March 4, 2008

Tokyo Picture tour1

Japan is a country of contrasts. As a trend hunter, I am continually fascinated if not confused, with this juxtapostion that occurs culturally in this amazing country. Whether you are a plant lover or not, this pictures might not be grouped and edited in the appropriate clusters based by theme, but then again, this is precisely what makes Japan so unique - it's how a visitor experiences the country, a blend of extreme contrasts; bright vinyl toys, American media, 5000 year old artifacts and French pastry. Pop culture can coexist here with a deep respect for the past.

I am currently sitting in my hotel room, packing, and waiting. Waiting for the morning clouds to move off of Mount Fugi in the distance, after last nights' rains, it surely snowed on the higher peaks around Tokyo, for I can see the lower half, and perhaps I can catch one more glimpse of this sacred peak, which is rarely seen due to pollution or mist. I am also waiting for the shuttle bus which transfer me, and my luggage oh so packed, the two hour drive to Tokyo's Narita International Airport for my 18 hour flight back to Chicago, then to Boston. Where Joe promises me that I then need to be ready to set up the Primrose Society display at the New England Flower Show ( but I am SO exhausted!). All I really want is a hot bath, a hot bowl of soup and a long sleep to recover from the awfulness called air travel. I can't help but to obsess over the fact that from this moment that I lock my suitcase, to the moment that I land in Boston, it will have been 26 hours.( and I don't sleep on planes).

Ok...stop complaining! Here are some shots, in random order. I will try to comment on them later. As well as those on my design blog, which I still need to update.

March 2, 2008

Japan's Orchid Grand Prix

A courtesy guide attempts to control the crowds at the worlds' largest orchid show.

Perhaps my collegue, Jessica summed it up best, " I wish I had a hobby that could fill a stadium". I felt bad for her, after spending long hours working, attending focus groups with screaming kids, walking and walking and walking for hours and shopping for trends during our stay in Tokyo, I then convinced her to spend a few hours on Saturday afternoon at what is essentially the Orchid world Olympics for orchid enthusiasts - the Japan Orchid Grand Prix International Orchid show, held annually in the Tokyo Dome Baseball stadium.

Imagine, baseball during the summer, and in February, orchids.

This is my second business trip to Tokyo that happened to coincide with the Grand Prix, so I was incredibly lucky, for the show is amazingly enourmous, and there are things to be seen at this show that are not seen at any other orchid show around the world, mainly the native Japanese orchids the Calanthe, Neofinetia and dendrobium moniliforme, that should be familiar to anyone who reads this blog, since I happen to have some remnant of a Japanese gene in me, that makes me pine for these tiny unpretentious orchids which Jess said, looked like dead plants. I will show more of these in the next posting, since there were far too many to incude here.

This massive 6 foot or more wide specimen of Coelogyne crista fma. hololeuca 'Pure White' is  a plant that I have seen here three times. This year, it is larger than ever. I must try to remember to try growing one like this - on a portable shingled roof section.

Coelogyne cristata fma. hololeuca 'Pure White'
Growing on a very interesting and somewhat rustic wooden structure which looks a bit like a piece of a roof, this massive Coelogyne cristata, reportedly an easy-to-bloom species for a cold greenhouse, reminded me that mine has never yet bloomed. this plant, however, what about 6 feet in diameter and
literally covered in fowers. I do know that I must let the plant become cold, near freezing in the winter, and allow it to dry out for the winter, but although it is full and lush, I never get any flowers. So if anyone out there has any advice, please let me know. Perhaps it is a fertilizer issue?

Only Japan could host such as show, since no where else is there such a passion for specific plants. As flower shows around the world (and especially in the United States) experience lower attendance numbers, this flower show fills the largest stadium in the worlds' largest city, and keeps it packed for an entire week and with long que lines, makes a clear statement of the level of horticultural passion that exists in this amazing country. Plant enthusiasts are everywhere in Japan, but it seems no one is as enthusiastic as the orchid enthusiasts are. As Jess said, "after flying halfway around the world without hassle, it took an orchid show guard to search and frisk me. I mean, come on, this is just a flower show! What we're they thinking..that I was going to smuggle in my purse? A vial of aphids or a bomb?"

Orchid cookies for sale.

Imagine seeing these Phalaenopsis at your local Home store! I could not get over the length of the stems and the bumber of flowers. The Japanese have a specific way in which they train their phalaenopsis.I could have done without the foil though.

Incredible Dendrobiums, which remind me of when I lived in Hawaii and we grew them on our clothes line, of course, they never loked like these. New hyrbids, grex's and crosses are selections that look nothing like their parents.

An award winning dendrochillum species specimen plant which I forgot to identify. Spectacular.

March 1, 2008

Ume Plum Viewing in Tokyo

Above the stairway at the Ume Plum temple, signage guides visitors as the Ume plums which are over 250 years old, bloom behind on this cold, February day in Tokyo.

Ume (Plum Blossoms) at Tokyo's Yushima Tenjin shrine
It's an overcast, cold day in Tokyo as we wait for the JR train to take us to Yushima Tenjun shrine to view my favorite floral and cultural event in the great city of Tokyo, the blooming and celebration of the Ume plums.

The idea of viewing plum blossoms, or Ume, has a long and rich history in Japan. Don't confuse these with Sakura, the cherry blossoms though, the Plum, or sometimes referred to as Apricot, are actually varieties of Prunus mume, hardy in the US to about USDA Zone 7, and sometimes zone 6, if protected. In Tokyo's mild climate which is closer to zone 9,, the few winter snows are gone by early February, and that is when the Ume plums begin their long blooming period which sometimes last a month or so.

Festivals surround the blooming of many plants in Japan, but Ume starts the seasons, and on a cold, sunny Saturday, I was able to recreate my visit three years ago, where i attended the Tokyo Grand Prix orchid show, the snow peony's in Ueno park and the blooming of the Ume plums. My only day off during my work trip, gave me full access to these areas, so I will share them with you now.

Viewing plums dates back to the Nara Period (710 - 794), J when the Japanese started to organize :viewings, at temples, around Ume (梅, Japanese Plum Blossoms, since they were the first blossom that signaled that Spring was near. Around the Heian Period, however, Sakura (the showier cherry Blossom) viewing parties became more popular among the elite. Ume remain more restrained, however, and they still seem to draw the crowds to a number of shrines around the country, where at least a dozen Ume festivals are occurring this spring, complete with street food, music, Ume wine, Ume cookies, Ume jewelry, Ume bonsai, and Ume trinkets. even the potatoes being grilled are cut into the shape of the Ume.

Ume wine for sale

Ume Blossoms in Bloom

Crowds come traditionally with students, who write prayer plaques in hopes that they pass their entrance exams.

Wishes are tied in the shrine

On weekends, traditional dance and music accompany the viewing. Very much like a US church even, here, the generations cross as young children run around and eat the special treats, and high school kids sing on stage, as their grand mothers don traditional dress and the fathers take hundreds of photos.

Bonsai versions of the larger, ancient Ume.

A stunning white Ume bonsai - perfection.

The best bonsai are displayed in the Shinto shrine