Melbourne Ikebana Festival, 7 and 8 September

Saturday 17 December 2011

The Ten Virtues of Ikebana 7b

In my last article, I pointed out the similarity between the  seventh virtue, cleansing evil thoughts and the second virtue, selfless mind. It is true that both virtues are about the calming effects of Ikebana, but there is a small difference if you look into their definitions closely. In looking into it, the hidden essence of Ikebana may reveal itself.
Among the ten virtues of Ikebana, there is another virtue that refers to the effect of Ikebana on psychological states. That is the third virtue, pleasure without words. I was surprised to find that these three virtues are closely related on this level. 
Just think about Mamemaki. “Evil, Out; Fortune, In” is the phrase people use to celebrate this annual event. “ Evil, Out” means in essence cleansing Kegare, or impure states and this is the same as  the seventh virtue, cleansing the evil thoughts. Once Kegare is cleansed, we reach the neutral state of Ke. “Fortune, In” means to bring the cerebrated state, Hare.  This is the process similar to the change from pleasure without words to selfless mind. 
In short, behind these three virtues of Ikebana relating to the psychological states is the theory of celebration in Shinto. This will be a small part of my master paper in fine arts, which I will complete at the end of next year.
Although some people argue that Shinto is a folk religion compared to some world religions such as Christianity or Buddhism, its cultural significance should not underestimated in any way. 
This is a work I made for a casual wedding reception at our home. My work was nice backdrop for wonderful dishes made by the groom who is a chef at Hanabishi restaurant. Since Christmas is close, I added holly leaves, red berries and vines painted silver. I used floral foam to fix the flowers.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Sunday 4 December 2011

Friday 2 December 2011

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Friday 18 November 2011

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Exhibition Opening

Lesley Kehoe Galleries asked me to create a display for an opening of Maio Motoko's exhibition. The artist's request was not to use any living materials! I took many different types of materials such as bamboos, found objects and coloured branches, but they were all rejected by the artist. Using only two types of dry branches, I managed to make this Ikebana work in time.

This is another wonderful show at the gallery. Highly recommended.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Monday 7 November 2011

About Ikebana Exhibition

It is fortunate that we have had annual Ikebana exhibitions the last seven years. But there are so few Ikebana exhibitions, despite the fact that there are so many Ikebana teachers in Australia. 

Although some Ikebana schools make it compulsory for each branch to have annual Ikebana exhibition, some branches have ignored such requests. That is understandable considering there are so many difficulties in having an exhibition. Actually there are too many reasons or excuses for not having exhibitions. However, we believe that there are great benefits in having exhibitions.

a. Positive effects for students' learning: Students tend to achieve their personal best at an exhibition. Showing their works to public gives them confidence and motivation to learn more.

b. Professionalism: Exhibiting works is a challenging and demanding process from preparation to deinstallation. Experiencing that would better prepare students for future opportunities for professional works that include teaching, displays and competitions.

c. Career: One of my advanced students was preparing an application for a floral competition some time ago and told me that she had nothing to write about her artist career apart from her qualification as an Ikebana teacher. Although she had excellent academic and professional career in other fields, what matters for artists are exhibition history and awards. 

Unfortunately, there are very few opportunities for Ikebana students in Australia to gain these. That's why we have tried to have annual exhibitions that all of our students including beginners can participate. We are aiming to have an exhibition in a prestigious gallery in the near future. 

Also for the same reason, we have set up Ikebana Gallery Australia Award. We believe this will contribute lots for the future of Ikebana in Australia.  

d. Promoting Ikebana. There are almost always some people who join the class after seeing our exhibition.

From Ikebana Newsletter Melbourne, December 2011.To subscribe our free newsletter, go to the News page in the following website.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

The Ten Virtues of Ikebana: 7a

The seventh of the ten virtues of Ikebana is departing from any harmful thoughts.

We may sometimes have evil or negative thoughts. When we face flowers, however, these thoughts disappear instantly. Ikebana can help keep our minds calm – a real bonus in today’s world!

