Ping Cars Vol.2: Ikebana artist Yuji Ueno’s “Frontier” flower arrangement car!

“How the heck did you get all that up there?” So muttered a junk collector as he drove past. And Yuji Ueno couldn’t help grinning as he heard this. The kadoka (Ikebana flower arrangement artist) was there with his car, a Toyota Caldina, the roof of which was loaded up with a giant cargo. Every

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day a junk collector expertly stows junk onto his truck like a game of physical Tetris but this — this was just too much. Well, so it was for us too when we first saw it.

Ueno calls this car the ‘Boso Hanaike Genkai-go’ and this is already the “second generation” of the vehicle. (The name literally means “Runaway Flowers Go! Frontier Number” — hanaike is a play on “Ike-b[h]ana”, while ike implies both “Go!” or “Arrange flowers!”). Just what is this? We spoke to Ueno to find out.

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Ueno is an up-and-coming kadoka exploring the essence of Ikebana. His materials are not only flowers and plants, but even scrap. He’s a “punk” flower arrangement artist known for his creative performances in which he makes arrangements, demolishes what he’s done and then arranges the flowers again.

Ueno’s eyes were awoken to Ikebana (aka Kado) when he was nineteen. At that time Tokyo was at the height of the Bubble era and he was hoping to become a graphic designer. But then he visited an Ikebana exhibition by Hiroshi Teshigahara, the famed film director, flower arranger and third-generation Iemoto of the Sogetsu School. Till then, Ueno had thought of Ikebana as something rather static but everything changed at once when he went to that exhibition. It was like a whole cosmos furnished by plants. Galvanized by a desire to get involved with Japanese culture, he then devoted himself to Ikebana. He was fortunate to be blessed with many places to show his work as soon as he started, and his insatiable daring and energy have got him to where he is today.

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[Left] One of Ueno’s “hanaike” works from 2013
[Right] An installation Ueno made at the Tsuzuki Minka-en in Yokohama (2010)
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Improvisation performance with Mitsufumi Kitamura and Osamu Saruyama at the cafe bar Yagi ni Kiku? in Daikanyama.
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‘Boso Hanaike Genkai-go’ (2013)

So just why on earth does Yuji Ueno’s car look like this?!

Well, put simply, he says there was no better way to tell the world about the wonders of Ikebana. But how could he convey that same kind of Ikebana-induced shock he had felt right down to his bones when he was nineteen? Actually, the clue lay in Japanese history!

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Have you ever heard of goshoguruma? These were carts used by the aristocracy. Arranging flowers directly on these goshoguruma was a classical style of Ikebana known as hanaguruma.

“At the time, it was normal to display Ikebana just in a room,” says Ueno. “So when this kind of Ikebana would jump out of a room and move around town, I’m sure a lot of people were blown away.” And so Yuji Ueno set out to make a Hanaguruma for the twenty-first century.

But one thing’s still not clear. At first glance, we can’t see the “flower arrangement” on the car. Why is that?

Here’s the explanation. Back then, Tokyo wasn’t the concrete jungle it is today so flowers would just be blooming everywhere you looked. So when Ikebana came along and set out to shape flowers with human hands, it was a new kind of beauty. So what could be equivalent to that today? What is basically everywhere you look in contemporary Japan? Ueno’s eyes honed in on junk or, in other words, garbage.

Ueno used vegetation and scrap wood collected from mountains in the depopulated marginal village (genkai shuraku) of Matsudai, in Tokamachi City, Niigata. Using this material he “arranged” his Frontier Car (Genkai-go). As the people in these communities get older, it becomes harder for them to go into the mountains. The plants that would previously have been harvested are proliferating and the mountains are falling into disrepair. Ueno wanted to single out the elements that can be used from the mountains. To do this really takes some mettle. Standing in front of the actual car you fully realize this.

Let’s take a closer look at the Genkai-go.

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“My encounter with the materials was the most important thing,” says Ueno. After getting them all together he straightaway created the silhouette of a boat. Whatever the period, however the means of transport evolve, the design of a boat is always something that is dignified and beautiful. The brilliantly integrated materials include wisteria vine, beech, cedar and a sheet metal roof. Check out the trees sticking out at the front — it looks even aerodynamic!
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Looked at from the side, there is a nice symmetry to the roof. However, it was pretty tight to get it into the studio without scraping the top of the entrance!
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It looks awesome from the back too. If the car was ahead of you on the road you’d likely have to put some distance between you in order to see traffic signals properly.
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Yes, you can even climb inside. (Thank you, Yuji Ueno, for posing for the picture!) Because of the sheet metal it’s completely flat and you can even lie down. Not so much a tree house as a tree mobile!
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It’s fixed firmly to the roof rack so if shaken, the whole car moves with it. However, due to this you do need to pay attention to crosswinds. Once the car was driving on Rainbow Bridge over Tokyo Bay and was hit by strong wind, actually pushing the car into the next lane!

So, how did you like our “drive” in Ueno’s car? While its roots might well be in the opulent hanaguruma, this re-creation does a superb job of conveying the charms of Ikebana precisely because it doesn’t use the latest fancy sports car, but rather just an ordinary vehicle.

If you’d like to see more of Ueno’s Ikebana artwork, we recommend you check out his exhibition at the Echigo Tsumari Art Field, running until July 15th.

Echigo Tsumari Art Field
Marginal Art in Satoyama Vol.3: Yuji Ueno
April 13th to July 15th (closed on Wednesdays)
Venue: Matsudai Nohbutai Gallery

yuji-ueno11 Ueno actually uses his “Frontier Car” as his regular means of transport. If you catch sight of him driving around, be sure to drop a comment here!

Yuji Ueno, thank you!