On the afternoon of January 8 (Wed.), we held a wild bird mini-lecture on the 8-tatami mat space on the main house’s first floor. We discussed the traits of the Falcated Duck, a winter migratory bird whose males wear decorative feathers when courting females. There were many points that drew people’s attention today, from the connection between Napoleon’s hat and the heads of these ducks, to the three types of feathers that they use to fly. At the end of the lecture, we handed out print-outs showing how to tell apart the ducks seen at Murin-an and in the surrounding area.
We tended to Murin-an’s second largest red pine (akamatsu). After pruning and plucking needles from the red pine growing on the northeast side of the tearoom, there’s now a bright view that goes all the way back to the garden’s lawn and central area.
On January 3 and 4 (Fri. and Sat.), we held tea ceremony lessons on the second floor of Murin-an’s main house. Here are some pictures of our students welcoming the new year with the instructor. After exchanging New Year’s greetings, they began step-by-step lesson instruction. In accordance with the season, their conversation included a discussion of the New Year’s tea reception (known as “hatsugama,” meaning “first kettle”) which was enjoyed by all.
For three days after New Year’s, our garden experts held special explanations describing in easily understood language the garden’s highlights, history and how to appreciate it. There were even some moments where participants showed great interest in how Murin-an’s original owner, Duke Yamagata Aritomo, rang in the new year. On each day, we prepared “scent gardens” to allow people to viscerally experience the garden’s spatial composition. They listened to the discussion while relaxing at a Japanese garden.
The rabbit-ear irises that thrill us with their indigo colors in May are now in their dormant period. Since their leaves have now lost their color too, we removed them. All that remains now is their stumps, which have grown larger underwater; the preparation to sprout new yellow-green buds for spring has begun. Until that time comes, they look almost as though they are listening to the light rhythm of the cascade while fast asleep.
To greet the new year, we changed Murin-an’s bamboo, which had turned a light brown. We bound the bamboo used for Murin-an’s concave screens (known as “inuyarai”) and its well cover and barrier fences with hemp-palm rope (or “shuro nawa”). Almost of all of this rope was handmade by Murin-an’s head gardener. Its green pipes and notches are now readily visible and bring a fresh new feeling of green to the garden.
On December 27 and 28 (Fri. and Sat.), we held our final tea ceremony lessons for the year. Just like last week, we finished off with lessons in the tea ceremony seated at a table (ryurei-dana). Here are some pictures of students reviewing right down to the details under the direction of their instructor, while also sometimes enjoying the convivial atmosphere.
As these still and quiet days continue, there are now eastern spot-billed ducks that fly to Murin-an as a rest stop. They’re usually here in the early morning, but today they were also here lazily taking their time in the afternoon. They always moved in pairs and you could sometimes see them looking for food too. These ducks’ characteristics are their yellow beak tips that stick out on both males and females. Since female ducks often look alike, this is one way of telling an eastern spot-billed duck apart.
The gardenias that bloomed white flowers in June now bear fruits that have turned scarlet. These distinctive fruits are used for their naturally yellow pigmentation. In Japan, there is a dessert called Kuri Kinton made of candied chestnuts and sweet potatoes that is turned yellow by boiling yellow pigment from gardenias and dissolving it in broth. By fermenting their protein degradation, gardenia fruits are sometimes used as a natural blue pigment too. Green and yellow-green dyes can also be created by mixing together the yellow and blue colors and even red pigments can be extracted from these fruits. Hence, they are commonly used to create many natural dyes.
We pruned the black pine (kuromatsu) in front of our reception window. Gardeners pluck pine needles by relying on the sensations in their fingertips. As they approach the tree’s canopy, there are many side shoots coming out of it, so they strike a balance by choosing the healthy-looking branches. To reduce the burden on the tree, they quickly pluck the needles that they can reach with their hands while keeping their feet on the ground and then repeat the work as they adjust their body positions to different places. In areas where the tree’s side shoots overlap in complex ways, they sometimes pluck needles while staying in very difficult positions. They continue this process as they move downward from the tree’s canopy.