The seventh virtues is similar to the second virtues, selfless mind. They both means in essence that Ikebana helps release stress. While the the former focuses on cleansing the mind, the latter focus on nourishing the mind. Although the ten virtues of Ikebana was proposed about three centuries ago, the author was really aware of  and analytical of psychological effects of Ikebana. 
You may agree with me so far, but I wonder if you would still agree with me if I said this: there is a hidden secret of Ikebana in these virtues. Selfless mind and cleansing mind are almost the same thing. Then, why didn’t the author say simply Ikebana helps get rid of stress? 
But actually there is a very small difference between them. Focusing on the small difference the hidden essence of Ikebana would be revealed. Now I’m about to talk about  a new theory about Ikebana but I don’t have enough space for that this time. I’ll write about a new insight on Ikebana next time. 
I made another simple and cool Ikebana this month. Using stapler, I made a few rings of doracena leaves. Meditate on their relationship each other and with the container. When you are happy, add a stem of oncidium. Stick the stem to the leaves to fix.
There are a couple of exhibitions I participate in November 2011. 
The Toyota Sculpture Exhibition opens on 9 November at Toyota HQ in Port Melbourne and an Ikebana Exhibition opens from 12 to 18 November at Kings Arcade in Armadale. Please come and see my works.

Friday 21 October 2011

Thursday 6 October 2011

About learning Ikebana

It may help for new students to know about the learning model in Ikebana.  Without that knowledge you may get frustrated in the first or second lesson. Learning Ikebana is a bit different from learning cooking or how to use a computer software, for instance. It is even different from learning some crafts such as western flower arrangements. It is more like learning dance or martial arts.

In the research of second language learning, in the 1980s an American researcher proposed an influential theory that distinguishes language acquisition from language learning. This theory is very helpful to understand the nature of learning Ikebana.

Our aim is not Ikebana learning but Ikebana acquisition. In the first lessons all you learn is how to create a basic design framework. Even if your teacher gives you positive feedback, you might feel that your work is not quite right. Indeed, your work is usually far from perfect. But that is OK. Acquiring Ikebana takes time. 

If you arrange private tuition rather than joining a group class in Ikebana, you may learn much more in one lesson. You may be able to make a near perfect basic style arrangement following the detailed instructions of your teacher. But can you really acquire Ikebana rather than learn Ikebana in the lesson? In other words, can you make another near perfect basic style by yourself after the lesson? Probably not. 

Even if you master grammar and pronunciation in the classroom, you may not be able to communicate very well in the second language. Learning a second language as knowledge does not help you much. 

But if you learn and use the language in real communication, you have a better chance of really acquiring the language. Language acquisition gives you the freedom to communicate and express yourself in the second language.

After the first lesson in a Salsa dancing class, you would not expect to be able to dance like a pro. All you can do are the basic steps. Although they are very simple movements, you need to practice a lot before you can go to the next step.

Then, your fee (private lessons would be 10 times more expensive) and the teacher's time may not be utilised well, although I would not say wasted. You may be able to learn Ikebana but you will not acquire Ikebana in one lesson. 

Only when you have acquired the basic design framework after practicing it a few times are you ready to move on to the next challenge. That's how the acquisition of Ikebana occurs. Only Ikebana acquisition gives you the freedom to make good Ikebana works with any materials under any conditions. Ikebana acquisition takes time, so be patient.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

The Ten Virtues of Ikebana 6

The sixth of the ten virtues of Ikebana is constant scent. 
If you take up Ikebana, you can always be surrounded by the nice smell of flowers. 
Ikebana artists know which flowers work best for them and their family and friends. My favourite is a sweet olive, osmanthus fragrans. I was delighted to find this plant is available in Australia as well as in Japan and it’s growing so well in my newly planted garden.
As any aroma therapist will tell you, scents really affect our moods and feelings. Even when we feel a bit depressed, the scent of flowers always cheers us up. That effect should not be underestimated. It can be more than a temporary change in psychological state. 

Especially when we are really stressed or anxious about something, scents can help us stop our negative thinking and gain new insights. For instance, we may realise we were losing sight of the more important things in our lives. Such an experience could help us lead a more spiritual life. That’s the power of flowers. Don’t you feel like taking up Ikebana now?
I used a cube shape container for this month’s work. I put a cross bar inside the container to fix flowers. To emphasise the zigzag features of the container, I used Japonica branches which have zigzag lines. I place a yellow gerbera as an accent at back of white stocks for a naughty effect.

Monday 3 October 2011

Recent Work: Royal Melbourne Show 2011

Flowers Victoria organised floral competitions for the first time during the Royal Melbourne Show. I was invited to participate in a competition where 12 florists in Victoria were selected.

