Partial book available
Translated from French by Joe Arseguel and Tom Goldwasser
I recall a maid who invariably arranged my flower vases and my bonsai back to front. She had never been able to grasp the mysterious harmony that a true Japanese discovers in a simple, well done bouquet. The art of flowers was completely foreign to her; not because of her humble condition, because in Japan everyone wants to be an artist, especially when it concerns flowers, but because of her taste. By the same token I fear I will be misunderstood when I address the French people; and if I address myself to other Western people who do not have their finesse, I would fear it even more. For here we are dealing within a revelatory domain of the profound Japanese soul always mysterious and incomprehensible to Westerners.
However, there is nothing simpler. Nothing is more naive than the soul of the Japanese. In no other country does one see excursion trains organized to hear the nightingale (hototogisu), to contemplate cherry blossoms, or the first snow which decorates the mountains. In the summer, posters in railroad stations invite one to hunt fireflies. But do not think for a moment that it is a true hunt, for that is practically unknown to the Japanese and of very recent importation. No, one goes on a trip to the country of Hotaru to admire the flight of these luminous insects, to catch them by hand, to play with them for an instant and release them. There are also special trains to watch the rise of the moon on the pines covered with hanging icicles and hoarfrost. It slightly resembles the European photographer's hunt for the perfect composition, but with the difference that it is satisfied with that momentary sensation without fixing it on a photographic plate. Actually this Western pretension to materialize remembrances seems childish to the Japanese. It is like keeping a wilted bouquet in a vase. One must turn his eyes away from dead things, especially when they have once been beautiful. Ancient Chinese used two different verbs for designating our visual faculties; the one of the eyes and the one of the soul.
This respect, this respectful love, I should say, (one is at odds to find the exact words when one has seen simple peasants bow to the turnip before cutting its leaves just as the French peasant would make the sign of the cross before cutting bread), is only spontaneous, truly profound sentiment in the Nipponese heart, since one finds it in all social strata, among people who seem to be insensitive to this kind of thing.
Thus old-time Parisian coachmen had no penchant for poetry nor for works of art, I believe. To ascribe them with this competence would have made them laugh. The Japanese counterpart, the rickshaw driver, assumes the love of flowers. Often they spend hours in front of miniscule flower pots while waiting for their customers. They prune, they dust, they gently turn the soil and most of all they look and remain silent. Sometimes an amateur proposes to buy one of their planters, but the transaction does not always take place, despite the temptation of non-initiated friends who prefer the easy joys of dice or a game of chess.
"Why don't you sell it? You only get pain from it." one of them would say. "And you, why don't you sell your children?"
1. Book of Flowers - George Ohsawa
This book appeared in four issues of Macrobiotic Today in 1973
©Copyright George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation - G.O.M.F