- Mutsumi Ogaki
“Something beyond pictures”: Connecting with plants to fill your inner emptiness
After a long stay in Japan for the first time in a while, I re-discovered the joy of feeling the seasons through plants. I feel the changing seasons in not only the scenery of the city but also from the fresh products in the supermarkets. Nowadays, there may be more people trying to proactively incorporate plants into their lives because they spend more time at home. We often say plants have healing effects, but what does it actually mean? Mental health benefits associated with plants. When I decided to write an interview article on this topic, the first person that came to my mind was my friend, Moe Muramoto, who works at a botanical shop. I asked her what got her into the career, as well as tips on how to incorporate plants into our daily lives.
Moe studied textile design at an art university and began her career as a fabric pattern designer. About 3 years ago, she switched her job to selling plants and gardening items and monitoring the health of plants. Of course, she still utilizes her sense of art and colors with her current occupation, but I remember being a bit surprised to hear about this career shift. Moe said, “I studied drawing and wanted to be a person who expresses something, so people ask me if I’m okay with this (job). I also question it sometimes, but ultimately, I think it was a good decision.”
Not only does Moe think it was a good decision, she feels it was inevitable. To get into the textile design program at her university, sketching flowers was necessary. Since then, she has had many opportunities to draw plants. At the art school, she used flower patterns and plant motifs when designing clothes. One day, her advisor questioned Moe whether she was drawing plants by only looking at pictures. Moe said to me: “With rare plants, I did indeed draw certain parts with my imagination. Nowadays, you can search for almost any picture so I would sometimes use them. And I guess he could tell that from my drawing. Plants are alive: they have roots, so they grow and move. So I was stricken by my advisor’s comment that drawings that don’t capture their movement don’t move people. Since then, it has become a habit to have real plants with me when I draw.”
As she continued to observe plants, she became more and more fascinated by the colors and patterns in nature. She wanted to further expand her understanding of plants as motifs and decided to change her job. She often brings plants home from work and always has 15 to 20 different types of flowers and potted plants at a time. Since she’s always surrounded by plants on and off work, I asked her about the benefits of plants, especially for one’s mental health.
“This is sort of reflected in my background, but being in a colorless space feels suffocating. I don’t like it because I feel myself mentally sinking deeper into a negative place. I think it’s great to put greenery in your room as one of the options among changing the wallpaper or color of your furniture. They add colors to your space and give off living energy because they’re alive. I think caring for living things is purely a healthy thing to do. It’s the same with pets. Plants are alive, so too little or too much care will kill them.”
The most often asked questions from her customers are around how to avoid killing plants. Of course, expert knowledge is important under some circumstances, but she wants to emphasize the importance of growing plants by engaging with them. She wants people to enjoy the presence of plants more casually and personally.
“If people buy plants because they want some healing effects, then that actually produces more worries. Would I grow them properly? What if I kill them? Those thoughts lead to stress, so I want people to take it easy. If you pay proper attention to your plants, you’ll start to see lots of different signs. For example, if the leaves are saggy like this, then that means it needs water. Or, even if it’s been a week since the last time you watered it, if it rained a lot and is humid this week, then it doesn’t need water yet. What’s important is to engage with each plant, and I think that leads to mental health care. It’s not about plants healing you or improving the air quality. What matters is to be cognizant of their presence, connect with them, and learn how to care for them over time, whether that’s for a few months or a year. You’ll start to see what will kill them and what will nourish them. You’ll find fulfillment through these dialogues with them.”
“It’s more like my mental health improved because I came to love plants, rather than incorporating plants into my life for my mental health.”
When people are mentally struggling, they rush to get better and tend to focus on the effects of self-care practices. This might lead to getting too much information online. But, it’s crucial to be process-oriented to really take care of your mental health. I think what helps people to focus on the process is to reflect on themselves and be honest with what they love. Both Moe and I have experiences of not knowing what we actually love (whether that’s music or fashion). These experiences are usually negatively influenced by being conscious of other people’s opinions on social media. There’s also a societal tendency to use trends to decide how to incorporate plants into everyday life. Moe explains that what’s underneath these phenomena is lack of imagination.
“People also have developed a habit of checking reviews to first gauge other’s opinions before stating their own. I hope more diverse opinions are accepted in society. It’s a visual-oriented age, right? You see a lot of things in picture format. If you have any questions, you can always look them up. I think having plants and flowers nearby would enrich your creativity. Witnessing how a bud eventually blooms into a beautiful flower should plant a seed of creativity within you. Having living things near you means you can see different facial expressions and apparences. So I think it’s important to have close connections with living things. There’s something about living things that you can never get or inner peace that you can never reach by only seeing them as pictures or videos on screens.”
Written by Mutsumi Ogaki
Edited by Emiru Okada
Cover by Ayumi White
Textile by Moe Muramoto