Monday 19 September 2011

Friday 16 September 2011

Recent Work: Bridal Bouquet

Round bouquet is a very popular style for wedding. This is a hand tied bouquet, not wired but I was able to create a completely round form. Tips to make a good round bouquet are;

1. Hold a bouquet at your eye level in making it.
2. Don't follow the professional instructions on You Tube. They are just too skilful. They make bouquets so easily and encourage you to make them like them. However, without years training, you can never make like them.
3. Work with your assistant. That's the secret I found. The professional florists do not tell you that!

Tuesday 13 September 2011

The Ten Virtues of Ikebana 5

The fifth of the ten virtues of Ikebana is gaining respect. This means that Ikebana helps personal development and as a result Ikebana practitioners will gain respect. 

However, this does not simply mean that if you become Ikebana teacher you will be respected by many. If you expect to be respected by just practicing and teaching Ikebana, that would be wrong. If you don't understand this fully, you might become an arrogant teacher, which is sad.

People with academic carrier or background may be called “teacher”.  Becoming ikebana teacher does not require any formal education. But Ikebana training is not substitute for formal educational training.

Then, how should  we interpret the fifth virtue? Ikebana gives you a status of “teacher” regardless of your formal education or background, therefore you have to make effort to be deserved to it. Focus is not the result but the process which could be long and could require much efforts. 

If all you read is women’s magazines, all you watch is silly variety shows and never read Shoso’s articles, you are not making enough efforts (ha)!

This is the work I made for Ms Renouf. Making works for clients is different from making Ikebana for yourself. You are expected to go beyond clients’ expectation under often challenging conditions. “You are amazing! Flowers were divine!” Receiving such comments, my efforts were worthy.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Friday 12 August 2011

From Shoso's Gallery: ABC Gardening Australia Expo 2008

In this work I have returned to the theme of light returning to the world, as in the story of Ameterasu, the Japanese Sun Goddess, who hid herself in a cave and denied the world her light, then emerged to shine her light on the world again.
After a long period of darkness, light finally begins to shine again, starting with a small gap in a dark wall, which in fact has its own beauty. As the light breaks through, the joy of light after darkness, of hope in bleak times is seen as the floor material reaches up to bathe in the light’s reflection. 
The energy of light brings bright colours to life, while the dormant world still waiting for its touch remains a pensive green. Light is not seen in this work, only the response of the natural world to its presence.

Friday 5 August 2011

Shoso on TV

I talked about Ikebana and gave a quick demo for a popular morning TV show. I often use this video in my Ikebana workshop as an introduction. It's short and contains great information.          

Thursday 4 August 2011

Recent Work: Party Flower

Ms Renouf asked me to make three Ikebana arrangements for her home party in July. This colourful work is a welcoming flower for her guests. Following is a wonderful comment from her.

Dear Shoso,

I meant to call earlier to tell you how DIVINE the flowers are.
You are amazing.

My guests were enthralled, particularly with the one "they will never see again " I think you will have to master it so you can do it more quickly and easily, as it is SUPERB !
Many, many thanks,

Saturday 30 July 2011

The Ten Virtues of Ikebana 4

Ikebana helps us learn about many kinds of flowers and trees with very little effort. We learn their names, and we become in tune with the seasons and nature.
But you may ask “how come knowing about plants can be a virtue?” or “What kind of benefit does it give?”                        
To answer these questions, first we have to consider the definition of virtue. It is not about benefitting yourself but being of benefit to others. Just like people respect cultured people, they also respect virtuous people.                                   

These values can be seen as kinds of goals for us to achieve in our lives, although getting rich seems to be the only goal in life for many today.

However, there are some who respect those who have a great knowledge of plants. In particular, we learn how short the life of a flower is. 

This in turn, makes us realise how short our life is. We all have many attachments and desires. We hope for wealth or fame or success in our short lives. How small and meaningless those goals are!
Whether people respect your knowledge or not, you will come to realise how valuable that knowledge is. Then you will agree with the idea that learning about plants is a virtue.
This is another simple work. Three calla lilies are put together using a toothpick and a rubber band. Attach them to a short stem. Then, place the stem inside the glass container. Hide the base using a dracaena leaf.

Friday 22 July 2011

Recent Work: Wedding Flowers

Bridal Tied Posy (not wired)
Materials: Roses, Lisianthus, Queen Fabiola, Silver Suade.

