Melbourne Ikebana Festival, 7 and 8 September

Sunday 16 December 2012

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Toyota Sculpture Exhibition 2012: Column by Shoso

Shoso's Ikebana sculpture was again selected for this renowned contemporary art exhibition. 

Thank you all volunteers and Shoso's students who helped to make this 9m tall work. We also thank Red Cloud Bamboo for providing bamboo branches.  

When: 27 November 2012 to March 2013
Where: Toyota Australia, 155 Bertie Street, Port Melbourne

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Ikebana Today 6

In a previous issue, I proposed that one reason for the declining popularity of Ikebana could be that its history as an artistic hobby is not compatible with capitalism. In short, you cannot make money with Ikebana. 

Some people might say, “What’s wrong with that?” Others may say, “Why can't we change Ikebana?” Rather than getting into an argument about such issues, I would like to focus more on what Ikebana is today.    

Normally Ikebana artists gain some income from teaching and creating displays. Teaching is usually the main source of income, but there are few teachers, especially outside of Japan, who can make a living from teaching Ikebana. 

There are not enough students who keep studying for a long period of time. Very few students study Ikebana long enough to become aware of its spiritual aspect. Tuition fees are much cheaper here than in Japan but some students are still not happy. After all, Ikebana cannot promise any financial reward in the future, which makes Ikebana less attractive for some students.

There is another negative factor in teaching Ikebana outside Japan, which I mentioned last time. In Japan learning Ikebana used to be a status symbol to show your financial and personal status. 

In many societies, including Japan today, money is valued more than personal growth or spirituality. In these circumstances, it is hard for Ikebana to be popular, even if you promote it as a way of self-cultivation. We have to realize that the declining popularity of Ikebana is related to the global trend of secularisation.    

I made this hanging arrangement for CRYOSAUNA in Richmond. I recycled kiwi vine which was garden waste. The whole arrangement is attached to a nail on the wall using florist wire. This is a slightly abstract Christmas display full of the spirit of Ikebana.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Saturday 3 November 2012

Ikebana Today 5

In my discussion of the second characteristic of Ikebana, I pointed out the reason why Ikebana does not fit in well with capitalism is probably because it is essentially a hobby. It is not training to enhance a career, but a graceful way of spending money. In short, if you want to earn money, learn Western flower arranging, and if you want to spend money happily, learn Ikebana. 

Let’s look at Ikebana from the historical point of view. Ikebana started as a Tatebana (standing flower) style in the Muromachi period (1336-1573). It developed into the grander Rikka style early in the Edo period (1603-1867). During the mid to late Edo period, a simplified Seika style with the heaven-earth-person design principle became very popular. Development of the Seika style was significant in Ikebana history. With the stabilization of society in the Edo period, a wealthy social class emerged and they started to enjoy hobbies. The simplified Ikebana, Seika, was the perfect choice for them to learn. 

But that does not fully explain why Ikebana became suddenly so popular in Japanese society at that time. An important factor was the Japanese respect for spirituality. There was a strong demand for activities that satisfied spiritual needs. Ikebana was seen as a spiritual training that brought personal growth. 

What we need to understand here is that people with money or power were not automatically respected in Japan. What really mattered was their spirituality. This fact is often overlooked as a key aspect to understand Japanese traditional culture and its history.

Why did so many samurai lords take up tea ceremony during civil war period (1467-1573)? Because regardless of your power you were not respected if you didn't know the spiritual art of tea. This is evidence that even during war periods, Japanese people valued culture and spirituality more than economic power. We used to have quite an honorable culture.

Back to Ikebana, Ikebana became very popular not only because of the newly developed simplified style but also because there was a culture that valued spirituality.

This is a work I made for Hanabishi restaurant. If you would like to have my work for your business, please contact me. And another advertisement: my work was selected for the 2012 Toyota sculpture exhibition. Please go and see it.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Ikebana Today 4

I have said previously that at first glance Ikebana does not seem to be a competitive discipline. Competition in Ikebana tends to occur in informal ways, which some may find hard to deal with.

Another characteristic I would like to focus on now is the fact that Ikebana is not compatible with today’s business world. This may be a factor in the decline in the popularity of Ikebana.

If you finish a course in the Western floristry, you can use that qualification to work for a florist or to start your own business. However, there are very few opportunities for those who have completed an Ikebana course. Ikebana is not interested in the needs of the market. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I just want to clarify what Ikebana is.

To better understand this aspect of Ikebana, we need to look into the historical development of Japanese art. There are two main streams in Japanese art forms: misemono (show) and yugei (hobby art). 

The former includes dance and kabuki. Professionals perform to meet the clients’ needs. This form of show business is very popular all over the world today. 

