House of Ikebana

With lively eyes, good posture and thick gray hair belying her age, Chizu Kusume, who will soon reach her 90th year, is the owner of a home that is imbued with the spirit of ikebana, the Japanese art of arranging flowers. Her house is located in Zushi, an old resort town by the Pacific Ocean in Kanagawa Prefecture. What was a once a sedate vacation destination for many celebrated painters and authors, has now become a busy suburb for commuters working in Tokyo. However, a few traditional buildings, like Kusume's house, have survived the change, and are a good reminder of bygone days.

Kusume's house was built in the early Showa Period (1926-1989) as a simple rental house for holidaymakers, but has acquired an air of dignity and poise over time, quite distinct from its more recent neighbors. Architecturally, it is a rather simple house with no remarkable columns, massive beams, or extraordinary workmanship. However, over the past 60 years, it has become a beautiful antique, something like a simple earthenware piece from ages past. Kusume moved into this small, two-storey 150-square-meter house in 1941. It has a garden over three times the size of the house, which is fairly large by Japanese standards. On opening the wooden sliding door at the entrance, the first thing that catches the eye is the flower arrangement in front of a single panel screen (tsuitate), giving a feeling of formality and dignity. The next room is the drawing room (zashih) and the room at the back (cha-no-ma) is for Kusume's private use. These two rooms have the deep eaves of the roof and the engawa corridor to protect them from strong sunlight, and to provide a transitional space between the indoor and the garden. This transitional space is a special feature of Japanese architecture.

To her credit, Chizu Kusume. who proclaims herself "a devoted admirer of flowers," has taken loving care of the house, infusing it with her aesthetic sense over the years. Ikebana embodies the essence of Japanese aesthetics and a deep respect for nature. Compared to the symmetrical and exuberant arrangements of the West, ikebana strives to use just a few flowers in an asymmetrical balance that is fragile yet so dynamic that moving even one stem would destroy the tight composition. There are many ikebana schools in Japan, each with a distinct philosophy. Kusume has established her own school, Murasaki-Kai (literally translated as the "Purple Group"). Her school's foremost principle is to arrange flowers as they grow in nature, without formalizing or manipulating them

As she goes about her business of inspiring her students and arranging seasonal flowers every day. Kusume carefully picks out a suitable container for each arrangement from her vast collection of vases, and uses her great sense of design, which she has cultivated over time, to ensure that each arrangement comes alive. A successful ikebana arrangement charges the space in and around itself, so placing the arrangements in each room has to be done with great care so as to provide adequate "breathing room" around them. Like a freshly watered garden, Chizu Kusume's flower arrangements refresh the spirits of the beholder.

Above: The classic chest (tonsu) with elaborate cast-iron metal work is typical of those used traditionally to store precious belongings that may need to be carried out in a hurry in a fire. The white porcelain jar with chrysanthemums is from the Korean Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The photograph is by Denjiro Hasegawa, and depicts the famous sculpture of the Indian god Asura from Kofukuji Temple in Nara.

Left: The room is flooded with sunlight, enhancing the warm tones of tatami. It opens onto the L-shaped veranda (engawa), looking beyond it to a pine grove that is typical of this seaside area.

Engawa Garden

Two tatami rooms are joined when the partitions between are removed. In the tokonoma alcove, a chrysanthemum and an ampelopsis are arranged in a decanter made for offering liquor to the gods of the Silfa Kingdom (57 bc-935 ad) on the Korean Peninsula. The yukimi shoji frames the view outside, screening the top and revealing a beautiful part of the garden through its lower half. The table, known as a horigotatsu, has an interesting design. During the winter months, a quilt is placed under a removable table top. above an open wooden frame over which people hang their legs. Family and friends keep warm by putting their legs under the table and the quilt as they dine and relax.

Above: The indoor brazier (hibachi) holds an eclectic collection of Kusume's daily utensils—a bird-shaped cigar cutter, a silver pitcher, a doisonne letter rack and a Baccarat Crystal paperweight from France.

Right: Poised like a still-life picture, persimmons and chayote have been arranged on the low cedar table. The texture of this table is the work of a skilled carpenter who has deepened and emphasized the natural wood grain.

Left: The dressing table with the oval mirror from the Taisho Period (1912-1926) is a good representative of the age when Japan eagerly emulated Western technology and arts. The copper vase bears a toad lily and a bit of pampas grass from the garden.

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