My First Ikebana Experience

Since moving to Japan I’ve been fascinated by everything. I mean everything. The food, the history, the culture, the language… you name it and I’ve mused upon it. In particular, there’s a concept here in Japan known as wabi sabi; the belief that the beauty of something is found in its imperfections and transcience. The idea that something is more beautiful because that beauty will fade. It’s accepting of the effects of time, celebratory even of the natural cycle of life; growth, decay, death. It’s pure, modest, uncluttered and undeclared. Beauty that is subtle, patient, waiting to be discovered and loved. Beauty that just isn’t appreciated or understood in the West. 

My first ikebana experience happened just last week. After succumbing to my fascination for Japanese culture, I booked a class at Wa Experience Kafu, set in a lovely little machiya in the Higashiyama area of the city. I went along with a friend and upon arrival were delighted to find that we were the only two to have booked the class for that morning and so were treated to a private lesson. Kimiko, the owner, welcomed us and showed us upstairs to a beautiful tatami room, where, set out on the floor next to our own individual ikebana creation stations, there were two sets of stunning, seasonal flowers. Each station was arranged with a suiban (ceramic vase), kenzan (a round metallic item with spikes on which to arrange our flowers) and hasami shears.

After chatting with Kimiko (in wonderful English I might add), we discovered that this charming machiya was in fact her home, as well as the home of Wa Experience Kafu, where she teaches a whole manner of Japanese cultural activities, from creating bento to practicing calligraphy and the way of ikebana. The class cost ¥5000 and included all flowers, 90 minutes of inspired tuition from Kimiko and an introduction to the rich history of this enchanting art form, from its inception in the 7th century to present day styles and everything in between. Excellent value for hundreds of years of history if you ask me…

We were instructed on a style of ikebana called moribana. Moribana is one of the classic expressions of Japanese flower arrangement and the word literally means ‘piled up flowers’. Flowers are arranged to mimic the natural world, with three levels of floral display; the lowest echoing grasses and ground level flowers, the middle representing bushes and the highest representing talls trees and vines. The three groups are arranged on different planes, interspersed with open spaces and never symmetrical (this was hard to get my head around, having been so used western style floral arrangements). Moribana emphasises the natural and fleeting beauty of flowers and will mirror the season in which it’s being crafted, with our spring selection consisting of ume blossom, Asian lillies and chrysanthemum. 

After an hour of deep concentration, a few misplaced stems and some slight tweaking from the expert, I had created my first (master?)piece. And even though my western ways struggled with the wabi sabi concept of ikebana and my finished composition not being the most beautiful, the class was one of the most challenging yet utterly calming experiences I’ve undertaken. Perhaps it was the setting that extinguished my usually fiery competitiveness, or maybe it was the celebration of imperfections in my piece which caused my realisation that all scars that time, weather, and loving use leave behind are to embraced. 

Maybe my western disposition was changed just a little during my first ikebana experience…

One Comment Add yours

  1. Bethy says:

    I’m very much interested in Ikebana!💐

    Liked by 1 person

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