Friday, 30 May 2014

Arrangement in Japanese room by Tomita Soko


There were six Iemoto classes in May and I will write about them in the order I attended them.

The theme for the first was 'Composition of Straight Lines'. I chose red willow and chrysanthemums in an interesting container, which continued the 'lines' theme.
Eikou Sumura sensei approved of all aspects of the arrangement but suggested I trim the little knobs from the stems of the chrysanthemums. I must admit I had left them on intentionally, as I found them interesting but she is the teacher and I the pupil so I attempted to remove the knobs where the leaves had been but they wouldn't come off cleanly and there was no time to scrape them all off.

Sensei used alstroemerias and New Zealand flax in a container that worked perfectly with her design.

The second and third Iemoto classes had the same theme - 'Composition of Straight and Curved Lines'. In the first, I used kiwi vine and hostas (that looked like they were on steroids) in this interesting container. Sozan Nakamura sensei was very pleased with this arrangement pointing out the importance of the space between the hostas being straight.

Front View


                                                                                                                                                                Side view

Sensei also used hostas for the straight lines with bull rush leaves which he manipulated and an unusual lily at the base.

For my second 'Composition of Straight and curved Lines' I used New Zealand flax, which I split and twisted and sun flowers. Gaho Isono sensei approved of the arrangement and container and the fact that I kept some leaves on the sunflowers. She also gave me a little tip to help preserve the leaves of sunflowers. After cutting under water, dip the stem into salt and then arrange.

Sensei used kangaroo paw, which she trimmed to emphasize the straight lines. For the curves she used New Zealand flax, which she had curled a couple of days earlier and held with a clip and then released creating these interesting curves.

The fourth Iemoto class had the theme 'Composition of Curved Lines'. As I looked at the selection of materials available I, instinctively, reached for bendable material that would easily create curved lines. Tamae Eguchi san, who was assisting in the classroom made a suggestion that ' it's ok for now but in future choose the materials you don't like'. It was on the tip of my tongue to say that there are no materials I don't like but I realized what she meant was that I should choose more challenging materials.

I, however, didn't wait for 'the future' but went immediatly and exchanged my materials for one very full and bushy Japanese maple branch and fennel. I tested the maple and it wouldn't bend, so I created curves by removing branches and leaves so that what was left created a curve. To bend the thicker part of the stem I cut into the bark at intervals and very carefully bent it without snapping.

Then I tried the fennel. No, it certainly would not bend because it has a hollow stem and would kink. I had to find a way to add some curve so I tried inserting a wire into the stem and gently bending. That did the trick. And now it was just a matter of arranging them. I was happy with the end result but I was even happier with the fact that I tried something new and that it worked. I'm grateful to Tamae-san for her suggestion and I intend to put it into practice more often.

Somewhat surprisingly for me, both sensei and Tamae-san really liked my arrangement and sensei was so impressed she wanted to know my grade.

                                              Front view                        

                                                                       Side view   

           Junga Shinozaki sensei's arrangement using contorted willow and calla lilies               

The last two Iemoto classes for May had the same theme - 'With Leaves Only' and, again, they provided a good learning experience for me.

Seiko Ozawa sensei was the instructor for the first. I chose a bunch of cycads and a bunch of bulrush leaves, which I felt were appropriate. I know that this exercise requires more than two types of leaves but we can only choose two materials per class so I had to make do.

Half way through my arrangement, Misei-san, who was assisting whispered in my ear that the long, thin leaves were not appropriate because they create 'line' rather than 'surface'. It was too late to change and I continued with my original idea.

Ozawa sensei approved of the composition but suggested that, since I had a large container, I should move the leaves more to the left within the container and to extend the line to the right.

         Before correction
After correction

When Ozawa sensei demonstrated this theme she used three types of leaves - a large philodendron, several aspidistra leaves that she stripped, and brown-coloured flax in a stunning glass vase. A very pleasing arrangement.

For the next class and having learnt from the previous one, I felt more confident about my choice of materials, although, I again had only two types of leaves. I used palm grass (Curculigo) and variegated New Zealand flax which I split from the bottom but left intact at the top, then threaded through the palm grass.

