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Thursday, 27 April 2017

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Ikebana Today 57

It is popular to explain that the essence of Japanese culture is Zen. There are many great books to support such a notion. Their arguments are relatively easy to follow. However, in my view, there are many points about Japanese culture that contradict such a notion.

1 Zen buddhism is not necessarily the largest Buddhist sect in Japan. Probably the Pure Land sect is the largest and Nichiren related sects are also very popular. Then, how can Zen represent Japanese Buddhism or Japanese culture?

2 Ikebana is often discussed in terms of Zen Buddhism. Zen influenced many forms of traditional Japanese art such as the tea ceremony, Ikebana and Noh plays in the Muromachi period. However, the largest Ikebana school in Japan is Ikenobo and Ikenobo is affiliated with Tendai Buddhism, not Zen. Of course, Tendai does include Zen in their teaching. However, the position of Zen in their teaching is different from that in such typical Zen sects as Rinzai and Soto.

3 This is just my personal impression, but I did not find any Zen aesthetics in a Chinese Zen temple in Melbourne. What I mean by Zen aesthetics is purity, simplicity, or wabi that often represent Japanese aesthetics. Zen aesthetics may not be the same as Japanese aesthetics, which I always find in Shinto shrines. Japanese aesthetics may be more related to Shinto than Zen.
These are all observation made by a novice. 

In the next issue, I’ll continue adding my questions about the statement that Japanese culture is Zen culture, and I’ll present my own hypothesis about Japanese culture.

This is the work I made for Chotto, popular Japanese cafe on 30 Smith St, Fitzroy. I heard that they received very good feedback from their clients. Simple designs always work for commercial displays.  

I’ll talk about environmental art and Ikebana at the International Academic Forum in Kobe and at a Japanese university in April. On 29th I’ll conduct an Ikebana demonstration at Made in Japan, South Melbourne. On 3rd May, my course, “From Ikebana to contemporary art” at RMIT Short Courses will start again. On 27th May, I will conduct an Ikebana workshop for beginners at Chotto, Fitzroy. Hope many of you can come and join us.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Daily Meditation: Materials from My Garden

Using Mizuhiki (Antenoron filiforme) and Bougainvillea, growing well in my garden.

My Ikebana/Art Calendar for the next few weeks.
29 April 2017: Ikebana Demonstration at Made in Japan. Free Event. mij.com.au
3 May: RMIT University Short Courses, Japanese Aesthetics. http://bit.ly/1IFmuyl
4 & 5 May: The Arts Learning Festival. https://www.artslearningfestival.org.au
27 May: Ikebana Workshop at Chotto, Fiztroy. http://kinome.com.au/cultural-events/


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Monday, 20 March 2017

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Ikebana Today 56

It is actually convenient to explain that Ikebana is a spiritual training. However, how can we convince people of this, especially those outside Japan? How can we prove that creating Ikebana, which is observable is connected to a spiritual enhancement, which is hard to measure? It is probably safe to say that just like meditation or Zen training, accumulating the exercise of Ikebana will affect the human spirit positively. But how can we investigate this issue more scientifically or effectively?

First, a socio-psychological approach may work to some extent. Canadian researchers found that those practising Ikebana for more than 17 years are happier that those who are practicing it fewer years. That is a certainly a great starting point for our argument 1.

Secondly, it may be possible to describe the Ikebana experience using the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures, a well-known developmental model of Zen. The ten pictures represent ten stages of the spiritual path toward enlightenment. In the beginning, a boy gets a glimpse of the tail of an ox, which is a metaphor of enlightenment. Then he touches it and gradually tames it. Finally, something strange happens to the ox. If interested, please check for more details in the internet or books.

Probably it is possible to propose a developmental model of Ikebana training applying this Zen model. Although it is not easy, I think it is quite a promising approach.

However, I start to wonder why Zen? It is true that Japanese culture was influenced a lot by Zen Buddhism, but Zen is just one of the factors that affected Japanese culture. I think that describing Japanese culture only from a Zen point of view is wrong and needs to be reconsidered.

Typical Japanese art forms such as Ikebana, the tea ceremony and Noh plays were established during the Muromachi period. It is generally believed that the influence of Zen Buddhism had a strong influence on the rise of these art forms. Probably this comes from what history textbooks tell us about Zen and Japanese culture. However, I am a bit suspicious about accepting Japanese history from textbooks.

This is a table arrangement I made for a wedding reception. Our clients’ request was to use pink and burgundy as main colours. It was hard to find enough burgundy colour flowers in summer. But our clients were very happy with our works.

1. Shoso Shimbo, Ikebana in English: Bibliographical Essay, https://independent.academia.edu/ShosoShimbo

Monday, 6 March 2017

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Monday, 6 February 2017

Ikebana Today 55

Isn’t it more convenient to present Ikebana as a unique Japanese way of meditation or spiritual training rather than trying to understand it in the context of Western art and design?

