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SAORI weaving on a loom at Shizuka Ryokan

SAORI: Japanese traditions

At Shizuka Ryokan, we host retreats and workshops with a focus on Japanese tradition. One such retreat is the SAORI weaving workshop. Several times each year, Prue Simmons arrives fresh from her llama farm and dyeing studio, to teach people the art of SAORI weaving.

In Japanese the word SAORI comes from sai–individuality, and ori–weaving.

The philosophy of SAORI is an interesting one. In traditional hand weaving an irregular thread is considered a mistake. In SAORI things are very different; the weaver is encouraged to make mistakes. 

SAORI weavers follow four slogans:
1) Consider the differences between a machine and a human being
2) Be bold and adventurous
3) Let’s look out through eyes that shine
4) Inspire one another, and everyone in the group

Japan is renowned for the wabi-sabi philosophy, loosely defined as a world view centered on the acceptance of imperfection. The wabi-sabi aesthetic is in evidence at Shizuka Ryokan. For example, upon arrival guests receive green tea in an irregularly shaped Japanese cup. The style of the Japanese pottery is called hagi ware; the cup is rustic and simple looking, with unrefined textures and is beautiful because it is flawed. The philosophy of SAORI weaving is the same. SAORI weavers celebrate accidents, unexpected colours and textures.

Misao Jo invented SAORI in the late sixties. She was weaving an obi, a Japanese belt, and found that one of the threads was missing. Looking at the belt she realised that the mistake was pleasing to behold. She showed it to a person running a weaving factory who dismissed it as flawed and worthless but this did not deter Misao who had an inherent sense of the value of the handmade object. She deliberately made a belt with many flaws and showed it to the owner on an obi shop in Osaka who thought it was wonderful.

Misao thought that the aesthetic quality of the flawed obi must be the result of something hidden within herself. She realised that the obi’s beauty was a result of escaping conventional thinking in order to express herself. The philosophy of SAORI was born.

To learn more about the SAORI workshop, or other workshops on offer at Shizuka Ryokan, please visit out Retreats and Workshops page.

Macrobiotic salad of pomegranate, radish and carrot prepared by Lars Skalman

Macrobiotics: Japanese traditions

At Shizuka Ryokan, we host many retreats and workshops throughout the year. One that we are very excited about is the 2019 Seasonal Summer Yoga Retreat. Over three days in November, Cate Peterson and Lars Skalman will be at Shizuka Ryokan teaching Japanese yoga and macrobiotic cooking. (The beautiful photograph accompanying this post is from a collection of macrobiotic recipes by Lars Skalman.)

Many people are familiar with yoga (learn more about Japanese yoga here), but they may not know what macrobiotics is. Here is a brief introduction.

George Oshawa, is seen as the father of macrobiotics. Ohsawa recovered from tuberculosis in 1911 using a seasonal wholefoods diet recommended to him by Dr Ishizuka. Dr Ishizuka had a theory that good health was the result of the correct balance of potassium, sodium, acid and alkaline in the diet.

The macrobiotic diet was popularised by Oshawa in the 1930s. Ohsawa trained students, including Michio and Aveline Kushi, who spread the ideas of macrobiotics throughout the West.

In the late 1970s, there was an explosion of interest in traditional medicine around the world (perhaps helped along by the handsome Bruce Lee). Westerners studied traditional eastern philosophies and practices such as shiatsu, martial arts, nine-ki astrology, reiki, meditation, the I Ching, Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, ta’i chi and macrobiotics.

Macrobiotics is based on the idea that each of us is responsible for our own health. A macrobiotic diet is a pescatarian (or sometimes vegetarian or vegan) diet. It is based upon Zen Buddhist concepts about food. The macrobiotic diet attempts to balance the yin and yang elements of food and cookware.

The macrobiotic diet aims to reduce animal products, eat locally grown foods which are in season, and eat in moderation. Macrobiotics favours locally grown wholegrain cereals, pulses, vegetables, seaweeds, fermented soy products and fruit. For example, soba noodles (buckwheat flour), umeboshi plum and bancha tea are recommended.

Members of the nightshade family such as tomatoes, capsicums, potatoes and eggplant are used sparingly as they are considered to be extremely yin. Cooking utensils should be made from wood or glass, non-stick coating and plastics are avoided.

If you are keen to learn more about macrobiotics, and to see it is a modern-day context, why not come along to the Summer Seasonal Yoga Retreat. You’ll learn from the experts how to prepare seasonal macrobiotic dishes such as beetroot and arame pickles, salt and pepper tofu with black bean sauce, sweet rice pudding and vegetable pakoras. YUM!

About Us – Seasonal Yoga Treats

Shizuka Ryokan has many cherry blossoms

Flower walks through Tokyo

Spring is just around the corner at Shizuka Ryokan, the blossoms are budding, and excitement is building.

Japanese tradition honours the seasons and the natural world. In the book A Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo, Sumiko Enbutsu explores fifteen iconic flowering plants. Enbutsu writes, ‘Of all the natural phenomena, nothing marks the seasons more than flowers.’

