Monday, 30 June 2014


My final photo in my favourite place in Tokyo with my favourite person, Akiko Takahira

It was with considerable sadness that I attended my last  class - International Class. As I mentioned before, I have come to know the regular students and have become fond of them.

Koka Fukushima sensei demonstrated this freestyle arrangement in a large metal container shaped like a pyramid and used Pee gee hydrangeas and New Zealand Flax, which she split and wove creating interesting lines.

Sensei also demonstrated Variation no. 4 Hanging Style Nageire using Golden Spirea and clematis in this rather unusual container. 

Lucy did this fascinating arrangement inspired by some of the work at the exhibition. She enjoyed using horsetail for the first time and put two agapanthus coming together at the front.

As for me, I also wanted to try using horsetail and enjoyed the flexibility of being able to wire it. I picked a glass container with distinct lines that I wanted to follow and used alstroemerias for mass.

A fairwell lunch had been arranged after class and those who could make it joined Lucy and me and Ms Takahira at a Restaurant around the corner from the school. We enjoyed a delicious German lunch with Renate, our German friend, helping us navigate through the menu.

I mentioned before how much I enjoyed the unexpected pleasure of meeting people from around the world. Every Monday I will think of the International class with nostalia and I will miss it. Of course, I will also miss the Teachers Workshops, the Iemoto Classes and all the wonderful and talented people at Headquarters, who have taught me so much, starting with Iemoto, the instructors, the assistants in the classroom as well as the Atelier group and, especially Ms Takahira. To all of the above, I would like to express my most heartfelt thanks for making my Tokyo experience an unforgettable one.

But my deepest gratitude goes to Norman and Mary Sparnon for having the foresight to create the endowment that provided the funds for me and others to enjoy immersing ourselves in ikebana and the Japanese culture.

I left Tokyo physically but my mind and a small part of my heart are still there. I have returned to my home and have plunged myself into family life and getting my home and garden in order, all of which I enjoy, but every so often I think about what is happening in Tokyo.

I'm also busy preparing for the resumption of my classes and I'm very excited at the prospect of seeing my students again and sharing my experiences with them.

As I mentioned before, I'm supposed to be working in the garden. My problem is that as soon as I see some interesting material, I want to cut it and make an arrangement. Very little gardening gets done this way.

When I arrived home my viburnum macrocephalum was in its glorious autumn foliage crying out to be used. So here it is in my newly acquired bamboo container.

As I was unpacking and trying to find room for my new containers, a problem that remains unsolved, I encountered the same temptations. I was itching to 'play' with each one and I realized that resistance is futile, so I gave in and played. Below are some examples.

While cleaning my ikebana room, I found this partially dried agave and tossed it in the bin, then quickly retrieved it and used it with this dear little plastic nageire container, which I found in a second hand store in Omiya village.

This monstera flower has a short life and had to be used straight away in my lovely new container.

The lilies for this arrangement were a welcome home gift from my sister-in-law, Toula Karanikolopoulos, an accomplished ikebanist herself and, of course, no time was wasted in arranging them.

A couple of things before I sign off - 

I intend to continue with this blog now that I am home, posting about my ikebana and related subjects but I haven't decided what to do about the name as yet. Please stay tuned.

For those who are not aware, I have posted photographs of all the arrangements of the Takashimaya Exhibition in the link 'Exhibitions in Tokyo'. You just need to click on the link and you're there. 

Also, some of you have sent messages to me via the blog thinking I have received them. Unfortunately, I haven't, otherwise I would have replied. There is some complexity to this and, I believe, you are required to have a Google account for your messages to come through. If any of you would like to contact me please email me.

Bye for now,

Friday, 20 June 2014

Arrangement in Japanese Room by Okamoto Seishu

Be it ever so humble.......

Yes, I'm back home enjoying catching up with friends and family and playing with my new containers. 

Getting back home was not easy and I was very grateful to have Lucy with me to share the load. And what a load it was! Between us we had 10 items of luggage, not including our handbags, weighing more than 120 kilos. It took us an entire day to pack, weighing each item to make sure it did not exceed the limit but we were still over, so we had to send a large parcel home by post. When my husband, Sam met us at the airport he was horrified at the sight of our trolleys. Two bags were dropped but you'll all be pleased to know that no containers were harmed. 