The second stream may be a bit harder to understand because it has some uniquely Japanese aspects. Basically it is a hobby for wealthy amateurs. It requires hard training to achieve a certain level of art, which may not necessarily be appreciated by the public. It is often regarded as a kind of spiritual training and has developed under the iemoto system. 

The interesting thing is its unique financial system. In the next issue, I’ll discuss the financial aspect of Ikebana that is based on the same system as yugei, and how this feature of Ikebana is the major factor that makes it hard for Ikebana to adjust to the contemporary capitalistic world.   

These are table arrangements I made for Ms Renouf. This is a Western arrangement using Ikebana principles. My clients often request flowers that I have never thought to use for my own works. That is a challenging and interesting aspect of making commercial works. I used oasis to fix red earthy colored roses and wax flowers. 

Saturday 8 September 2012

Ikebana Today 3

Let’s consider the significance of the first online Ikebana competition, Ikebana Gallery Australia Award.

As I mentioned before, competition is generally avoided in Ikebana. As a result it is hard for talented young artists to be noticed. On the other hand, talented young artists get fame and success in the Western flower, which will inevitably attract more young learners.  My concern is that this could make Ikebana less popular. Any organizations that operate without competition tend to decline.

This award is a small attempt to bring some competition into Ikebana. Some may argue that this is a small example of cultural change.

The award is getting more attention than expected. The reasons may be: 1) it brought competition to Ikebana, 2) any Ikebana student in the world can participate for free, 3) the winner receives prize money and certificate, and 4) the judges are remarkable. 

Importantly, the winner could add this award to his or her CV. Until now there has been hardly any such opportunity for Ikebana students. 

To make this award prestigious, we made the selection process very precise. With help from Dr Osamu Inoue, an Ikebana researcher from Kyoto University, our committee selected five finalists. Then we passed them to our judges. 

Ideally the judges should be those who can see Ikebana from the wider art context. Fortunately all of our four judges are just perfect: Mr Ken Smith from the Design Art and Architecture Department, Monash University, Ms Susan Renouf from the Fashion Department, RMIT University, Ms Lesley Kehoe from Lesley Kehoe Galleries and Ms Hiroe Swein, former ceramic lecturer of Australian National University. These judges alone make this award international.

The Ikebana students who participate are so lucky to receive comments from these highly regarded specialists! Normally you have to spend a lot of money and attend international flower shows to have such an opportunity.  
Please encourage anyone studying Ikebana to submit their works to Ikebana Galley.

This is a work I made for my wife’s birthday party. Her choice was pink lilies for main flowers. It kept standing throughout our busy party. I made a framework using branches and inserted the flower materials in it.

Sunday 2 September 2012

Ikebana Students' Exhibition 2012

Shoso Shimbo and his students will present an exhibition of Sogetsu Ikebana. 
When: 22 - 28 September 2012 (Exhibition opens at noon 22 September)
Where: Kings Arcade, 974-978 High St, Armadale, Melbourne

Please circulate this information to your friends and family. There will be a post about this exhibition in both Shoso's blog and facebook soon. Both have a function to share the information. 

Following is the You Tube video of our last exhibition. 

Sunday 19 August 2012

Message for Advanced Students

Several students in Shoso Shimbo's class are about to start our professional teaching diploma course after completing the Sogetsu certificate courses. The diploma course designed by Shoso is a demanding course that requires much more preparation, practice and your own research. 

Prior to commencing the course, just consider whether you are willing to live the rest of your life with flowers. Becoming a qualified Ikebana teacher is a lifetime commitment, although you may have to take a break sometimes in your life. It is a wonderful journey. MIllions of Japanese people bear witness to the fact that Ikebana is the best meditation to enhance their life. 

However, if you are not sure about the significance of flowers in your life, you may consider taking a break and enjoy flowers in your own way. You may also continue to study Ikebana without taking on the teaching diploma course. In considering the issues of Ikebana today this blog would be helpful.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Ikebana Today 2

In the last issue, I started to talk about some issues that Ikebana faces today, focusing first on why the number of Ikebana students is declining. One of the characteristics of Ikebana is that it does not like competition. 

Competition does exist. If you compete too obviously in Ikebana, however, you cannot fit in to the traditional Iemoto system, which is not based on competence. This point alone could lead to a deep discussion about the nature of Japanese traditional systems of leadership.

On the other hand, Western flower arrangement is a very competitive field. There are so many competitions. If you are talented, regardless of your age, you can win a competition and gain opportunities to get attention and enhance your career. 

There are many Japanese floral designers who work internationally. They are an inspiration for younger generations.However, there are very few Ikebana artists who work internationally. Even when they do work overseas, they often depend on the local Ikebana members for assistance. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But the point is that Ikebana does not adapt to fit into other cultures easily. 

