Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ikebana International

Ikebana International is a nonprofit group that’s aim is to stimulate and cultivate the continuous study and spread of Ikebana; to develop a better understanding of the Japanese people and likewise a better understanding between all nationalities; to strengthen the friendship between Masters, teachers and students; to stimulate international friendship and spread goodwill throughout the world.


From the Ikebana International website IKEBANA is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It is more than simply putting flowers in a container. It is a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is a living thing where nature and humanity are brought together. It is steeped in the philosophy of developing a closeness with nature.

As is true of all other arts, IKEBANA is creative expression within certain rules of construction. Its materials are living branches, leaves, grasses, and blossoms. Its heart is the beauty resulting from color combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines, and the meaning latent in the total form of the arrangement. IKEBANA is, therefore, much more than mere floral decoration.”

For more information on this beautiful art form go to:


When a spouse moves to the base here, there is an opportunity to join Ikebana International – they have monthly programs that offer you a chance to get out and experience the culture. Or, if you know someone who is a member, you can attend a monthly program as a guest. This is how I was able to attend the fabulous program offered last week – my friend Kathy asked if I would like to join her and of course I said absolutely! We arrived at the Kita-Kamakura train station and I was surprised to find when I got off the train that this was a tiny stop, in vast contrast to the stations in Tokyo. Back in the states we might call this a one traffic light town (I’m not sure they even had that) – the areas I saw were absolutely charming and there was no doubt as I walked towards the Temple that I was in Japan. We had to walk (imagine that!) up a slight incline to the temple grounds where the program was being held. It was another beautiful Fall day and we headed off – passing lovely traditional Japanese homes with beautiful well manicured gardens and small restaurants with their tempting dishes on display.


Kita-Kamakura is the home to the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan, Kencho-ji, and it is the first-ranked of the five great Zen temples of Kamakura. Work on the temple was completed in the fifth year of the Kencho Era (1253), from which the temple takes it’s name. The grounds of Kencho-ji house 10 sub-temples and 10 main buildings. These areas were restored after fires destroyed the buildings in the 14th and 15th centuries. The program was held in the Hojo (main hall) and it is often called the Ryuo-den (Dragon King Hall). The building was first used as the chief priest’s residence, but it is now used in the performance of religious services.

Kadou Honnoji

There are many different schools of Ikebana. Here on base, there are two different styles of classes offered at the community center where you can work with a master sensi (teacher) who has been trained and received certification in their respective schools. The Ikebana demonstration at the Kencho-ji was being performed by Tenshin Nakano – and when I say performed, I mean it - he stretched out his arms holding various organic pieces clipping away like Edward Scissorshand, until he had achieved the shape in mind or he used his clippers to score horizontal lines on the branches and then pressed them to his head until the form was reached and we could hear the branches cracking as he worked to achieve the arc of the branch he was seeking. He also used his metal clippers to sound out a beat while he was mulling over a piece before placing it in the container - reminding me of the chefs at the Japanese hibachi restaurants who perform with their knives. It was like no flower arranging demonstration I'd ever witnessed and Mr. Tenshin Nakano was the most theatrical flower arranger I’ve ever seen! He is from Kyoto and is the son and grandson of famous flower masters of the Kadou Honnoji School of Ikebana. There had to be absolute silence and no photos while he created the five different arrangements. After all 5 arrangements were completed he opened up the floor to questions and from that I scribbled down notes as quickly as I could – he was asked "what does he think of while he is creating his work?" and his response was as follows (now, this was through a translator so if I’ve lost something in translation I apologize to the artist):

The first arrangement he thought of a Dragon and he used rikka, which is the oldest style of Ikebana.

The second arrangement, he was thinking of the branch of heaven (highest branch), the branch of man (middle), finally the branch of Earth (lowest).

The third arrangement was about opposites – bringing the green line over the black surface.

The fourth was about how everything is inter-connected, we are all dependent on each other and cannot stand alone.

The final piece was in a transparent (glass/crystal) vase and so he said that because you can see through the vase you have to put something in it – in this case, a lot of leaves and to counter that he only used a single branch. A root was twirled and placed over the side – Tenshin Nakano said that this style of Ikebana always contains an old root.

With more visual treats swimming in my head the group moved to the second floor of an adjoining building where we sat on tatami mats and ate at the traditional low tables. We had a bento box lunch which was delicious.

I found the program to be very entertaining and I certainly learned a lot – I was inspired by the art form of Ikebana and the setting was lovely. As luck would have it, one of my neighbors had already asked if I would be interested in joining her Ikebana group that meets once a month. Her sensi teaches the traditional school, Ikenobo, and with that in mind I left Kita-Kamakura in high spirits, knowing that very soon I would be beginning a new creative journey - learning the traditional Japanese art form of Ikebana. Till next time, sayonara.

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