The arrangement pleased Bisen Sumide sensei and she pointed out that in this theme it is important to change the character of the material and that I had achieved that whilst making a beautiful arrangement.

For her demonstration, Sumide sensei used two suibans, a black one upside down and a white one on top of it, right side up. She explained that she was about to make a large arrangement so this way she enlarged the container. She used two rather heavy monstera leaves, which she managed to balance resting them against each other and added variegated hostas and some brown coloured tropical leaves.

 This has been a very long post and I thank you for reading all the way through.

Until next time,

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Last month's arrangement in the Japanese room
 by Nakada Kazuko


Hello all,
This month I attended three Teachers Workshops all of which had the same theme - 'May for You'. I was a little puzzled by this theme and when I asked what it meant, the explanation was not very clear. However, after three sessions I understand that we are to use fresh, new growth, in particular green materials.

The instructor for all three workshops was Ryu Ishikawa sensei who is quite an elderly gentleman and remembers Mr Norman Sparnon well. Despite his age he is sharp and energetic and didn't hesitate to correct works by removing, cutting, replacing etc. But he did it all with the most delightful sense of humour, which took the edge from the correction.

I learnt a lot watching him correct and it helped that I had an interpreter in each session.

In the first workshop, before I understood what 'May for You' meant, I interpreted it as May for me, personally. And, since May in Melbourne is autumn, I chose materials with autumn colours.

This was the result, before and after correction. Ishikawa sensei commented on the correct placement of the mahonia stems and the appropriateness of the container for the material but he moved the viburnum on the left from the back to the front.

Things have been going so well in all my classes that by the law of averages, I knew something would go wrong at any moment and it did, in spectacular fashion. It was at the second workshop.

This time I picked fresh green material in the form of large aspidistra leaves and alliums with an interesting bend. I came up with the design very quickly and all that was left was to make my materials stay where I wanted them to. I have been using different containers at each class and this time I picked a very interesting one, which would offset my design beautifully.

If you look at the photograph, you will see that my very heavy materials are leaning towards the right. I could only fit a small kenzan but I was not worried because I was intending to use a horizontal fixture to hold up the allium. What I didn't count on was the highly glazed surface inside the container, which would not allow a fixture to wedge in place and hold.

I fiddled and fiddled and tried every kind of stick to make the fixture sturdy but nothing worked. My fingers were bleeding (literally) from pushing into the kenzan again and again, I was perspiring and I was ready to throw in the towel and just walk out.

Meanwhile, Ishikawa sensei arrived and started his critique at the other end of the room. My interpreter, who is herself an experienced Ikebana teacher, thought she would have better luck with the pesky horizontal fixture but, try as she might, she, too, failed. In utter frustration and feeling comleately defeated, I decided to change my container and managed to put the arrangement together just before sensei arrived. I had no time to even stand back and look at it. I was just so grateful it was standing.

The arrangement as you see it is the corrected version. I had two more aspidistra leaves following the same line as the one to the right, which sensei removed - a definite improvement. When I got home that day I felt as though I'd been under a steam roller.

At the third workshop I used smoke bush, the quality of which was not great but I only discovered that after I loosened it, and purple Japanese clematis. I was a lot more confident with my choice of materials as well as the execution. And sensei concurred because, when he looked at my work, his first comment was a very emphatic 'Much Better!' He did, however turn my clematis from looking down to looking up. Again, an improvement.

With Ishikawa sensei. His serious look belies a wicked sense of humour

Bye for now,

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Today I'd like to tell you about some serendipitous occurrences. But before I do that, I would like to draw you attention to a feature on the right hand side under 'Links' called 'Exhibitions'. I will be using this space to post a lot more photographs than I can include in the blog. Also, for those of you who don't already have it, there is a link to Christopher James very successful and professional blog, 'Roadside Ikebana.' To access just click on either link.

The International classes by their very name mean that people from all around the world come for lessons in Ikebana and because most of them speak English it's easy to carry on a conversation. And, being far from home, when I hear people speak in the Australian accent, I have to go and talk to them. And, invariably, they are also pleased to find an Australian in such a Japanese environment.