Before I start to talk about that option, it is important to emphasise again the close relationship between Ikebana and Western art. The influence of western culture on Ikebana is significant. After the Meiji Restoration, firstly, certain styles of western flower arrangements were incorporated into Ikebana. Then, some ideas of Modern art inspired several artists to develop a free style Ikebana. The number of Ikebana practitioners increased significantly after the war, under the slogan, “Ikebana is art”.

However, there is a big difference in terms of the definition of art between Ikebana artists in Japan and contemporary western artists. Although this is an interesting topic to consider, we will think about it some other time.

Is it easy for Western people to understand that Ikebana is a spiritual training? The training in Ikebana largely consists of acquiring skills. However, remember that I mentioned that in Western art, skills are not always appreciated highly. Beautiful paintings by highly skilful painters are not always appreciated as highly valued art. Being simply beautiful is not necessarily artistic. Ikebana may be perceived as a beautiful popular folk craft rather than art, lacking sculptural qualities or concepts.

But in Japan Ikebana is more than a craft. It is recognised as a way of the flower, a spiritual training through acquiring skills. However, an important question is how acquiring skills is related to spiritual enhancement. While the former is something that can be measured, the latter is something more metaphysical. We will think about this difficult question in forthcoming issues.

The Ikebana work of this month is one I created for a clinical reception. Our service includes weekly flowers for offices etc.

In February my course, Ikebana to Contemporary art at RMIT Short Courses will start again and in March I will conduct an Ikebana introduction workshop at a Fitzroy library. If you want to try Ikebana near the city, consider these options. Learning Ikebana is a great way to meet new people.


Sunday, 5 February 2017

A short course at RMIT starting soon

Shoso teaches "Japanese Aesthetics: From Ikebana to Contemporary Art" at RMIT University Short Courses. It will be available for anyone (not just for RMIT students). This class will take participants on a journey to explore the theory of Japanese aesthetics through practical exercises. Next term will start from 15/2/2017. Please book early.

Students are required to read "A brief history of Ikebana" prior to the first lesson.


Saturday, 4 February 2017

Download Shoso's Ikebana Essays

Now you can read or download some of Shoso's published essays on Ikebana.
Downloadable files: https://independent.academia.edu/ShosoShimbo

2015 Ikebana to Contemporary Art: Rosalie Gascoigne, The IAFOR Academic   
         Review, Vol.1, Issue 2, pp.16-20. 
2015  Ikebana in English: Bibliographical Essay, International Journal of Ikebana   
         Studies (IJIS), Vol.2, pp.99-107.
2013 Hiroshi Teshigahara in the Expanded Field of Ikebana, The  
         International Journal of Ikebana Studies (IJIS), Vol.1, p.31-52.


Thursday, 2 February 2017

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Daily Meditation: Ikebana in RMIT Short Courses

Shoso teaches "Japanese Aesthetics: From Ikebana to Contemporary Art" at RMIT University Short Courses. It will be available for anyone (not just for RMIT students). This class will take participants on a journey to explore the theory of Japanese aesthetics through practical exercises. Next term will start from 15/2/2017. Please book early.


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Ikebana Today 54

In a collection of his works, Shunmyo Masuno, a garden designer and zen monk, states that creating gardens is a zen training. The important thing is to devote oneself to daily training. Great works can never be created by chance. Here is a philosophy of art in Japan. If you devote yourself to one thing and accomplish it, you can also accomplish your own life. Way or DO is unification of devotion and accomplished art. Art training is also regarded as a spiritual training. There is a belief that only virtuous persons can create great work of art.

Actually the belief of DO is everywhere in Japan, not just in art training such as Ikebana, but also in cooking, sports, management, academic work, manufacturing, cleaning etc. This is a very familiar notion for the Japanese.

In the previous issues, I tried to position Ikebana in the context of the Western art and questioned whether it is art or design. But I could not do it so easily. If I state that Ikebana is a spiritual training just like meditation or zen training, however, there would be little ambiguity. This may be a great way to introduce Ikebana to people outside Japan. Indeed, that’s exactly how Daisetsu Suzuki, a well known zen master, introduced Japanese culture to the West after the war.

During his visit to Melbourne last November, it appeared to me that Dr Inoue, associate professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design and the vice president of International Society of Ikebana Studies, also sees Ikebana in a similar way. I look forward to his future work, the philosophy of Ikebana after his publication of The Thought of Ikebana this year. His work would follow a great succession of well-known members of the Kyoto School of Philosophy including Shinichi Hisamatsu who wrote the book “The Philosophy of Tea”

I do agree that Ikebana is a form of DO. However, I don’t think that Ikebana can be explained completely in zen philosophy. Although I don’t intend to undermine the great works done by Daisetsu Suzuki and the Kyoto School of Philosophy, I will discuss my own views of Ikebana from the next issues.

This is a New Year’s arrangement I made for Koko restaurant in the Crown Hotel last year. I make new work every year. If you have a chance, please visit the restaurant to see it.



Tuesday, 3 January 2017