Sunday, 6 March 2011

Birmingham Japanese Garden Society

On Saturday I was privileged to be asked to speak for the West Midlands Japanese Garden Society at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Now, usually talks are arranged up to 2 years in advance and I say 'yes' without giving it much of a second thought. But this was slightly different. For one thing, this was a Japanese special interest group, and most of the members had visited Japan at least once. For another thing, they didn't want my standard 'kimono' talk as there would be lots of men present (as it turned out they would have quite liked to see that, so I've promised to go back!).

Oh, and did I mention they wanted not one but two talks, plus a workshop???!

So the day began with a talk on Japanese tea. Fortunately I'd brought Boyf along as my chauffeur and general dogsbody for the weekend, so while I talked, he brewed cups of finest Japanese tea for the audience to taste. Everyone tried:
  • gyokuro - bestest quality tea from the official suppliers to the Imperial family for the last 500 years (I'm good to my audience!!!)
  • genmaicha - 'popcorn' tea - green tea with roasted brown rice for a yummy, nutty flavour
  • sencha sakura - green tea with cherry blossoms and rose petals in, very sweet and delicious
After a bit more waffle about tea, I performed a tea ceremony
Now, the beady-eyed among you will have spotted the deliberate error...I'm whisking the tea with my left hand! In Japan everything is done right-handed, but as a lefty, that's the one bit I just can't do the wrong way round. Besides, my teacher in Japan said it was OK for me to do it that way, so that's fine.

To my great delight, nobody snook away during lunch, so I was able to give a talk called 'Seeing Dreams' about my adventures, mishaps and experiences in Japan. Usually the majority of this talk is about things like how to take a bath in Japan, which slippers to wear in the loo, and Japanese loos in general. In fact, I should really make a talk solely about Japanese toilets, it's such a vast and fascinating subject! But being a knowledgeable group I altered the talk and gave them a more in-depth look at some of the characters I've met and what I get up to over there. It was great fun, the group was very relaxed and they guffawed in all the right places, which is always a good sign.

As if they weren't Japanned out by then, there was still time (just) for a short workshop on kumihimo braiding. It was a pleasure to watch faces change from 'I can't do this' to 'this is actually quite easy and I'm enjoying it, ooh look, there's a braid coming out the bottom!'

I'm so pleased I was able to entertain the JGS and I hope they enjoyed the day as much as I did. Days like that really are precious and it was wonderful to meet such a warm, welcoming group who, though knowledgeable, are open to learning more about different areas of Japanese culture.

Just plotting the next talk I can do for them...something about kimono and toilets, maybe...?

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