps the flowers were in heat.

That's when I realized that we were being stalked, quite literally, by our own flowers.

Now inside our house, they were forced to be celibate, cut off from any pollinators. So the flowers started flirting with us, visual stimuli with the appeal of large bumble bees. We dutifully buzzed in and out of the house all day and as we passed, the flowers took advantage of us. A subtle brush of the shoulder gave them an opportunity to deposit their pollen in hopes we'd carry it elsewhere.

Now I know why ikebana flowers have their stems jammed into needles inside the bottoms of their pots. This anchors the flowers down and keeps them from jumping onto the guests. But I wasn't going to have any of this hanky panky in my house. Nor was my house going to be the red light district of pollination. Besides, I am still fertile. What if I ended up propagating some kind of humanoid lily?!

When I found a yellow stain on the head of our white cat, that was the last straw. How thoroughly disgusting.

So I did my moral best — I threw the Yellow Stain Culprits out.

Whew! That'll fix 'em.



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