Working with a bride to be is always exciting and challenging. Notice that white Queen Fabiola is creating an interesting, almost playful effect for this round bouquet. Following is the comment from the bride.

"Thanks again for the bouquets and button holes. They were beautiful and we received many positive comments about the flowers. Arigatogozaimashita!"

Friday 15 July 2011

Wednesday 13 July 2011

From Shoso's Gallery

Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2010

After Mondrian: A Celebration

This installation was inspired by the works of the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (1872 – 1944). Robert Hughes says of Mondrian: "All his paintings are about the disentangling of essence from attributes: the enunciation of what is central, and what peripheral, in his experience of reality."

This work is a celebration of line and colour. The central section is a formal study of how line and colour influence composition. 

I used lemons with the yellow dahlias to create a sense of depth in the solid block of colour. Similarly the varying hues of red in the apples and the peppers and the combination of the purple statice and the blue delphinium add texture and draw the eye in deeper. The seeds also make a nice contrast to the darker colour of the pods.

The outer sections move into a freeform exploration of line in nature. I wanted to contrast the sharp definition in the central section with the random way in which lines form in nature. I’ve used some recycled pink netting as a backdrop and some asparagus fern and roseberry to emphasise the beautiful shape of these branches I rescued from a hard rubbish collection in my neighbourhood.

Monday 11 July 2011

From Shoso's Gallery

Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2011
"Hakanashi" by Shoso
30 March - 3 April 2011
Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne

The layers in this work allow the viewer to experience a number of different works of art by changing their point of view. Hakanashi means transient in essence and is part of a very old system of Japanese aesthetics, dating back to the 10th century. 

All floral art is by the nature of its living materials ephemeral, but this piece is in essence a series of snapshots of transient images that last only as long as one does not move. In moving a new perception emerges. Rather than a fixed and rigid artwork, no one particular perception of this work is given precedence over any other.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Recent work

Flower for Birthday Party
Date: 11 June 2011
Venue: Cecconi's, Melbourne
Materials: Oncidium, Cymbidium, Pansy

Following is a nice comment from my client.
"Thank you so much for the magnificent 21st flowers they completed the table beautifully. 
The colour and flower choice was beyond my expectation! "

Recent Work

Exhibition Opening
Date: 2 July 2011
Venue: Lesley Kehoe Galleries, 101 Collins Street, Melbourne
Materials: Japonica, Molucca balm, Blushing bride

I enjoy working for this beautiful gallery using some of their wonderful containers. This is a small winter arrangement using a combination of white, pale pink and light green materials. This is the coldest time of the year but the combination of the colours brings warmth.

Lesley Kehoe Galleries

Lesley Kehoe Galleries is internationally recognized as one of the world’s leading dealers in fine and rare Japanese art. With over 25 years’ experience, the Galleries enjoy an unparalleled reputation for quality and professionalism. 

Monday 4 July 2011

The Ten Virtues of Ikebana 3b

The other interpretation of the third virtue of Ikebana is that flowers can give us a profound pleasure, which is beyond words. 

While flowers growing in the garden belong to the everyday worlds, cut flowers belong to a different realm. In Ikebana only cut flowers are used. As soon as they are cut, they begin to die.

Ikebana artists are trying to give eternal life to mortal objects, and in trying to do so they go through spiritual experiences. 

You may not be able to experience that depth of feeling from the start. However, many students of Ikebana soon notice that they find flowers more beautiful than ever before. This is the first step toward the appreciation of non-verbal communicative power of flowers.
In this month’s work I used stapler to fix Spanish iris leaves. I put Hydrangea flower off centre and added white Madagascar jasmine behind. 

You may notice a harmony of curbing lines, those of leaves, flowers and container. To me, the combination of green and white somehow creates an imaginative, even mysterious space.

Friday 17 June 2011

The Ten Virtues of Ikebana 3a

The third of the Ten Virtues of Ikebana is appreciating the non-verbal communicative power of flowers. There are two ways to interpret this. Some say that we can make friends through flowers without using any words. The other interpretation is that flowers can give us profound pleasure, which is beyond words. I’ll talk about the second aspect in the next issue and focus on the first this time.

The pleasure we find in Ikebana doesn’t need to be expressed in words. When we share this pleasure with other people, we can make friends without using words. We often feel that Ikebana works “talk about” the artist’s personality.

