“I’m just trying to put up a good fight, armed with plants and herbs.”
This is how phytotherapist Misa Murata describes her work at Verseau, the brand she named after her astrological sign (it means Aquarius in French).
For as long as she can remember, Misa has needed to be mindful of her health. Her concerns were rooted in a complex that she had since childhood.
“I never had much confidence in my health. I always felt sorry for myself for being so frail. I had chronic conditions and was constantly taking this medicine, applying that ointment, and basically having to depend on something just to function from day to day.”
After graduating from university, Misa landed her dream job, but ill health forced her to take time off work. What Misa wanted was the expertise to protect her own health. As if in answer to her prayer, she discovered herbal medicine, or phytotherapy. The best defense is a good offense—at last, she was armed to guard herself.
“I believed that good health was the key to boosting my confidence.”
Misa’s resolve to make a lifelong career out of phytotherapy became even firmer after her fieldwork in France, which she later came to see as her life’s journey. The women she met during that unforgettable trip came to serve as her role model.
“All the women I met were resilient and strong. And they had willpower—they embraced the irony that with freedom comes responsibility. My experiences during that trip taught me about the coexistence of strength and softness.”
Misa’s goal became to emulate their mindset and lifestyle.
How to go about doing that? To Misa, the answer was simple and clear. Design her whole life around plants and herbs.
“I love exploring the relationship between people and plants. I also feel that plants act as a filter between me and others.”
From then on, Misa has come up with creative ways to transform plants into various mediums.
In a fieldwork project for connecting with nature, for example, she walked through a forest in Kyoto gathering moss and hinoki cypress, and used her harvest to produce a tea blend. Here, the plants served as an object of admiration and as a medium for dialogue.
In another project focusing more closely on visual expression, she followed the signs of human life along a waterway winding through the mountain, and sublimated the experience into pieces of art. By highlighting the presence of plants and water, she elevated those elements that might be taken for granted into objects that grab the viewer’s attention.
“Blending and preparing tea is one means of drawing on the power of plants, and it makes up a significant part of who I am. But I don’t want to be defined by that practice alone. There are facets of herbs and phytotherapy that can’t be described with words, and lately I’ve been nurturing a desire to use those facets as mediums of expression too.”
The fact that Misa is alive means her feelings, her surroundings, and her means of expression will continue to change. As she hones her skills and tries out different options, she wants to stay open to the new senses of inspiration that develop within.
“My original concept for Verseau was to be true to myself. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want?”
While being honest and open about changing, Misa remains true to her roots and unwavering in her wish for health. That is, she is always in pursuit of tailored therapies for alleviating discomfort, and searching for coexistence of strength and weakness.
It comes as no surprise then that her latest project is an art festival for which she is creating a piece of performance art that doesn’t use plants as a medium.
She is set to unveil a cuddly oval piece of pottery provisionally titled HUGG. This medium will be warmed and presented with an invitation for the viewer to give it a hug.
“Whether it’s with another person or with an object, hugging produces a special warmth between the two of you.
That cozy feeling isn’t only yours or only your hugger’s, but it exists between you. I have a theory that we humans are capable of generating a sense of safety and peace. It’s just that we aren’t paying enough attention to notice it.
But once we recognize and appreciate that warmth between two huggers, we might be kinder to one another and bring more peace in the world. That’s my big dream behind the HUGG.”
I admire Misa for forever trying to share her love with the world. I tell her so, and she smiles: “I’m quite the philanthropist, aren’t I?”
By now, Misa is more than a phytotherapist. Never tied down by anyone or anything, she changes each time I see her. She may be troubled or worried at any given time, but in the end, she stays true to herself in the choices that she makes.
“With freedom comes responsibility,” she reminds me. Even so, every bit of freedom handpicked by Misa is the best and freshest!
Va où tu peux, meurs où tu dois. Go where you want, die where you must.
Misa Murata’s lifestyle is hers and hers alone.
Yamanashi International Art Festival | Yatsugatake Art Ecology 2023
Dates: Sun., November 5–Wed., December 20, 2023
Locations: Kiyoharu Art Colony, Nakamura Keith Haring Collection, Misogi Shrine, Gasbon Metabolism (scheduled)
Misa Murata conducts fieldwork on the medicinal herb culture in Japan and works in product development and as a speaker and writer revolving around phytotherapy. Further expanding her activities to mediums of expression themed around the relationship between people and plants, she creates performance and installation artworks exploring the continuous flow of sensations felt from dialogue between the natural environment and the human body and soul. Major exhibitions include Mind Trail Okuyamato: Museum In Your Mind 2023 (Nara, 2023), Vessel of Future Commune (Taiwan, 2022), and Wind and the Willow (Kyoto, 2023).