Having skipped ahead with my previous blog, now I'll back track a little in my next couple posts to fill you in on my final classes and goodbyes.

When Lucy arrived I was all set to show her some sights. So we went to Omote Sando, a fabulous shopping street, which Lucy, the shopping queen, appreciated, stopped at a French cafe and whilst enjoying our Lates al fresco, we watched this gorgeous busker.

Then walked to nearby Nezu Museum. This was my second visit to this small but important museum. I took Vicky and Peter there at the end of April when irises were about to bloom and it was the time of year that the museum bring out and display antique screens with paintings of irises. When we walked through the exquisite gardens in April there was only one early iris bud in the pond and I captured it.

In June, unfortunately they had all finished but we enjoyed walking slowly through the rest of the gardens.

Come Monday morning we arrived at Sogetsu headquarters for International class. By this stage I knew all the regular students and when I introduced Lucy to them they greeted her warmly as did all the staff. The theme was 'Freestyle Arrangemen' which Lucy did. As for me, after I picked my materials, Suisen Tagaki sensei suggested I do an 'Arrangement without kenzan'. Such an arrangement is hard to move to a place where it can be photographed properly and I was not happy with the shot I took, so I'm not including it here.

Lucy did this lovely freestyle using alliums and variegated leaves, which sensei praised highly.

Below is sensei's freestyle arrangement using three large leaves and two containers.

The next day we attended an Iemoto class in which we had the pleasure of Iemoto's presence. The theme was 'Ikebana with Green/Various Lines'. Below are Iemoto's demonstrations of the two themes.

As this was the last time I would be seeing Iemoto, I took the opportunity to thank her and to take this much prized photograph with her.

Lucy and I chose the 'Various Lines' theme and ran with it. Lucy used two large palm leaves which she halved then thinned out creating space between the remaining leaves. She used red willow for straight lines and a mass of the fine willow stems at the bottom. Iemoto called it a beautiful arrangement and commented on all the different features especially the mass at the bottom.

As for me, I remembered Tamae-san's suggestion of using challenging materials and picked Meadowsweet and bulrushes. I stripped the leaves and flowers of the Meadowsweet leaving just a few at the ends then curved them and caught them at the openings of the container. I wired three bulrushes and bent them to the back, then bent them again to come forward through the Meadowsweet. Again, Iemoto was very kind in her critique pointing out that I created my own lines and that keeping a small amount of flowers and leaves she felt was exactly right.

Lucy and I were very keen to have some private lessons with Kawana sensei but his schedule only allowed for two, the first of which was straight after the Iemoto class.  So we packed up quickly and grabbed a cab to Mita where he holds classes above a florist shop.

The atmosphere here was a lot less formal and, judging by the chatter and laughter between the other students and Kawana sensei, it was also very friendly. We were made to feel very welcome and even though we could not communicate with the students, their Japanese hospitality kicked in and they ran around getting us tea, biscuits and anything else we needed.

Kawana sensei runs his classes a little differently to others I've attended. We were given a bunch of two or three different materials and we were to use them and only them to create freestyle arrangements one after the other. It's up to the individual how many are made as there is no time limit for each and everyone works at their own pace. It's a terrific challenge and by the end of the four hour lesson, we had a much better understanding of each material. Oh, and by the way, Kawana sensei's corrections and suggestions - PRICELESS!

I wanted to include the photos of our work despite the poor quality because I think it's interesting to see just what can be done this way. Below are my five arrangements in the order I made them.

I made this arrangement without a kenzan with this view as the front and, when I finished, Kawana sensei asked me to look at it from the other side. Clearly, a better view as the front.

In the above arrangement, I originally had the two flax leaves resting on the table. Kawana sensei suggested I lift them to appear to be floating. This was the end result.

Below are Lucy's four, again in the order she made them.

And to finish off a most satisfying and productive ikebana filled day, Kawana sensei invited us to join him and the other students for their regular after class drinks and dinner. We went to a nearby restaurant that specializes in chicken cooked in various Japanese styles. The photos below show our very happy group.

The following week we had another such class, just as productive and satisfying but I won't include photos here.

Until next time,

Monday, 16 June 2014

My little guardian angel

This post is long overdue and there are reasons for that but, unfortunately, I can't go into them. They involve a person who is unfamiliar with technology and prefers he not be mentioned in a blog.

For those who haven't dealt with headquarters in the last two years, the name Akiko Takahira will not be familiar but she is the Overseas Coordinator and, therefore, the one in charge of all my needs relating to the school.

I had been corresponding with her from home ever since it was decided I would be going there. I don't know why but I envisaged someone about my age and was quite surprised to meet a petite, young girl with a ready smile and a pen and notepad constantly in hand. I warmed to her very quickly. She would write down my every question or request, conduct whatever research was necessary and would return to me with the answers, maps, directions etc. A super efficient little dynamo.

During one of our talks, mention was made of my love of dressmaking and she told me that she always wanted to learn to sew. I told her I had some free time whilst there and would be glad to show her some basic skills. We both took this quite seriously and made plans to shop for fabrics and various haberdashery items to start with.

We had two problems to overcome - one, a place to cut out the fabric because there was no room at my apartment and her home is one hour's train ride away, and two, we had no sewing machine. One day after class she asked me if I had time to go with her to a friend's place to see if the sewing machine he had is still working and, if so, we would be able to use it. Sure enough, we took a couple of train rides and got to her friend's place and there was the machine. The dear little thing was little more than a toy. It had no peddle but a button that is pressed to start  and then pressed to stop. This doesn't make sewing easy I can tell you. But we were on a mission, so I threaded it and it worked and it was decided we would do all our sewing at her friend's place.

Enjoying an ice cream after establishing 
the sewing machine worked.

Our next excursion was to be on a Sunday when we would go fabric shopping. You have to understand that the words 'fabric shopping' make my heart skip a beat. It's the same feeling my sisters get when they hear the words 'shoe shopping'. After some more train rides (I lost count how many), we arrived at a fabric store which is spread over three buildings.

We spent the entire afternoon looking there happily going through fabrics, haberdashery, sewing machines etc. We decided she would make a simple skirt and we found a delightful black net fabric with white spots on it that looked as though they were floating. Miss Takahira was very excited about this and couldn't wait to start. We were so engrossed with our shopping that we forgot we had a ballet recital to attend that evening and we were running late. So we were rushing to finish off and were surprised when, after the fabric was cut in one building, we were told to take it out and into the next building to pay for it. This faith in people's honesty is just one of the many things I love about Japan.

The following week we arrived at Ms Takahira's friends place ready to start. Teachers in any field of study enjoy teaching a bright student and I am no exception. My pupil is a quick study and her enthusiasm quite infectious so it gave me a lot of pleasure to watch her learn. Her friend was also very encouraging and pleased with her progress and took all the following photos as we worked. I apologize about the quality of the photos. They were printed and given to me and I had to photograph them again in order to get them into the computer. I'm sure there's a better way to do this but I don't know it.

I have to admit that I did all the machining part of the work because the sewing machine is too difficult to use even for someone of my experience. Ms Takahira was anxious for us to finish it so she could wear it during the exhibition at Takashimaia and take a photo in front of my arrangement. I did all I could to accommodate that and below are two photographs, just as she wanted.

During discussions with some people, my Greek heritage came up and a couple of instructors as well as Ms Takahira expressed an interest to go to a Greek Restaurant. So we arranged to go to Spyro's where Lucy and I could introduce them to Greek cuisine. We explained that the quality and authenticity of this restaurant is not up to the standard we're used to in Melbourne but it's the only Greek restaurant we could find inTokyo.

                    From left - Ms Takahira, Hinata sensei, Sumura sensei, me and Lucy

The flavours were new to them and they enjoyed some foods better than others but they liked the ouzo and a good time was had by all. We finished off with Greek coffee and we even turned Ms Takahira's cup up-side-down so the dregs would create patterns, based on which Lucy pretended to read her fortune. This is the Greek version of the reading of tea leaves.

She could easily be in a cafe on a Greek island

On our way home we shared a taxi with Sumura sensei and stopped off at a hotel where she had earlier prepared a number of beautiful arrangements. She has been doing this every month for eight years. Below are some of the many arrangements scattered around the hotel.

Getting to know Ms Takahira was just one of the many, unexpected pleasures of my stay in Tokyo and I will miss her tremendously.