During one such lesson an American gentleman approached me and asked me if I was from Melbourne. His name is Michael Beeblebender and we'd met during a workshop we had with Yosh. He and his partner were part of a group visiting during Hanami (cherry blossom time) and had included an ikebana lesson in their tour. Among them was also Jennie Sterling, who has spent some time in Australia is well known to some of our members. Below is Michael's lovely freestyle arrangement.

Last week, as I was walking through the subway station, a Japanese lady came up to me and asked if I was Emily. Because my memory has been known to be unreliable, I assumed we'd met and that I'd forgotten. Not so. She told me she is a Sogetsu member and that she'd heard about me from Christopher James and that has been following my blog. Her name is Takako-san and, clearly, she recognized me from photos in the blog. We exchanged pleasantries and we're looking forward to seeing each other in class. Ordinarily, this type of meeting would not be such a big deal but for me, a foreigner in this beautiful city it was a very big deal.

Last Monday after class I had arranged to meet my friend Kazuko to go to an Ikenobo exhibition. I finished before her and, having some time to kill, I went into the Japanese Handicrafts shop near Sogetsu Headquarters just to look around. They have some exquisite works there, most of them  unaffordable to me.

Just inside the door was an elderly man working with clay at a potter's wheel. Bonus! thought I and moved closer to watch. Another gentleman, who was also watching, brought a chair for me and I sat mesmerized at the old man's handling of that clay. He worked with such ease that it belied the fact that it requires a great deal of strength as well as skill to work on the wheel. Having tried it once, I know just how hard it is.

I found out later that his name is Akika Nagahashi and he comes from an area very close to Fukushima. More people were drawn into our little circle as he made various items such as cups, bowls, jugs etc. and placed them on display around the wheel. Then, because he ran out of room, he proceeded to squash together all his pots. There was a great collective gasp from the audience when he did that but he seemed completely unperturbed.

He then moved to another table on which were paper, brushes and ink and proceeded to paint prancing horses in various positions and gave us all one painting as 'presento'.

A man of many talents.

There was a table full of his works for sale and I bought some cups, which I can only describe as double layered. The photo below shows the outer layer from which are cut the heart shapes and the inside layer is intact. By this time, Kazuko had arrived and acted as interpreter for me and was able to tell him just how much I admired his work. He seemed genuinely pleased and I felt an instant fondness for this gentle, shy man.

Unfortunately there is also great sadness in this story. Just before we left, he showed us photographs of two rooms full of smashed ceramic pots of all descriptions.. They were the result of the great earthquake of three years ago but that's not all. He is in his seventies and doesn't think he will ever be able to return to his home because the area is still contaminated.

Akika-san, me and Kazuko-san

At the time, I, like everyone else, was horrified and deeply saddened by the tragedy that took place in Fukushima but seeing the sadness in that old man's eyes brought it home to me in a way that all the television news in the world could not.

Kazuko and I then went to the Ikenobo exhibition. At the entrance we were greeted by a number of officials, most prominent amongst them was Senior Professor Yuzan Nakano. I was introduced to him by Kazuko, who explained that I am the recipient of the Norman and Mary Sparnon scholarship. He seemed very pleased to meet me because he knew Norman Sparnon very well as they had both studied under Yuchiku Fujiwara of Ikenobo. Below I have included a photograph of his stunning arrangement at the exhibition, having received permission from him to include it here. There were so many arrangements I would also have liked to include but, without permission from the exhibitors, I can't.

Before I came here, a friend, Anna told me that she was hosting a lovely Japanese lady by the name of Atsuko Hoshino. When Atsuko-san heard about my impending visit, she asked that her details be given to me so that we could meet here and she offered to be of help to me. I found this an extraordinarily kind and generous gesture towards a complete stranger.

And, true to her word, she organized a lunch date at a lovely restaurant, very close to where I live, despite the fact that she and her friend had to travel an hour to get there. She brought with her Ikuyo Goto, whose English is more fluent that Atsuko-san's and who acted as an interpreter. It was a very enjoyable four hour lunch but poor Ikuyo-san had to work very hard interpreting from English to Japanese and back thus, falling behind on eating.

From left - Ikuyu-san, Atsuko-san and me

We agreed to meet again before I leave and I'm really looking forward to it.