Preserving the traditional nature of Ikebana may be important. However, I think that the internationalization of Ikebana is also a worthwhile endeavor.

In order to encourage Ikebana students in Australia and around the world, I set up Ikebana Galley Australia Award. Any Ikebana students anywhere in the world can take part in the competition for free. This project is a small example of cultural change. I’ll talk about this award more next time. See this link for more details.
I made this work for the reception area of a Japanese company in Melbourne. The yellow cymbidium orchids brighten up the whole space. I used a down stick to fix the branches of Japonica. I’ll talk about this traditional fixing method in another issue.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Ikebana Today 1

Ikebana faces many problems today. One of them is that its popularity is declining, particularly in Japan. In light of the growing popularity of Western flower arrangement in Japan, there must be something we need to address.
Let me focus the difference between Ikebana and Western flower arrangement first. This comparison may reveal some deeper aspects of Japanese culture and society.  
First, generally there is not much obvious competition in Ikebana. Historically there used to be a semi official competition among many Ikebana schools after the war. But it did not last long because the Sogetsu school, one of the largest Ikebana school decided not to participate in it after the first competition.
Learning Ikebana means to join one of thousands of Ikebana schools, each of which has Iemoto, a head master. The hierarchy of Ikebana school with Iemoto at the top is not based on competence nor on popularity. Competition may be a rather risky concept for the Iemoto system.
On the contrary, there are so many competitions for Western florists. What does this difference lead to? Let’s thinks about that in the next issue.

Monday 28 May 2012

Shoso at the National Gallery Victoria

Shoso created a large Ikebana work, Flower Torii Gate for the Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere Project, a part of the the Next Wave Art Festival.
When: 17 to 27 May 2012
Where: The NGV Studio, Flinders St, Federation Square, Melbourne City

Message from the artist who is in charge of the project

Hi Shoso,

I would like to take this opportunity to issue a warm thanks on behalf of Abdul, Casey and myself for being part of The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere with us. It's been an absolute pleasure to showcase your talents and you've been so gracious with your time and company. The flower gate and you're demonstration pieces really add an invaluable dimension to the work and we couldn't imagine the space without them.

 I hope you were happy with the demonstration yesterday, as we felt that the whole day was a complete success across a broad range of demographics. We wanted to make sure you knew how much we appreciated your contributions to the project and do hope you come to visit the project this Friday at the closing ceremony if you are free.

Many thanks and kind regards,


Monday 21 May 2012

Corporate Dinner at Crown

Shoso created special displays and centrepieces for a cooperate dinner show.  We have received very positive feedback from the client. Thank you many assistants for your help.

"The arrangements looked absolutely spectacular and the client was delighted with all of your amazing work. Thank you again, it was a pleasure working with you and I look forward to doing so again."

"Thank you very much for the wonderful arrangements you created for the Sakura dinner. The night was a wonderful success, and our client and Japanese delegates were really very impressed. Everything came together really, and we are very appreciative of the hard work."

Thursday 10 May 2012

Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2012

In the wake of stressful experiences, people often reassess what is important in their lives. Every year in November, the monks at the Kiyomizu Temple in Japan choose a character that best sums up the year. Last year, it was the character Kizuna, which means “relationships”.

In 2011 Japan suffered a devastating tsunami and nuclear disaster and for many people it was their community and relationships that helped them get through the most difficult times. The same can be said for flood and fire ravaged communities in Australia, and in any place where disaster has uprooted lives.
In Ikebana the relationship between people and environments has long been a central issue. 

In this work, I explored the idea of relationship. There are several independent abstract forms, large balls made of plants and flowers, but it is the relationship between the elements that brings both tension and harmony to the work. This work Kizuna is also a metaphor for love.

Sunday 6 May 2012

The Ten Virtues of Ikebana 10b

As I mentioned last time, three of the Ten Virtues of Ikebana are concerned with the goals of Ikebana training. Basically, through Ikebana you are able to maintain a peaceful mind, to be elegant and to get in touch with your spiritual side. 
It is interesting that these are all spiritual goals in essence. Compared with many popular self-development books or commercial spiritual movements, Ikebana is aiming at something far more spiritual. Ikebana is just like a form of pure meditation.
Some may consider knowing Ikebana to be something very special, but it simply means they know a bit about meditation. There is nothing to be so special about it.
Ikebana has nothing to do with secular values such as money or power. However, I don’t deny that I do Ikebana as a business. I see business opportunities as opportunities to practice Ikebana, my spiritual training.
I’ll talk more about different aspects of Ikebana from the next issue. Hope you will enjoy it.
I made this work for the entrance in our house using left over materials. To fix the bird nest fern leaf, I attached a short branch to the base of it.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Weekly Display

My Monday morning is a time for meditation. I have been doing weekly flower for Hanabishi restaurant in Melbourne for over 10 years. This is the best way for me to start a week.

