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Monday, 19 June 2017

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Friday, 9 June 2017

Monday, 5 June 2017

Ikebana Today 59

I’ve been writing about my questions about a popular notion that Japanese culture is Zen culture. I also have a little question about Sado, the Japanese tea ceremony.

A renowned philosopher from the Kyoto school of philosophy, Shinichi Hisamatsu said, “ Wabi-cha (tea ceremony) was a religious revolution in Zen.” What he meant was probably that Zen was transformed to the tea ceremony when it was introduced from Buddhist temples to the common people. But I don’t agree with him.

Let’s think about the Japan Festival in Melbourne as a case study. This is a good sample of cultural transformation. A: Japanese festival + B: Australian ways of cultural events = C: Melbourne Japan Festival as a new culture. A new culture is almost always a combination of an original culture and other cultures.

Hisamatsu’s comment can be simplified as; A: Zen + B:? = C: tea ceremony. I don’t think Zen can be transformed to other forms without any other influential factors. Seemingly, a tea party, a new culture from China at that time was supposed to be B, another cultural factor. However, we need to be aware that tea parties were almost gambling activities for the Japanese at that time.

I wonder whether someone would try to transform a gambling occasion to a sophisticated interpersonal performance like a tea ceremony. Would anyone try to transform for instance mah-jongg to a spiritual ritual today?

This is only my hypothesis but a model of the tea ceremony may be one of the Shinto rituals related to eating and serving; A: Zen + B: Shinto rituals = C: tea ceremony. However, I cannot provide any evidence that Juko Murata (1423 - 1502), a founder of the tea ceremony was associated with Shinto. Although he was believed to be a Zen monk, very little is known about him.

My hypothesis may be weak in this case, but it is fascinating to review various aspects of Japanese culture from a Shinto perspective. I think Shinto deserves much more attention in Japanese studies.

This is a work I made for a clinic reception. It was a bit hard to add water to the containers, but they said, “don’t worry, we will ask one of our surgeons and he will water them using his syringe"


Thursday, 1 June 2017

Winter is the time for Ikebana

Ikebana Workshop at Chotto, Fitzroy & Ikebana in School

a. One hour workshop will be held at Chotto, Fitzroy and Made in Japan, South Melbourne. Details will be announced shortly. Like https://www.facebook.com/ikebanaaustralia/ for the latest news.

b. Short Course. Japanese Aesthetics: From Ikebana to Contemporary Art at RMIT Short Courses starts from 16 August and 25 October 2017. http://bit.ly/1IFmuyl

c. Certificate Course. Our new term starts from August. Early bird discount rate ($160 for 10 sessions) is available for all the past students (not just for continuing students) only this time. The past students means those who have done Shoso’s certificate courses, RMIT courses, or one hour workshops. This is a great time to come back to Ikebana, if you have been taking a break from it. Other terms and conditions apply. http://www.shoso.com.au/p/tuition.html

d. Ikebana in School. Ikebana workshops for secondary students.  http://bit.ly/ikebana-in-school


Thursday, 11 May 2017

RMIT University 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. 

Image Above: The first lesson starts with a video, discussion about design elements & principles, and making a basic style Ikebana. 

Image below: Free style Ikebana using leaves only at the second lesson. 

The students will make sculptural & 2D works from the 3rd lesson.  

Next terms will start from 16 August 2017 & 25 October 2017 
Please book early.http://bit.ly/1IFmuyl


Thursday, 4 May 2017

Ikebana Today 58

I’m going to add more to the list of questions about the notion that Japanese culture is Zen culture.

4. It is commonly accepted that the foundation of Japanese religious consciousness is ancestor worship. It is generally taken care of by Buddhism and various rites of passage, including weddings, are taken care of by Shinto. However, such a division was introduced only in the Edo period (1603 -1867). When Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century, it was probably perceived as a sophisticated and trendy religion. Nevertheless, it was probably Shinto that took care of ancestor worship, the foundation of the spiritual life of the Japanese. Such a foundation has been maintained throughout the Japanese history until today, but it is easily concealed by other religious veils such as Buddhism.

5. The original Zen, introduced to China from India, was very different from the Zen practiced in Japan today. Zen in Japan is very similar to Shinto in many aspects including its goals, attitude to nature and, in particular, aesthetics. 

Although I have not explained anything properly, I sometimes imagine that the Japanese may have been practising Shinto under the veil of Zen. I further imagine that the perception of Japanese culture as Zen culture may be wrong. Such a notion might have been propaganda prompted by Daisetz Suzuki, Kyoto School of Philosophy and the Japanese government. Probably they wanted to ignore Shinto as the foundation of Japanese culture. 

First, it is hard to investigate Shinto anyway. There are not sufficient reliable introductory documents about Shinto. In addition Shinto was highly political before the war. It must have been inconvenient to present Japan as a nation of Shinto in the international community after the war. However, Shinto thoughts related to politics before the war or right wing extremism were abnormal parts of it.

In considering Ikebana in relation to the Japanese spirituality, Shinto perspectives are necessary rather than those of Zen. My proposal is that Japanese culture is fundamentally Shinto culture. While it seems to be common sense historically, surprisingly few people publicly advocate such a notion.

This is a commercial Ikebana work using a branch found on the roadside. Natural wastes are often our resources.

I’ll take a part in Arts Learning Festival in Melbourne with some international artists such as Michelangelo Pistoletto in May.


Monday, 1 May 2017

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