Vancouver Ikenobo Spring Workshops: Day 2, May 23rd

On day 2, we were to have two different lessons, one on the Shoka in the morning and one on Jiyuka, also known as Free Style, in the afternoon.

We saw yesterday that the Rikka form was practiced exclusively well into  the 17th century and adorned the palaces, temples and residences of the feudal lords. These arrangements were both too time consuming and too large for most homes hence a need to simplify the form. Therefore, late in the 17th or early 18th century, the Shoka was introduced. The classical form, known as shoka shofutai, was composed, as I have mentioned in an earlier post, of 3 main parts: Shin, Soe and Tai. If Ashirai (supporting material) is needed to complement or balance the arrangement, we then talk of the elements as groupings: the shin group, the soe group or tai group.

The size of the arrangement was then regulated as well. In the classical shoka, the shin was said to be 1 1/2 to 3 times the height or width of the container as dictated by the type of container, the type of material or the eventual emplacement of the proposed arrangement. The size of the other remaining elements were to be in proportion to the shin. The soe was to be 2/3 the size of the shin, and the tai, 1/3. My first Ikebana teacher who was a retired math teacher, was delighted in discovering these rules and used to teach Ikebana to her math students so they could understand fractions in a practical way. Of course, these rules tend to be somewhat relaxed at the arranger’s discretion when the circumstances so dictate.

All these technicalities apart, we must never lose sight of the fact that Ikebana is an art form and that in arranging a shoka, we are first and foremost trying to convey the essence of the plant material even as we are transforming nature. It is said in our book on shoka shofutai that the Shoka expresses the ebb and flow of life, the visible and invisible, and the reality of a beautiful, growing world in the harmonious forms of its plant materials.

The shoka exists in a huge variety of styles, each conforming to the basic principles listed above, yet each with its own set of rules. This morning, in his lesson-demonstration, Professor Miura arranged five different shokas. He first arranged an isshuike of peonies using only 3 branches, one for each of shin-soe-tai. The second arrangement used two different materials, reeds and irises. This was done as a split shoka, which is a special arrangement called futakabu-ike. The third arrangement was also a special one, arranged in a hanging container in the shape of a moon. This arrangement called Tsuki is meant to show the beauty of the plants as viewed in the moonlight. The fourth was a shoka shimputai, again a special arrangement introduced by Sen’ei Ikenobo in 1977. The shimputai introduces a whole new set of rules which I will discuss another time. It was a gorgeous arrangement using a maple branch to set up the beauty of two alium flowers, anchored at the bottom by a single white astroemeria bud.

Sensei’s final arrangement was a sanshuike, a shoka using three different materials, in this case, astroemeria, New Zealand Flax and roses. Often, in a shanshuike, one uses a different material for each of shin, soe and tai. At times, all 3 materials can be used in each of the parts, at the discretion of the arranger. From here on, I will discuss my own arrangement seen in the attached picture. For shin, I have used a tall astroemeria, but it is evident that its nude stem needs dressing up with some kind of foliage. I therefore used New Zealand flax as shin back ashirai and shin front as well. In the soe, the order is reversed. As the soe must be the last element seen flowing to the back, it made sense to use the New Zealand flax for that purpose. The astroemeria, used low, comes in to accentuate the valley between soe and shin. For the tai, we were left with the roses which add color while complementing the arrangement. The tai normally uses 3 flowers, however when they are somewhat big, as is the case here, we abbreviate to two flowers. The arrangement shows the leaves of the roses extending to the right as opposed to the soe which moves to the left.

The afternoon was devoted to the study of free style which is called jiyuka in Japanese. It is a relative newcomer to the styles of Ikebana and although it probably appeared early in the twentieth century, it came to the forefront in the last 60 years or so. At least as far as the Ikenobo School is concerned.

As its name implies, there are, in free style, no rules that must be followed but there are, however, principles that guide one’s arrangement. Free style is somewhat akin to modern art and as in painting, one may have tendencies to express his  or her feelings in a naturalistic way or in an abstract way. As in abstract art, free style arrangements tend to place greater emphasis on colors, lines, shapes, and mass to express themes and feelings. These elements may be present in plant material as well as in artificial material, often used in combination.

Sensei provided us with four different arrangements during his lesson-demonstration. All four were well received and greatly influenced our own student work but it would be futile to describe his work without the benefit of visual references, unfortunately unavailable. He did, however, do one arrangement using the material we had to use: dracoena massangeana leaves, gerberas, trachelium, baby’s breath and for my own arrangement, bridal wreath spirea. It was an inspiring weekend.

Vancouver Ikenobo Spring Worshops: Day 1, May 22nd

This weekend, the Vancouver chapter hosted Ikenobo Headquarters special visiting professor Daiji Miura Sensei. The first day was entirely devoted to the study of Rikka. In the morning Sensei gave a lesson on Rikka followed by a demonstration during which he arranged first an essentially classical Rikka, composed principally of branch material such as maple and willow for four of the nine main parts (called Yakueda in Japanese). In the rest of the arrangement he used grass and flower materials such as heliconia, trachelium, iris leaves, asparagus fern, hypericum and mums. The second arrangement could be called a modern Rikka, composed of mostly grass materials: monstera leaf, New Zealand flax, trachelium, heliconia, asparagus fern, hypericum, mums and a calla lily leaf. Basically the same materials we would be given to work with in the afternoon. The picture shown here is that of my own arrangement.

The Rikka form is widely recognized as the most ancient style of Ikebana arrangement. Some consider it might have originated as far back as the 6th century when tall arrangements were used on both side of  Buddhist altars. Most agree however that it saw its most important development between the 15th and the 17th centuries. It was a form of arrangement often practiced by priests, warriors and nobles. Some of the classical rikkas may have reach heights of 40 feet or more. The modern rikka, however, probably averages around 3 feet in height and would normally be almost as wide.