Friday 9 March 2012

Special Bouquets

I made these special hand tied bouquets for an international conference for women's health and welfare. Their request was to create very special bouquets using Australian native plants for their very special presenters.

I chose lime roses for main flowers. To enhance their mysterious colour, I had to use my usual Ikebana approach. Rather than showing what humans can do to nature I tried to show what nature can be.

I knew that just beautiful is not enough. In the end I was able to create one of the most interesting bouquets I have ever made.

Following is feedback from my client.

"I have just got home from the conference now and wanted to thank you so much for the most beautiful flower arrangement and bouquets.  Absolutely stunning!  

Reuben has taken lots of photos of your masterpiece on stage and will send through to you shortly.  They were an absolute beautiful and you had everyone talking about your arrangements.  A very big hit! 

I met one of your students who recognised your work, she was thrilled with the display.  

Thanks again Shoso, excellent work.  I will definitely be in touch again soon and Reuben will send through photo's etc."

Wednesday 29 February 2012

Monday 6 February 2012

Ikebana for Special Event

I created an Ikebana work for a graduation ceremony at a TAFE college in Melbourne.

”Our graduation night was very successful, 120 guest enjoyed your flower.
Also holmesglen staff love your bouquet.”

This work was so popular that we used this image for free downloadable calendars for April 2012. Visit Shop page in Shoso's site.

Thursday 2 February 2012

The Ten Virtues of Ikebana 9

The ninth of the Ten Virtues of Ikebana is to be elegant all the time. This is about the highest state of mind that Ikebana practitioners can attain and it has a spiritual aspect as well. This is the state where a person can become one with nature. Is this state related to Buddhism, or is it Shinto?

In the development of Ikebana since the Muromachi period, Buddhist monks, in particular, Ikenobo monks have played a very important role. Aa a result, it is often pointed out that there is a close relationship between Buddhism and Ikebana. Some people associate Ikebana with Zen, but Ikenobo does not belong to Zen Buddhism but to the Tendai sect of Buddhism. 

It seems a bit confusing when it comes to the philosophical aspects of Ikebana. Actually there are so many aspects of Ikebana culture that have not been adequately investigated academically. 

To become one with nature seems to be the essence of Shinto. However, the Shinto scholar Takeshi Mitsuhashi argues that the Buddhist enlightenment is freedom from any attachments and that is the same as Makoto in Shinto. The goal of both religions seems to be the same. There may be many ways to achieve spiritual enlightenment, but there is only one goal. That seems to be the Japanese way.

I made this work for Lesley Kehoe Galleries. The form of the container helped fix the materials. As an international gallery, this gallery always shows wonderful contemporary Japanese art works but the gallery itself has a great atmosphere. 

We started an Ikebana competition for Ikebana students to further promote Ikebana in Australia. We are pleased that Ms Kehoe has become one of the judges. I’ll talk more about the competition near future. See the below for the details,

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Tuesday 3 January 2012

The Ten Virtues of Ikebana 8

The eighth of the ten virtues of Ikebana is a peaceful mind. Through practicing Ikebana, you can maintain a peaceful mind and consequently you can live longer.

Great people tend to be calm whatever happens in their lives. On the contrary small people get upset easily over small things. 

Also, as was pointed out by Inazo Nitobe in “Bushodo: The Soul of Japan”, calmness is the other side of braveness. 

With respect to this idea of calmness, what we are aiming for as we practice Ikebana is actually an important aspect of Bushido. In other words, this virtue makes the claim that  Ikebana is a form of spiritual training. 

This is a common assumption in the Japanese tradition, that art is a kind of spiritual training.

While in general art focuses on humanity rather than nature in the West, it is united with nature in Japan. In Ikebana particularly artistic beauty is achieved by expressing the essence of natural life. To be able to express beauty in artwork, artists have to achieve personal development through spiritual training. That seems to be a common view. 

The difficult thing is how to teach the spiritual aspect of Ikebana, in particular to people with non-Japanese cultural backgrounds.

Unfortunately one of the modern Ikebana movements in 1930’s moved away from the spiritual aspect of Ikebana. Many of the Ikebana schools that expanded overseas after the world war two have been influenced by that movement. I may have a chance to talk about this significant cultural change sometime in the future.

This month’s work is a New Year’s arrangement I made for Koko restaurant, Crown in 2009. I used bricks inside the container to fix bamboo.