Homelessness is as much a problem here as it is around the world. In Shinjuku, where I'm staying, there is a large park where many homeless men and the odd woman have staked out their territory. Also, some have made their 'home' under the overpass, which protects them somewhat from the elements. They keep to themselves and cause no problems that I can see. They certainly don't beg.

One such gentleman caught my eye because he had a cat with him. On closer inspection I saw another and then another. It turns out he has nine cats. Yes, this is not a typo, he has nine cats living in a large box with wheels. They are all on a leash but they are fat and healthy and appear very happy. I took Vicky, a passionate cat lover and owner, to see them and we were struck by the cleanliness of the 'cattery' and the cushions on the chairs on which they were lounging. I, also, have a cat and I know how cat hair gets everywhere and how much effort is required to remove them. I was so impressed by this homeless cat owner that I gave him a donation to help with feeding them. A few days later, I saw a young caucasian couple also engaging with the cats and then the man counted out some money and gave it to the cat owner. I suspect this is how he is able to afford to feed them.

I don't know who is happier here - the cat or Vicky.

Bye for now,

Friday, 16 May 2014

Hi everyone,

I'd like to return my focus on ikebana. I've had a long break from classes and have written about other things of interest to me and, I hope, to you.

I made this arrangement during an International Class, the theme for which was Freestyle Arrangement. Unrestricted by any theme, I zeroed in on these gorgeous copper leaves and as I looked around for flowers these lime green viburnum practically leapt out of their bucket at me. So with materials in hand I looked for a suitable container and there it was in the back of the shelf quietly confident that I would pick it.

I did, however, have a problem with the viburnum. You see they were long stems with a lot of foliage and really small flowers. Once I removed the foliage, the flowers were too few and too small to create the volume I needed to go with the leaves. So I bought another bunch of viburnum but they were still not enough.

When Koka Fukushima sensei critiqued my work I mentioned my disappointment at the size of my flowers and she made a very good suggestion. She twisted together two or three of the flowers making one large flower head. This helped a little.

Sensei's arrangement was in a large glass bowl and she used driftwood and only leaves in this dynamic composition.

On the 25th and 26th April a significant event took place at Sogetsu Kaikan - the Iemoto Seminar. I'd first heard about it whilst still in Australia from my friend Emiko, who organized for a small group of us to attend together. We were Jennie and Stephen Stuart, Emiko and me.

We attended the morning session of the 25th when three senior instructors demonstrated techniques for securing materials in different situations. It's too difficult for me to describe all the techniques but I tried to take notes and will be happy to share what I learnt with the ikebana community back home.

Hakuho Kajitani created the following arrangements.


Gaho Isono created the following arrangements.

Seishu Okamoto created the following arrangements.



Iemoto, Akane Teshigahara, also demonstrated three small and one very large arrangement


From left - Myself, Emiko, Jennie and Stephen

Emiko, as the consummate hostess, had prearranged everything. She had researched and booked a restaurant very close to Sogetsu Kaikan and organized the menu so that all we had to do was to arrive and enjoy a sumptuous Japanese lunch in pleasant company. Thank you, Emiko!

I returned to the seminar in the afternoon without my companions as they had made other plans. There was a panel of three people on the stage, one of whom was Mr Kawana, having a discussion for a good part of the session. Unfortunately, it was all lost on me due to the language barrier but I was determined to wait for Mr Kawana's and Iemoto's demonstrations. And I was not disappointed.

                                                                                       I have included myself in this photograph to
give an idea of the size of the installation.

Mr Kawana and his assistants brought this structure onto the stage horizontally. Wires were then lowered from above, were attached to the structure and lifted it upright. It was made from distressed wood, driftwood and other dried materials. Then fresh material (I believe it was a form of azalea) was brought in and one by one, added to the structure. The end result was stunning!

Setting up

Then Iemoto orchestrated the construction of this amazing installation. The bamboo pieces were so long, they were difficult to control as they swung from side to side but, in the expert hands of the Atelier group and Iemoto's direction, the whole thing came together beautifully.
The spring flowering material created a riot of colour.

And finally, music together with a light show brought an other-worldly feel to the whole stage and transported us with it. Magic!

Until next time,