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Sunday, 6 August 2017

Ikebana Today 61

Is Ikebana spiritual training? In the 16th century, Senno Ikenobo stated that practicing Ikebana might lead you to enlightenment. Many Ikebana practitioners see the truth in his words and Japanese in general seem to regard Ikebana as a kind of spiritual training.

However, it was Mirei Shigemori who declared in 1933 that Ikebana has nothing to do with spiritual training nor any moral teachings. Then, what is Ikebana? Shigemori regarded it as art. His movement is called the Shinko-Ikebana-sengen and it changed Ikebana significantly.

Actually Ikebana was transformed significantly in the Showa period (1926 - 1989). In the 1920s free style Ikebana was seen for the first time. This was a really big change in Ikebana history. Shinko-Ikebana Sengen began in the 1930’s. During the WWⅡ (1939 - 1945), Ikebana had almost disappeared from Japan. After the war, Ikebana suddenly became popular. In the next decades, an Ikebana boom occurred in Japan in which the largest number of people engaged in Ikebana in history.

These changes are all related. The perception of Ikebana as art rather than as spiritual training brought the Ikebana boom in the Showa period. This is most likely due to the influence of Shigemori. I’ll look into more what he was thinking of at that time.

Looking back, I feel that my view on Ikebana was also influenced by Shigemori. If I was convinced that Ikebana was a kind of spiritual training, I would have started it much earlier. I remember talking to one of my old friends about my doubt about Ikebana. Is it really worth doing? Will it take me where I would like to be? Wouldn’t I regret having invested so much time in Ikebana in the future? “As it is the way of flower, it will be good for you” “I suppose” Both of us were not so sure. I could not make my mind for a long time, maybe because of Shigemori.

On 18 August Dr Kobayashi will talk about Ikebana at the University of Melbourne. She is the president of International Society of Ikebana Studies.

I recently started a new project, The Salvos community fundraising through Ikebana workshops. By hosting our workshop, you can earn $200 and donate $50 to a charity. This is ideal for cafes, educational institutions, churches etc. Please check our website.

Please download free Ikebana calendars with this image from my website.


Thursday, 3 August 2017

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Monday, 10 July 2017

Friday, 7 July 2017

Ikebana Today 60

I have been talking about what Ikebana is from various view points. A well supported definition of Ikebana is that it is a spiritual training. However, what it means is rather complicated. Zen philosophy may be helpful to understand Ikebana as a spiritual training, but as I mentioned in the previous issues, I have many questions about such an approach. Zen philosophy alone cannot explain all aspects of Ikebana nor Japans culture.  

As my previous essays suggest, thinking about Ikebana is closely related to thinking about Japanese culture. Also, studying history of Ikebana is actually studying about Japanese history. The rise of samurai class as political power affected Ikebana style and economical power of merchant class in Edo period also affected Ikebana. Ikebana as a part of the Japanese culture changes in accordance with it society.     

Let’s now consider Ikebana as spiritual training further. First of all, are we practicing Ikebana as a spiritual training today? If so, spiritual aspects should be included in Ikebana teaching, and we should expect Ikebana teachers to be highly virtuous. In my view, that is not the case, although, off course, there are so many variables. The point is that there is a reason for this. Actually the traditional notion of Ikebana as a spiritual training was strongly denied in the early 20th century.     

It was Mirei Shigemori who provoked a notion that Ikebana has nothing to do with a spiritual training. He influenced many Ikebana artists including head masters of Sogetsu school and Ohara school, the two of the three major Ikebana schools. As I mentioned before, Shigemori is one the greatest Japanese garden designers in 20th century. In fact, his garden designs inspired me so much that I decided to study about Japanese gardens and got a qualification as a garden designer. I’ll write a bit more about Shigemori in the next issue and then I’ll write about my thoughts on Ikebana as a spiritual training. 

In June I talked about Ikebana at NGV, and Dr Kobayashi, president of International Society of Ikebana Studies will also talk about Ikebana at the University of Melbourne on 18 August, 2017. Details will be on my website.  

This is a work I made for Hanabishi restaurant in city. Working to create regular displays has been a good training for me for many years.       

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Salvos Community Fundraising through Ikebana

Salvos Community Fundraising through Ikebana: Host Shoso Shimbo 's workshop at your venue.

Shoso Shimbo and his team can offer many types of ikebana workshops now. You may be able to earn more than $200 per hour and donate $50 or more to a charity by hosting our popular one hour workshop. http://www.shoso.com.au/p/workshop.html

Image: Ikebana demonstration at Made in Japan (South Melbourne)


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

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