When I am exhibiting my works around Melbourne, many strangers start to talk to me. As I improve my skills, I hope that this will happen more and more. Having said that, I only have a few regular clients in the Japanese community, Hanabishi and Koko restaurant in the city. I’m hoping to find another client sometime soon.

The experience of making friends through flowers is rather rare, but in fact many Ikebana artists would certainly have experienced this. I personally have had a few important encounters in my Ikebana life.

Seeing works by Ms Marjorie Bromilow in Adelaide was one of them. Immediately after her exhibition I was inspired to learn Ikebana and became her student. I was very sad to hear that she passed away at the end of last year.

Seeing Hiroshi Teshigahara’s works was another instance. Making “friends” may not be the best way to describe my relationship with those teachers but in a broader sense they are friends for me.

This is a work I made for Hanabishi. The three yucca leaves stand firmly as I divided the inside of the container using a short branch. Between the leaves I inserted other materials, chrysanthemums, daisies and lilies. The form of the leaves emphasize the form of the container.

The Ten Virtues of Ikebana 2

The second of the ten virtues of Ikebana is “selfless mind”. When we face our flowers, we are free from any concerns and we can clear our minds.

The first goal of Zen meditation is to achieve such a clear mind, free from the chattering self. This first step is often the hardest for any student of meditation. But with the help of the natural elements in their arrangements, many Ikebana students come to experience this state of mind almost without realising it.

However, the important thing is not try to understand such a meditative effect of flower but to actually experience it. If you try making some of the simple arrangements I introduce in this series, you may experience the effect instantly. On the other hand, it may take for a while for you to experience it. As for me, it took almost 6 months to experience that for the first time. Actually, learning Ikebana was initially a rather frustrating experience for me.

Even if you can not experience the clearing of your mind now, don’t give up Ikebana too soon. Surely you will experience it sometime in the near future. Then, Ikebana will be an important part of your life. Actually, many people get addicted to flowers, which is much better that getting addicted to drugs or gambling. You would never break up your family through Ikebana.

It would be nice to have many flower addicts, who can appreciate the essence of traditional Japanese culture.

To create this work I stuck branches of mahonia into a glass container. Then I inserted hydrangea stems between the branches. The distinctive features of the two materials create an interesting effect.

Introduction to Ikebana 2

As I mentioned in the last article, Ikebana has been defined as symbolic representation of nature. This means that a simple Ikebana work using just one flower can represent the whole universe.

“Puppy” by Jeff Koons is a very popular large work of art. He uses flowers to create a dog in a realistic way. In contrast to that, Ikebana artists try to express something invisible, the essence of nature. The Ikebana works convey something we cannot see but may be able to feel.

Making this small work, I first made holes on dracaena leaves. Then, I inserted thin geranium flowers into the holes. This is another simple way of fixing flowers. The contrast between flat leaves and fine flowers is focus of this work.

Introduction to Ikebana 1

What is Ikebana? In the 16th century Iekenobo Senno defined it as the symbolic representation of nature. Rather than focussing on the outward beauty of each flower, the Ikebana artist is concerned with the essence of the flower. Ikebana artists try to express the idea of nature in their works. Even a small work can represent a microcosm of the universe. In that sense, Ikebana is a symbolic art rather than just a nicely arranged bunch of flowers.

In this work I used a trivet which is made of the words “Very Hot”. I placed the trivet on top of another pale, then I inserted pine needles, Japonica, and sasanqua camellias. Because of striking red colour of the trivet, this work has a real feeling of celebration. It’s a simple New Year arrangement.

Thursday 16 June 2011

The Ten Virtues of Ikebana 1

I’d like to talk about the ten virtues of Ikebana. Historically many Ikebana artists have been trying to convince people of the worth of Ikebana. The teaching of the ten virtues of Ikebana is a typical example. One of its original forms can be found in a text called Rikka Imayoo Sugata, written in 1688.

The first of these ten principles is No Discrimination. Ikebana made it possible for people of different classes to meet. This was quite unusual in feudal times where there were few opportunities for ordinary people to meet people in the upper class. The upper class in those days were generally high class monks and aristocrats.

I have personally had many enriching relationship with my students and clients. Ikebana creates opportunities to meet more people from all walks of life and develop a stronger social network.

In this work, I used a ball made of thick wire. Placing the ball at the top of the glass container, I can fix spirea and forsythia branches with no difficulty.

Note: The original essay on the ten virtures of Ikebana can be found in Shoso's site,