The author explains the historical and cultural background of each species, and outlines walking routes of Japan’s capital that take in the best spots and seasons to enjoy the blooms.

A Flower Lover’s Guide opens with the sakura—the cherry blossom, revered in Japan for its beauty and transience. Hanami is the Japanese tradition of admiring the blossoms in spring—usually cherry, and sometimes plum.

If you can’t make it to Japan in spring 2020 don’t despair—of the fifteen flowers in A Flower Lover’s Guide, eleven are growing at Shizuka Ryokan: cherry blossom, azalea, tree peony, wisteria, iris, morning glory, maple, pine, narcissus, plum blossom and camellia.

ryokan Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lorenzoviolone/

Shizuka Ryokan newsletter

As well as a Japanese culture blog, Shizuka Ryokan publishes a newsletter four times per year. The latest newsletter was published on winter solstice, an auspicious day in Japan. On the shortest day of the year people in Japan take yuzu baths and eat pumpkin for good luck. You can read the latest newsletter here. And if you like what you see, please subscribe. The Spring Equinox is just around the corner!

SAORI weaving on a loom at Shizuka Ryokan

SAORI retreat at Shizuka Ryokan

Thursday 24th – Sunday 27th October 2019

Shizuka Ryokan will be rife with creativity and sustainability this October when Prue Simmons returns to teach a three-day SAORI workshop. SAORI is a type of Japanese weaving.

Prue Simmons is the founder of the Dyeing to Weave Studio, and is one of just three SAORI teachers in Australia. She was taught traditional Japanese weaving and natural dye techniques by Toyomi Harada in the mountains on Honshu, Japan.

Prue is interested in sustainability, natural dyes, up-cycling and environmentally friendly textiles. Prue and her partner run White Stone Farm in Central Victoria. On the farm they raise llamas and use their fleece to weave beautiful pieces.

To learn more about SAORI you can read the blog post on Shizuka Ryokan’s Japanese culture blog.


Please note: The October 2019 SAORI workshop has SOLD OUT. Please contact Shizuka Ryokan if you are interested in attending the next SAORI workshop: Thursday 20th February  – Sunday 23rd February 2020

Alternatively, tickets are still available for the Sashiko & Boro workshop, taught by Leanne from Kimono House. This workshop is scheduled for early 2020.

Woodcut by Hiroshige depcting maple leaves

Maple Viewing: Japanese traditions

Momijigari–maple viewing–is the tradition of visiting areas where the maple trees have turned red.  The Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) at Shizuka Ryokan are exploding with colour this month. There are a variety of maple species growing at Shizuka Ryokan, in a range of colours—from blood red through to subtle bronze.

At Shizuka, we have come to realise that the Japanese maple tree is a wonder across all seasons. In winter, the trees have no leaves and the branches are framed against the Hepburn sky. In spring, new growth, flowers and colours appear. In summer, the leaves provide shade for guests (and birds) and in autumn, the fall of the leaves marks the ephemeral nature of existence.

Shizuka Ryokan’s gardens are a place to reflect. Shizuka Ryokan features a tsubo-niwa, or courtyard garden, an essential part of traditional ryokans. The architecture of Shizuka Ryokan is organised around a raked gravel garden that has a maple tree growing out of it. (In Japan, raking gravel took on a symbolic significance for the Buddhist monks–more on that in a future blog post!)

The Japanese maple is native to Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia and Russia, where it grows in mixed and understorey forests.  There are hundreds of varieties, with a wide variation in leaf colour and texture. Maples are prized for their 7-palmed leaves and colours. There are generally two types of tree shape: upright and horizontal.

Botanists have a field day identifying Japanese maples. There are so many different cultivars a system of categorisation has developed. They are divided into 7 groups. 5 of the groups depend on their leaf forms:

  • Amoenum Group: Each leaf is divided up to two-thirds to the leaf base
  • Palmatum Group: Each leaf is divided two-thirds to three-fourths to the leaf base
  • Matsumurae Group: Each leaf is divide more than three-fourths to the leaf base
  • Dissectum Group: Each lead is divided into lobes, which are dissected into sub-lobes
  • Linearilobum Group: Each leaf is divided from the tip to the base into narrow, straplike lobes

(The final 2 groups are dwarf cultivars and cultivars that don’t fit the other groups)

Four leaves from four different species of Japanese maple tree.

Acer palmatum cultivars – From left to right A. palmatum wild type, A. palmatum ‘Amoenum’, and A. palmatum ‘Matsumurae’ (‘Dissectum’ is similar to ‘Matsumurae’) [Photo credit: Abrahami/Creative Commons]

Close up of Iris growing at Shizuka

Irises: Japanese traditions

A blooming Iris in the gardens of Shizuka RyokanThe ancient art of gardening is alive and well at Shizuka Ryokan. Our gardens display a beautiful selection of traditional Japanese plants such as bamboo, ginkgo, persimmon, sakura (cherry blossom), maple, shiso (a herb used in our kitchen), magnolia, Japanese quince and hibiscus. At dusk, the pine trees fill with sulphur-crested cockatoos, and the fruit trees attract fast moving parrots, leaving streaks of the brightest greens and reds. Kangaroos feed on the grass. A kookaburra sits on the wooden bridge at the ryokan entrance, waiting for chef Akiko-san to appear with sashimi. It is this fusion–of Japanese tradition in an Australian setting–that makes a visit to Shizuka Ryokan potent and unique.

