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Friday, December 10, 2010

Kiku Ningyo—Bodies in Bloom

The craft of making chrysanthemum dolls, an imperial entertainment and art of the Edo period, is dwindling, but one town north of Tokyo soldiers brightly on.


A tableau of chrysanthemum dolls in the annual kiku show of Nihonmatsu, Japan; mythological figures or Japan’s version of Donna Reed?

Photo: Human Flower Project

We don’t go in for “bucket lists,” really, but having learned about Japan’s chrysanthemum fairs several years ago from Masashi Yamaguchi and seeing pictures of Hirakata’s astounding life-sized chrysanthemum dolls, we certainly have dreamed.

Perhaps Buckminster Fuller did too – the blooming ozukuri, a living prototype for his geodesic domes.

This fall we woke up from that dream in Nihonmatsu, Japan. Botanical gardens in many Japanese cities continue to hold fall chrysanthemum shows, but very few have sustained the esoteric art of making kiku ningyo (chrysanthemum figures/dolls). Nihonmatsu’s exhibition is the biggest and perhaps the last.

A small city, about 2 ½ hours north of Tokyo by train, Nihonmatsu lies on the edge of the Abukuma Mountains. To the west, Mt. Adatara rises over an extant volcano, the thermal waters percolating up to many onsen (hot springs) in the vicinity of Dake. (Please consult—or initiate—the Human Bathing Project on this!)

Nihonmatsu has held a chrysanthemum fair annually since 1930. In recent years it’s been staged at the castle on the northern edge of town, quite a spread and very well suited to this astonishing imperial art form. (A samurai warrior in a cape of purple buds, daisies sprouting on his chest, deserves a promontory to gaze from.)

The event opened October 1 and would run all the way through November – chrysanthemum prime time. Fortunate as we were to see this spectacle at all, unfortunately we could be there only in the show’s first week. There were plenty of mannequins and lots of greenery but not too many blooms. The ozukuri had barely begun with a few white sparks of open petals, not much trace of the visual fireworks ahead.

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Posted by Julie on 12/10 at 03:33 PM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsTravelPermalink