Interview Akane Teshigahara by Ekaterina Seehaus Floralien Ghent Gent 2016

Interview with Akane Teshigahara

The leader of the Sogetsu school of ikebana have kindly answers questions of teachers and students collected with the help of Facebook

Anticipation was building up over the last couple of months. When earlier this year Ms. Teshigahara was visiting Belgium we wanted to interview her. We collected the questions of ikebana teachers and students from all over the world. It was a nice example of the “good globalization” and how the on-line community of social networks can be leveraged.

During the visit we were not able to fit the interview into the headmaster’s agenda. (Disclaimer: I use the word headmaster instead of headmistresses just because I … like it better. Nothing to do with gender discrimination. In any case the word in Japanese is “iemoto” for both genders.)

Instead of the live interview we were kindly offered by the Sogetsu school headquarters to get written responses to the questions in due course. Today I received the long anticipated communication and I am sharing it with you.

We submitted 7 questions to Ms. Teshigahara, which are ranked by the votes on Facebook. As Akane Teshigahara teaches junior ikebana classes already since 1989 and is regarded as one of the most prominent child educators in the field of ikebana, the question, which got the most votes in the poll is about this topic:

Question 1: What are your top 3 tips for teaching children ikebana?

  1. Do not assume children as a whole from their age and gender, but work with each of them individually. It is important to use your ingenuity so as to talk and teach them differently depending on their type.
  2. Take time. Don’t rush them. Watch patiently what the kid wants to do.
  3. Whatever the work is, recognize it while searching a good point and say something nice first. Do not deny first. Try to make them feel that ikebana is fun.

Question 2: What source of ikebana inspiration do you use when nothing else works?

Enjoy various things other than ikebana, such as paintings, sculptures, movies, theaters… Put yourself in a completely different environment and reset your feeling once.

Question 3: What is the most effective Sogetsu school strategy in popularizing ikebana in the world?

Needless to say, continuing steady activities are important, but it is more important to actively spread information to the outside, not being inward-looking. In order to do so, we will search collaborations with other categories (e.g. art forms other than ikebana, stage performance) and attractive places and put more emphasis on creating works incorporating the “power of the place”. The new Textbook 5 contains the curriculum needed to learn these things. Please look forward to learning it.

Question 4: What is the suggested program for teaching teachers after the book 5 is completed?

Completing Textbook 5 means that the student stands at the start line as an artist who can express personal feelings and ideas. Hereafter, each student will pursue the path that she or he chooses. The instructor should respect such desire, provide various opportunities to learn, and give proper advice to guide the student.

Question 5: How to behave properly towards ikebana?

Ikebana works have energy and power and resonate with people who see them because living flowers are used. Ikebana is to arrange flowers and plants while putting your own feelings and thoughts to them. But you should not forcefully arrange them for your own satisfaction or treat them to diminish their unique attractiveness. Please faithfully face the plants. Do not forget a feeling of thankfulness and respect them so as to see an end when they will return to nature.

Question 6: How would you define good and bad ikebana teachers?

The good instructor can face each one of the students individually, and respect and develop their personality. Even for the students who surpass the instructor, the good instructor has a broad mind so as not to discourage the learning of the students but strongly support them. On the other hand, the bad teacher does not respect individuality but imposes his or her own way onto the students and forces the students to do what the instructor wants to do.

Question 7: What are the most important principles of integrating ikebana into modern interior?

Look at the people who live in the present times. When arranging flowers, if you think of people who will be in that space and try to understand them, I believe ikebana will naturally harmonize with modern spaces.

This concludes the interview with Akane Teshigahara, the 4th iemoto of the Sogetsu school of ikebana. Big thanks to Ms. Teshigahara for finding time in her busy agenda to answer our questions. And of course thanks to all the ikebanists, who contributed to the Facebook poll and voted for the questions.

P.S. I continue my search for the best advise on how to teach ikebana to children. I got some pretty good materials and will share them soon. Stay tuned. Sincerely, Ekaterina


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Akane Teshigahara and Ekaterina Seehaus after the ikebana performance at Ghent Floralien, April 2016
Akane Teshigahara and Ekaterina Seehaus after the iemoto’s ikebana performance at Ghent Floralien, April 2016
Sogetsu Ikebana arrangement "Wind" by Ekaterina Seehaus

Essential Japanese vocabulary for Ikebana students

A helpful list of 70 Janapese terms frequently used in Ikebana (downloadable in PDF format)

When I started learning Ikebana Japanese words Kenzan, Moribana and a few others entered my world. It was fun and it felt exotic. It also gave some subtle sense of belonging to a group connected by a distant, unfamiliar language.

There is some tribal feeling in having a special language. It does not even have to be a foreign language. Often it is a language of a professional group or an abbreviated language of a big company.  I could talk about it for a long time… If you joined a new company and you hear a sentence consisting of 7 words, 5 of which are acronyms, you do wan to learn the “local language” very fast. Trust me, I know from my experience how knowing the a group language makes you either fit in or alienates you if you do not master it. Back to Ikebana.

When I just began with Ikbebana I was not temped to start taking lessons of Japanese. Still I wanted to use the right terms and I wanted to pronounce them right. After a few months of studying our teacher gave us a list of essential Japanese vocabulary used in Ikebana. Since then whenever I came across a new word I added it to this list. Luckily my teacher is Japanese so I could always check with her if I got the pronunciation and the translation right.

Preview of the PDF document with 70 Japanese terms useful for ikebana students

And sometimes it is more than just translation. You need an explanation of the concept, which does not exist in English or in your culture. In my list of Japanese vocabulary for Ikebana  I did not go as far as writing up stories to give context for understanding the words. But recently I started accumulating articles and videos illustrating some of the unfamiliar concepts. I hope one day I can issue an update to the list with some multimedia links.

For now I decided to share with the Ikebana Web followers my current version of the Japanese vocabulary for Ikebana students. You can view it on-line or use a secure download (3 page PDF file).

Are there any other Ikebana terms you would like to add to the list? I would love to hear from you.

 

Mass and like ikebana arrangement Sogetsu school by Ekaterina Seehaus ikebanaweb.com

3 Main Elements of Ikebana Flower Arrangements: #2 Mass

Mass in Ikebana arrangements is a somewhat controversial topic. On one hand it is quite similar to the appearance of Western arrangements and therefore is not “Ikebana-like”. On the other hand it is a rather difficult task to construct a proper mass. In several workshops I have seen advanced students and even teachers struggle with satisfying master instructors’ requirements with regard to their mass arrangements.

I will share with you what I consider important in arranging a mass. I am sure there are many points of view though, so feel free to leave your comments.

First, density is what defines a mass, so no compromise is acceptable. There should be no spaces  between flowers. If need be one can tighten the mass with a wire on the back of the arrangement.

Second, a shape of a mass does not have to be just a round ball of flowers. Interesting compositions can be created by constructing elongated or triangular shapes. Several masses together also can be quite impressive.

Ikebana Sogetsu Mass Color Gradient IkebanaWeb.com
Dahlias Color Gradient Arrangement with Elongated Mass Arrangement in Two Nageire Vases.

Third, a mass does not have to be made of the same color of flowers. Experimenting with color gradient is interesting. I have tried it in the above arrangement and then developed it further for one of my exhibition pieces described in an earlier post.

Mass ikebana arrangement Sogetsu school by Ekaterina Seehaus. Round Mass of Forget-me-Nots, Elongated Mass of Eucalyptus Leaves and a Cylindrical Mass of Cornus Twigs.
Round Mass of Forget-me-Nots, Elongated Mass of Eucalyptus Leaves and a Cylindrical Mass of Cornus Twigs.

And finally, flowers are not the only material, which could be used for construction mass. Mass in ikebana arrangements could be made of leaves, twigs, artificial objects, paper etc. Like in the top photo of this post I used a mass made of computer cable (or was it a printer cable?… not like it makes any difference). It nicely integrated with the color of the ceramic container, which I recently made and at the same time it gave good contrast to the color of the flower mass of Gerbera. Not to mention the contemporary look 🙂

Do you see how mass and color are closely interlinked and need each other to make the arrangement work? This brings us nicely to the next topic “Color”. Until the next post!

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Lines in ikebana arrangements gladiolus and reed lines by Ekaterina Seehaus Sogetsu school of ikebana. ikebanaweb.com

3 Main Elements of Ikebana Flower Arrangements: #1 Lines

In one of the recent post we introduced the three main elements of Ikebana arrangements: mass, color and line. Traditionally they are all equally important. Well, let me use the words of Gorge Orwell “we are all equal but some are more equal than others” to express by bias towards the lines. Of course it is all about the overall harmony and balance but we all have our preferences. You guessed it right: lines in ikebana arrangements are my favorite element.

3 examples of different usages of lines in Ikebana. Sogetsu school. IkebanaWeb.com
Just a few example: combination of straight lines with curved ones, building a structure of crossed lines, using leaf surfaces as lines.

I find it interesting how the use of lines completely changes the character of your arrangement. It can make your arrangement static if you use horizontal or vertical lines or can add dramatic movement with diagonal or curved lines. Can you imagine all the possibilities!

Ikebana Sogetsu curved branch in a curved container emphasizing the movement.
Single curved branch in a curved container emphasizes the movement.

Even a single strong line in an arrangement makes it into a statement piece, into something, which catches attention and looks quite different from what you typically see in a florists’ shops. With bold lines and minimal number of flowers you can create arrangements, which will have a dramatic impact on the space where they are displayed.

There are plenty of different types of lines you can use in your arrangements: natural curves of branches, straight lines of reed and bamboo, peculiarly curled stems of flowers just to name a few. And if you add the lines made of artificial materials such as colorful cocktail straws, electrical wires (those could get pretty colorful as well), thin metal pipes … the possibilities are endless. You can combine straight and curved lines, add different texture, create modern look and test the limits of your creativity.

Sogetsu Ikebana Diagonal Lines with 2 moribana containers IkebenaWeb.com
Bundling several reed stems together for stronger impression. Containers leaned against each other to emphasize the movement.

Just start experimenting. If your material is really thin such as straw or reed, you can put several pieces together or even tie them together to make stronger impression like on the above photo. Another trick is using color to make your lines look more pronounced. On the first image of this post there are 2 reed stems, which are painted red. This gives them more visual “weight” and prevents the flowers from overpowering the thin pale reed stems.

Hope this post gave you some new ideas coming from the ancient Japanese art of Ikebana and inspired you to try expressing your creativity through arranging flowers in some new ways. If you make any pictures of your arrangements feel free to e-mail them to me Ekaterina@IkebanaWeb.com. It would be interesting to share those in the future posts.

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Here is another free report for our subscribers Essential Japanese Vocabulary for Ikebana. It is downloadable as PDF document.

Don’t want to miss the next post? Sign up for e-mail updates from IkebanaWEB.com and we will e-mail you a free report “How to keep your flowers fresh, longer”. This report covers many ikebana techniques for prolonging life of your arrangements through different treatments of stems.

 

ikebana flower arrangements Sogetsu Mass, Color, Line - 3 main elements. IkebanaWeb.com

3 Main Elements of Ikebana Flower Arrangements

Ikebana flower arrangements are mostly known for their minimalist aesthetics. Unlike the typical Western styles, which predominantly focus on creating large volumes of blooms, Ikebana puts equal emphases on the three main elements: mass, color and line.

This image is a simplified representation of an arrangement with the 3 elements being added one by one. First mass, then color and at the end the horizontal lines join the composition. See how they work together and change the overall impression of a simple Syringa (Lilac) branch?

Ikebana flower arrangements: Mass, Color and Line. Sogetsu school. IkebanaWeb.com
Main elements of Ikebana flower arrangements: Mass, Color and Line

Out of the 3 elements we are most familiar with the mass. Traditional bouquets are essentially masses of flowers. Color is an obvious one as well. But the line is not used much in the Western floral art. On a rare occasion we might see a line of a brunch being emphasized but that is pretty much it. Such details as flower stems or roots are almost never in the spotlight. Bamboo stems, reed, tall grasses can also provide wonderful inspiration and give a sense of movement to a composition.

But Ikebana flower arrangements do not have to contain all three element all the time. Sometimes you might consider focusing on one element and showcasing its beauty. It is all about balancing the 3 and using them effectively to create arrangements, which express your ideas and feeling.

To explore this topic further read the following articles focusing on mass, color and line. In those articles we provide illustrations of using each element in different types of arrangement. There is also some theoretical insights such as link to the color theory.

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I am still looking for a perfect definition…

In my search for the perfect Ikebana webpages I find a lot of definitions of Ikebana created by different people. Most of them start with “Ikebana is more than just an art of flower arranging…” So how do you define this “more”? Here are a couple of versions, my favorite ones so far:

“More than simply putting flowers in a container, ikebana is a disciplined art form in which nature and human creativity are brought together. Language is not needed to understand the beauty of Ikebana, it holds no cultural boundaries. Minimal materials convey meaning through colour combinations, natural shapes and graceful lines. Enjoyed not only for its beauty but also for its meditative qualities, Ikebana is an art form anyone, anywhere can appreciate and benefit from.” (by Donna Canning of www.new.uniquejapan.com)

“More than being decorative, ikebana is thought of as a path of life or a kind of meditation.” (by B. Lennart Persson of www.nordiclotus.com)

“Calling ikebana “flower arranging” doesn’t tell the half of it. This centuries-old Japanese minimalist art form was born in the Buddhist temples of ancient Kyoto. Working in ikebana is a silent, solitary and meditative act that is about connecting with nature and finding beauty in line and shape — branches and leaves — rather than splashy blossoms and lush bouquets.” (Team writer of www.paperandtea.com)

“Arranging ikebana is not an intellectual exercise, nor is it merely an artistic one, as the arrangers have to abandon themselves to their senses, pay attention to their feelings, in other words, follow their heart. Arranging ikebana is for me a spiritual practice.” (by Jean-Marcel Duciaume of Flowers, Poetry and Other Essentials…)

If you are already familiar with the Ikebana way, how do you define it for yourself?

Ikebana flower arrangement Movement IkebanaWeb
“The Dream Catcher”. What do the flowers dream about? Flying away from the container?

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Can you learn Ikebana on-line?

There are many ways to learn new things in life. Some of us prefer to learn by trying, others by reading, but the majority still prefers to have the good old teacher – student interaction.

In recent years technology has widened our learning horizons far beyond the book selection of the local library or courses offered in the nearby university. The on-line world offers pretty much anything our souls desire. How about learning Ikebana, the ancient Japanese art of flower arrangement?

Ikebana Ohara Stephen Coler

Typically when you study Ikebana you are expected to attend weekly group classes. But what if your busy schedule does not allow for regular Ikebana lessons? And even if you have a few hours for yourself in the evening (read: after your kids are asleep), who would provide you with Ikebana lessons after 8 p.m. anyway? Being a working mom of 2 and understanding the need for a flexible class schedule, I went on a quest of finding an Ikebana on-line course.

To my surprise, I was only able to find one such course. This course is made by Stephen Coler of the Ohara School. Stephen is originally from the United States and lives and teaches in Japan.

stephen8 portraitThis course includes video lessons and offers one-to-one follow up opportunities with the teacher. Here is how it works: you watch the lesson, make your arrangement according to the instructions, take a picture of this arrangement, and e-mail it to Stephen. He will respond to you with his remarks on what worked well and what can be further improved. And if you wish, you can send him a picture of the re-worked arrangement to confirm your understanding.

To me this follow up is THE differentiator of such a course vs. video materials alone. With this guidance you can get quite close to the traditional teacher – student interaction without having to rush to the scheduled lesson, spend time in traffic, and perhaps even having to pay a babysitter.

What is interesting in Stephen’s approach is that he is quite keen on explaining the “why”. This is something developed in Ikebana thanks to the influence of Western teaching style. The original Ikebana teaching just 50 years ago was more silent and contemplative, expecting that a student would sense what the teacher was trying to convey by making adjustments to the arrangements. Fortunately nowadays, Ikebana is taught in a much more comprehensive and open way.

Stephen has already been offering this on-line course for about 2 years. Here is the link to his website, where you can find feedback from his students and more information about Stephen and his course. You can also watch some free videos, which can give you an idea of his teaching style.

At the end of the 8-lesson-course students can apply for a completion certificate which can be used to build towards an Ohara School of Ikebana teacher’s degree.

Price: 24,95 USD per lesson. The opportunity to receive feedback and guidance from Stephen are included in the fee.

I hope I can find more distance learning courses on the Web and tell you about them. If you come across any yourself, or if you are already taking courses in some virtual way, please leave a comment. I am sure this will be helpful for many people in the Ikebana community.

Enjoy your flexible Ikebana lessons!

P.S. Here are a couple of arrangements made by Stephen’s students. Inspiring!

Student Ohara school of Ikebana

Student Ohara school of Ikebana Japan

Student of Ohara Ikebana

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What Ikebana means to me

By way of introduction let me share with you an essay I wrote to answer a question “What does Ikebana mean to you”? It was one of the assignments towards the end of the teachers’ training program at the Sogetsu school of Ikebana. Here is what I said:

“For me Ikebana is first of all the “flower way” – the way of personal and spiritual development. By practicing Ikebana I am challenging myself, testing my limits and learning more about who I am. Ikebana is essentially a meditative experience. It allows me to separate from my daily worries, to get connected to nature and eventually to my deeper self – a great way to slow down in our crazy modern life. Ikebana resonated with me from the start and I knew that I wanted to go as far as the flower way would want to take me.

Photography by Ben Huybrechts

Working with plant material provides a great opportunity of contact with nature in our predominantly urban lifestyle. You start by learning to see unique characteristics of different materials. Then you learn to notice how each individual branch and flower was facing the light and in which direction they were growing. Then you start to see a special line of a branch “hidden” by foliage, an unusual texture of leaves, patterns and color aspects of flower petals… After a while you develop the ability to distill the essence of a particular material and to express it in an arrangement. You learn how by removing non-essential parts of the material, using contrasting or complementary colors and textures you can bring out the key points. And if you did it right the magic happens and the spectator will see what you have see, what you wanted to show and to share. And maybe, just may be, somebody will feel a few moments of peace or a spark of surprise by seeing familiar objects in a new, fresh way.

Finding those special aspects in the ordinary materials is only possible by deeply connecting with the object itself. In the Ikebana teachings there is a notion of becoming one with the heart of the flower. For me it is the ultimate goal of my practice of Ikebana. I feel that it can help making my human experience more complete. And by becoming an Ikebana teacher I want to help others to find this peaceful experience and hopefully contribute to the overall harmony in my small way.”

Were you also asked to answer similar questions in your Ikebana schools? It would be great if you share what Ikebana means to you in the comments section.

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