This month, the Irises are in bloom. In Japan, Iris cultivation is considered a high art, and the Japanese have developed more than 2000 cultivated varieties. These cultivars display large, beautifully coloured and patterned flowers, with exceptional wide falls (the petals that hang down) and narrow standards (the upright petals).

The name Iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow, an apt name for a species that blooms in a wide range of colours. There are around 300 species of Iris. They are treasured for their large flowers—in colours of blue, purple, maroon or white—and their contrasting pattterns of dots, stripes, veins and edges. Many Iris have ruffled flowers, with multiple floral parts.

There are three species of Iris commonly grown in Japan—hanashobu (Iris ensata), kakitsubata (Iris laevigata) and ayame (Iris sanguinea). Outside of Japan, Iris ensata is referred to as ‘Japanese iris’. It has a bluish purple colour and references to it in Japanese art and literature date back to the 12th century. Iris ensata is native to Japan, China, Korea and Siberia.  It is believed that farmers would plant irises in or near their rice fields because their blooming coincided with the start of the rainy season—the time for transplanting rice plants from seed beds to the fields.


To learn more we recommend The Japanese Garden, a fantastic book written by Sophie Walker.

Utagawa Hiroshige painting of Iris garden.

Utagawa Hiroshige’s painting of an Iris garden. Hiroshige greatly influenced Van Gogh.

Image: "Shinrin-yoku", a film by Dance Films Association. The film features dance and choreography by Mayumu Minakawa, video by Kenneth Kao, and music by Levi Gershkowitz and Julie Becker. Directed by Tom Weksler.

Forest Bathing: Japanese traditions

In Japan, there is a tradition known as shinrin-yoku—or forest bathing. Shinrin-yoku describes the practice of ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ by spending prolonged periods of time with trees, and engaging with the forest through all of one’s senses.

Shizuka Ryokan is set in the rolling hills of Hepburn Springs, so we are perfectly placed for some time out among the trees. Here at Shizuka Ryokan, we practice shinrin-roku, and encourage our guests to do the same.

Shinrin-yoku: How trees can help you find health and happiness (2018) is a book written by Dr Qing Li which introduces readers to the art and science of forest bathing. Dr Li draws on peer-reviewed studies into the impact of forest bathing on health. With more than 100 colour photographs of forests around the world, the book already holds a treasured place in the Shizuka Ryokan library.

You don’t have to be a scientist to know that walking in the forest reduces stress, anxiety and depression. Forest bathing improves sleep, boosts immunity and heart health, and produces a better parasympathetic (rest and recover) response. Essential oils of trees such as Pine (many of which are growing at Shizuka) increase energy levels and induce a state of wellbeing.

The naturalist John Muir once wrote, ‘between every two pine trees is a doorway leading to a new way of life.’ Why not book into Shizuka Ryokan to savour the sounds, smells and sights of the forest? Listen to call of the sulpur-crested cockatoo. Watch the echidna amble past. Feel the breeze on your skin and smell the pine needles underfoot. Feel the trunk of a tree. Sip the mineral springs. Take deep breaths of the restorative Hepburn air…Walking among the trees is a great reset. Don’t even get us started on the benefits of forest bathing followed by a traditional Japanese meal.


The image accompanying this post is a still from Shinrin-yoku, a film which features dance and choreography by Mayumu Minakawa, video by Kenneth Kao, and music by Levi Gershkowitz and Julie Becker. Directed by Tom Weksler.

Shinrin-yoku: How trees can help you find health and happiness  is available from the wonderful Paradise Bookshop in Daylesford. Just a short forest walk away from Shizuka Ryokan.

If you would like to learn more about Forest-Bathing, we recommend this hilariously titled article from Outside magazine: Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning.

 

ryokans

Ryokans: What to expect

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, typically located near onsen, or hot springs. The first ryokan, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, was founded in 705 A.D. It is considered the oldest hotel in the world. Today, there are more than 50,000 ryokans in Japan.

Valentine's Day. Pink coloured kitkat with decorative box. A new addition to Japanese tradition.

Valentine’s Day and White Day: Japanese traditions

Did you forget to buy your lovely lady some flowers last Valentine’s Day? Shizuka Ryokan forgives you; you were probably just following Japanese tradition.

In Japan men don’t have to worry about shopping for jewellery or flowers in February because Valentine’s Day is celebrated differently there; for the Japanese, Valentine’s is a day when women shower men with chocolates. Read more