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.

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