The rikka is a very complex arrangement, and even in its basic form it is composed of nine elements called yakueda to which we can add ashirai as supporting elements to give body to this form. The elements are comprised of different flower or branch material that both complement and contrast each other. The rikka has been said to represent a landscape complete with mountains peaks  and hills both far and near, cascading waterfalls, the countryside moving into the village as the river flows to the ocean at the very bottom of the arrangement. The original landscape would have been the  sacred Buddhist mountain known as Shumisen represented in floral arrangements offered in Buddhist temples.

The Rikka is still widely practiced in Japan to this day. It is not only one of the most beautiful types of arrangement but also one of the most important for any arranger who wishes to develop a high degree of technical proficiency, a proficiency which will be evident in all other forms of Ikebana arrangements, including freestyle. I was fortunate enough one year to participate in a workshop in Kyoto at the time of the Autumn Tanabata Exhibition. Hundreds of Master Arrangers from all over Japan participate in this most important exhibition and one needs two or three days just to be able to see everything. It is an enriching and exhilarating experience. Arrangements vary in size from the miniature to the gigantic 20 or 30 footer. The Rikka probably accounts for 30 or 40 percent of all arrangements on display. Prizes and distinctions are awarded at this all Japan Ikenobo Ikebana Judged Competition and Miura Sensei, who was teaching us this last weekend, is a three-time prize-winner at this event.

On How I Discovered Ikebana

The word Ikebana refers to the Japanese art of flower arrangement which has become increasingly popular all over the world since World War II. Instruction in this art form finally made its way to Vernon in the mid-eighties. The Okanagan Ikebana study group was affiliated with the Vancouver  Ikenobo Ikebana Society.

I first discovered Ikebana in church on one of my first visits to the Unitarian Fellowship of Kelowna. This discovery in church was indeed befitting since the origin of Ikebana can be traced back to the introduction of Buddhism into Japan in the 6th century. It wasn’t until the middle of the 15th century, however, that it became recognized as a formal field of study.

The first arrangement I ever saw was a shoka and I was greatly moved by its simplicity and inherent beauty. It not only appealed to my senses but it also seemed to elicit a spiritual response which I could not immediately understand. Fortunately, the arranger was present and I was introduced to the intrinsic symbolism in this form. The shoka, I was told, is composed of three main elements, shin, soe, and tai which represent respectively humanity, heaven and earth. Shin occupies the central position representing human beings floating between heaven and earth.

It became immediately obvious that there is more to Ikebana than simply arranging flowers even when one has followed all the rules pertaining to the particular arrangement being practiced. This may be why Japanese Ikebana practitioners sometime refer to their art as kado meaning the way of the flowers. In that context, one pursues the study of an art form as a path symbolizing the way of life. In arranging flowers, one seeks to become one with nature, one with life. This can obviously only be achieved after years of practice. One of the students I meet when I attend the Vancouver bi-yearly workshops is well into her nineties. What matters then is not so much getting there, but the experiences one lives on the way.

As a former professor of language and literature, I am reminded of an homonym to the Japanese word kado. The word is cadeau which is French for gift. Ikebana has been for me a gift, one that members of my Ikenobo chapter have shared with me. One that hopefully I will be able to share with you. As I sign off today, I will leave you with a quotation from our Headmaster, Sen’ei Ikenobo.

Like a poem or painting made with flowers, Ikenobo Ikebana expresses both the beauty of flowers and the beauty of longing in our own hearts.

A Re-Awakening

I was originally planning to use this title for my blog but decided it had been used too often as a title for either a novel, a movie, a music album and even for essays. The concept is, however, still valid. I have been told repeatedly by friends and loved ones that I used to write exciting poetry, that I used to produce delightful flower arrangements, that I used to be passionate about numerous things that were for me what I have above called other essentials. I will not deny any of these remarks, nor will I make any excuses. However, I believe that I am still passionate enough to want to have another go at it. This blog is a first step in the right direction.

Our garden has finally also awakened from a long and unusual winter for the Canadian Okanagan Valley. The crocuses and daffodils have long come and gone. The rose beds, however, are almost a month behind, having barely grown some leaves. With some 75 different types of roses, June should be glorious and colorful. We can rejoice at the view and fragrance of our lilac tree and at the continuous blooming of many of the tulip varieties that adorn our back garden and side meadow, formerly known as the rockery. It has afforded me the opportunity to arrange a Shoka Isshu-ike of tulip. It is a simple and yet formal arrangement using one material only. The beauty of such an arrangement is its naturalness. It allows us to seek the essence of our plant material, to enter into a communion with nature.

I belong to the Ikenobo School of Ikebana. It is the original, the oldest school of Ikebana in Japan, having given birth to this form of flower arrangements more than 500 years ago. Today, there are thousands of Ikebana schools in Japan. I joined a long time ago and worked with the Okanagan group for a number of years before leaving the country for a five year term abroad. During our stay in Switzerland, because of the distance to our nearest teacher, I only attended week long workshops twice. Then I spent another two weeks in workshops at the Ikenobo Headquarters in Kyoto. Since our return home, I participated in a two day workshop in Vancouver with a second one coming this weekend. I will have more to share upon my return next week.

People have often asked me how I got involved in studying Ikebana. I once answered that question on a webpage now unfortunately defunct. I promise to bring the answer back to this blog in the very near future. Until then, I bid you farewell and leave you with this haiku I wrote a few years ago for the UFK birthday calendar.

The first buds appear

I contemplate the shoka

Now coming to life.