Christmas at Kiseki

I have loved a lot of things in Japan, from the intimate Zen gardens to the incredible sushi, the unfaltering kindness of people to the cleanliness of literally every public restroom. It is undoubtedly a country rich in unique culture and characterized by a people who work for the betterment of the whole. I’d grown to revere the nation, but had no idea how much more love I was about to experience with the conclusion of Halloween. On November 1st, Christmas rolled out in full volume nearly everywhere you looked. You don’t have to know me long to discover that I adore Christmas. I spend the season decorating all the things, participating in every Christmas related activity that I cross paths with, and generally spreading the Christmas spirit. I realize it’s borderline obsessive, but shouldn’t all great passions approach that line? Well as the king of kawaii (cute), Japan loves Christmas nearly as much as I do. But it’s not a competition; we embrace it together.

A fun display at the Kitte Building in Tokyo

An attractive display at the Kitte Building in Tokyo

Everyone can get in the spirit!

Everyone can get in the spirit!

Again, everyone!

Truly, everyone!

Santa's sleigh pulled by a funny looking reindeer

Santa’s sleigh pulled by a funny looking reindeer

At Kiseki no Hoshi this principle holds true, with a white Christmas theme being implemented in the main exhibition space. Of the seven display changes a year, the Christmas display is one of the most popular. Over the course of 5 days, the conservatory transforms into a sparkling and elegant celebration of the holidays. Having the chance to help with this display change is something I had been looking forward to for quite some time.

Day 1: In the morning, the remnants of the previous bonsai display are cleared away

Day 1: In the morning, the remnants of the previous bonsai display are cleared away

Day 1: Plants being delivered and sorted

Day 1: Plants being delivered and sorted

Day 1: The largest tree is brought in. It took many hands to guide it into place

Day 1: The largest tree is brought in. It took many hands to guide it into place

Day 1: Watching the massive tree being erected was fascinating

Day 1: Watching the massive tree being erected was fascinating

Day 1: Almost there!

Day 1: Almost there!

Day 1: In order to decorate this behemoth, scaffolding is utilized

Day 1: In order to decorate this behemoth, scaffolding is utilized

Day 1: The scene at the end of the day. Work is completed right until the end, with another large tree still in the process of being installed

Day 1: The scene at the end of the day. Work is completed right until the end of the day, with another large tree in the process of being installed

Day 1: One final look at the progress under the roof of the conservatory

Day 1: One final look at the development under the roof of the conservatory

Day 2: Work continued on into the evening and the progress is evident this next morning. The major trees now in place

Day 2: Work continued on into the evening and the progress is evident this next morning. The major trees are all now in place

Day 2: The day was spent beginning on detailed work, such as decorating the large tree with ornaments, lights, and snow

Day 2: The day was spent beginning on detailed work such as decorating the large tree with ornaments, lights, and snow

Day 2: At the end of the day, much work had been completed in the center section of the display space

Day 2: At the end of the day, much work had been completed in the center section of the display space

Day 3: Things begin to take shape

Day 3: Things begin to take shape

Day 3: The sod arrives

Day 3: The sod arrives

Day 3: This was the cleanest sod I'd ever seen! It reminded me of Swiss cake rolls which I hadn't realized I'd been missing

Day 3: This was the cleanest sod I’ve ever seen! It reminded me of Swiss cake rolls which I hadn’t realized I’d been missing

Day 3: All of the spiral topiaries were decked with lights and snow

Day 3: All of the spiral topiaries were decked with lights and snow

Day 3: In this space we re-purposed the moss spheres from the bonsai display and incorporated them into a checkerboard planting pattern

Day 3: In this space, we re-purposed the moss spheres from the bonsai display and incorporated them into a checkerboard planting pattern

Day 3: By the end of the day, most of the plantings were in and the sod placed

Day 3: By the end of the day, most of the plantings were in and much of the sod placed

Day 4: At the beginning of this work day, the final look of the display is nearly complete

Day 4: At the beginning of this work day, the final look of the display is nearly complete

Day 4: More lights and more snow!

Day 4: More lights and more snow!

Day 4: In the late afternoon, finishing touches are being completed on the main space. Work has begun in other areas of the conservatory

Day 4: In the late afternoon, finishing touches are being completed on the main exhibition space. Work has begun in other areas of the conservatory

Day 5: All that remains is a good sweep, dutifully began by the kind volunteers at Kiseki no Hoshi

Day 5: All that remains is a good sweep, dutifully began by the kind volunteers at Kiseki no Hoshi

The final product on display and open to the public. Beautiful.

The final product on display and open to the public. Beautiful.

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Beyond the exhibition space, Kiseki is decorated throughout, including a miniature village, a love garden (done in shades of pink), and an outdoor lights display.