Until next time,

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Since the beginning of June, I've had the pleasure of my sister Lucy's company. She had just finished with the Sogetsu exhibition in Melbourne, celebrating the 50th Anniversary and arrived here for more ikebana as well as to experience life in Tokyo. Above is her exhibit in Federation Square. You can see the rest of the exhibits at SOGETSU SCHOOL OF IKEBANA VICTORIAN BRANCH INC.( Tetsunori Kawana sensei did a demonstration and conducted workshops for members. By all reports the celebrations were a resounding success and I was sorry to have missed out. Below is a photograph of Mr. Kawana's large demonstration at Deakin Edge.

 At his request, I would like to add here Mr. Kawwana's email address and webpage because there were some people at the workshops in Melbourne that requested it and he was not able to give it to them. They are as follows: and

I've had a lot happening in the last few weeks with classes (including private classes with Mr Kawana), Lucy's visit, the exhibition and, of course, socializing with my new friends before leaving. As a consequence of which, I've neglected the blog somewhat. Sorry!

To date, I have tried to write about events mostly in chronological order, however, I will now jump ahead a little to write about the exhibition because I've received inquiries from home as to how it went.

There were a number of constraints influencing my initial sketch, which had to be prepared at home and handed in after my arrival for approval by Iemoto. The information I received read as follows: 'Iemoto wants everybody to find interesting elements such as lines and colour in green. Of course, flowers and other materials may also be used but they are to be secondary'. We were, also, given the choice of an arrangement that is placed on a pedestal, one that is hanging or both. I chose to do both. I then had to pick materials that I was sure I would be able to find here and that would require few tools for construction. I came up with the idea of using only umbrella grass stems and emailed headquarters asking about their availability. The answer was 'yes'. So I created my arrangement at home, sketched it and packed the sketch to bring with me.

Feeling a little unsure and wanting reassurance, I asked the florist for a sample of the umbrella grass and what he brought me made my heart sink. They were very fine and small. He assured me that by June they would have grown but I was skeptical, so he suggested I use bulrushes instead and brought samples for me to see. These were lovely and long but thick at the bottom tapering to very thin at the top. This was not good but I had no other choice. The solution I found was to use only the middle part of each stem and to top and tail them creating an even width to the surface.

Everyone was entitled to an assistant and I was lucky to have Lucy here acting as mine. She was helpful in so many ways, including availing her hotel room for preparation of the bulrushes. There is no space in my apartment to lay out 2.5 metres of stems and work on them.

So, when the bulrushes were delivered at headquarters, Lucy and I picked them up after our class and headed home intending to take a taxi. Mr. Matsuda, a director at the school and Ms Takahira came with us to help us communicate with the driver but the bulrushes were too long for the taxi. However, we were not to be deterred so we took the subway. Anywhere else we would have raised some eyebrows trying to fit our very long parcel in the carriage but the Japanese are so inscrutable you would think this was a common occurrence.

Here is my 'beautiful assistant', Lucy 
Papas, cleaning bulrushes.

It gets harder and harder working on the floor!

I invite you to look at the view from the window
where I'm working.

Then, of course, we had to get to the Takashimaia department store from the employee's entrance, go through all the various securities, find my spot and set up. It was hard to stay focused with all the wonderful work around me and people wanting to have a chat. That's when Lucy's project managing skills came to the fore and kept reminding me to work whilst I talked. Bossy boots!

I was happy with the end result of my work but I still felt intimidated exhibiting amongst the Sogetsu elite. To my great pleasure, I received a lot of positive feedback including from several senior teachers, one of whom called it 'perfecto!' It was quite amusing to see, every time I went past my exhibit, that there was someone peering into it intently trying to figure out how it was done.

Two views of the final exhibit.

Here I am with Ms Akiko Takahira, of the Overseas Affairs  department, of whom I have become very fond and will write more about on another post 

And here I am with Yoichi Hinata sensei, a senior Sogetsu teacher, with his elegant arrangement, which sadly did not photograph well. I am very much indebted to this gentleman for his kindness and generosity towards me.

I leave you with Iemoto's stunning installation and invite you to look at the Exhibitions blog for the photographs of other exhibits.

Bye for now,