Beyond the exhibition space, Kiseki is decorated throughout, including a miniature village, a love garden (done in shades of pink), and an outdoor lights display. I would post photos of it all, but I believe I may have already included too many…

Luckily, you are able to get a birdseye view of the display space

Luckily, you are able to get a birdseye view of the display space

The display lit up for the evening

The display lit up for the evening

Once the main work was completed, the producer of Kiseki no Hoski, Tomoko-san, asked us to create something special for the western style corner of the garden. We brainstormed ways to bring an American Christmas to Kiseki in a way that wasn’t already realized. We imagined the holidays at home and it didn’t take long to come up with idea of constructing a mantel. Naturally, we wanted to be dripping with plants and thus we dubbed it the “Plantel”.

The process began with a day of planning where we calculated all the dimensions and laid out the plan for the plantle. We decided to utilize Kawara, traditional Japanese roofing tiles, to mimic the look of brick

The process began with a day of planning where we calculated all the dimensions and laid out the plan for the plantel. We decided to utilize Kawara, traditional Japanese roofing tiles, to mimic the look of brick

The mantle takes shape! While we would love to take credit for the construction of this, we have the team at Kiseki to thank for building this part for us. For the safety of everyone, it was best to leave the carpentry to the professionals!

The mantel takes shape! While we would love to take credit for the construction of this, we have the team at Kiseki to thank for building this part for us. For the safety of everyone, it was best to leave the carpentry to the professionals!

Here we began attaching the tiles to the structure. We laid out a grid on the and utilized a level to ensure the best placement of the tiles

Here we began attaching the tiles to the structure. We measured out a grid on the surface and utilized a level to ensure the best placement of the tiles

Each tile was secured by placing a nail under the leading edge. This supported the kawara, which then supported the ones above them. We also added some double sided tape the back of the tiles for additional stability

Each tile was secured by placing a nail under the leading edge. This supported the kawara, which then supported the ones above them. We also added some double sided tape the back of the tiles for additional stability

With the kawara nearly finished, we began placements on the top of the mantle as well as in the fireplace

With the kawara nearly finished, we began placements on the top of the mantel as well as in the fireplace

As we were calling it a "plantle", we certainly couldn't stop there. Our design called for the black spaces to be brimming with succulents

As we were calling it a “plantel”, we certainly couldn’t stop there. Our design called for the black, unfilled spaces to be brimming with succulents

We cut thin pieces of plywood to fit the blank spaces on the plantle. On top of this, we placed chicken wire to hold the soil placed above. We utilized Tomoko-san's special sticky soil. This is a soil incorporating a resin that when mixed with water, becomes sticky. You can mold it into the shape you want, it sticks where you put it, and once it dries, it doesn't move! It holds moisture well and stays pliable enough to allow for root development. Truly incredible stuff and very fun to use!

We cut thin pieces of plywood to fit the blank spaces on the plantel. On top of this, we placed chicken wire to hold the soil placed above. We utilized Tomoko-san’s special sticky soil. This is a soil incorporating a resin that when mixed with water, becomes sticky. You can mold it into the shape you want, it sticks where you put it, and once it dries, it doesn’t move! It holds moisture well and stays pliable enough to allow for root development. Truly incredible stuff and very fun to use!

The large succulents were wired to the plywood while the smaller ones were simply planted directly into the sticky soil

The large succulents were wired to the plywood while the smaller ones were simply planted directly into the sticky soil

We had so much fun making succulent collages!

We had so much fun making succulent collages!

The structure after the plates had been attached. We did this with magnets and wire so that they could be removed easily, allowing the plantle to be reused in the future

The structure after the plates had been attached. We did this with magnets and wire so that they could be removed easily, allowing the plantel to be reused in the future

In the remaining empty spaces, we placed additional wire...

In the remaining empty spaces, we placed additional wire…

...more sticky soil and the final plants

…more sticky soil and the final plants

The finished product!

The finished product!

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The "fire" using Picasso poinsettias

The “fire” using Picasso poinsettias

We are so thankful to have been given the opportunity to create something special. Seeing the project through from beginning to end and having our work on display was a valuable learning experience

We are so thankful to have been given the opportunity to create something special. Seeing the project through from beginning to end and having our work on display was a valuable learning experience

While all this Christmas action in Japan has had me in high spirits, it also represents a lot of bittersweet thoughts. As the holidays approach, so does the end of my time in Japan. I am abundantly happy to be home for Christmas, but am finding the thought of leaving Japan to be quite sad. Only 10 more days! How the time has flown.

-James

4 comments

  1. Douglas Needham

    It’s great to see “Christmas change-over” Japan style. I love the “plantel”! We look forward to seeing Tim and you soon.

  2. Matthew Ross

    Amazing job on both the full installation and the work that you and Tim completed. I really appreciated seeing the step-by-step construction. Thank you for sharing and Merry Christmas from KSQ.

  3. Brian

    Wowsers! What a beautiful plantel! You could start your own business with this concept. We are looking forward to having you home,
    Brian

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