Sunday, 27 January 2008

Ikebana: my new calling!

I've been looking forward to immersing myself in the sacred art of Ikebana for some time now.

I've heard everything from raving reviews to warnings against the tediousness of the art. Well, not the art form perse, so much as the ceremony that is inevitably intertwined in it.

Ikebana (flower arranging) is an art form that has been practiced in Japan for over 600 years. Though it originally started as a religious ritual (Buddhist offerings to the dead), it has developed over the years to become a form of (modern)art. Fundamentally, ikebana uses flowers as a medium for expressing nature and feelings. Though it was originally practiced by men, ikebana is now considered a more womanly art.

Deciding that a lesson in "womanly art" might be somewhat beneficial to me, I asked to tag along with Miyuki to the New Year's Ikebana class and she was more than happy to take me. Meeting twice a month, this particular group of women study and practice in the Shihoryu style, which incorporates grace with brightness. In all schools, importance is placed on combining the elements three elements are likened to the earth, the sky and man to form a (scalene) triangle.

Not unexpectedly, there was a bit of ceremony involved in the process. Miyuki and I were invited into Yamanaka sensei's washitsu (tatami room) where we were offered zenzai (a sweet red bean desert with mocha) and green tea. We chatted about the weather and about many "womanly" things and finally got down to business, arranging the flowers on newspaper and commencing the key part of the entire process: choosing a container.

While most arrangements are made in low, shallow containers, a great emphasis is more recently placed on the artist’s individual expression. Still, I humbly chose a small clay pot, leaving the enormous teal goblet to the more experienced Miyuki.

For New Years arrangements, pine is traditionally the focal point in the arrangement, but for ours we were given two Kara (Calla lilies), four agisai (hydrangea sprigs), two derufuriniumu (delphinium) sprigs and two large tani wa tari leaves (palm like leaves).

Once the flowers are set out you must first choose the most appealing hydrangea sprig, which will be the pieces largest point of reference. The sprig is then cut to an exact measurement: width (of container) x height x 2.

The sprig is placed on an angle in the center of the khaki (container) on a kenzan (metal oasis). (cut the flowers under water to ensure freshness!)

The next sprig is cut to half the first's length and placed on an angle, leaning back and away.

The third sprig is cut at 3/4 the original's height and is placed to the right of it, also at an enticing (okuyuki) angle .

The final sprig is cut to 1/4 and placed leaning towards the arranger at a sharp (kyakui) angle.

(this is all, by the way, very meditative, despite apparent rigidity)

Next, the Kala's are cut at two varying heights, approximately 2/3 the highest sprig and 1/2. They are places leaning forward, with the highest Kala displaying the largest blossom, and the second one opening towards the arranger. Their position is a bit ambiguous. From what I gather, it is more of an innately known position...

After the flowers come the foliage, which should be artistically arranged to frame and shelter the arrangement. A little twist in the leaves adds character.

Last comes the delphs, which are used as "filler." The arrangement should not look crowded and busy, so much as it should look full and spontaneous. In short, flowers artfully poised as symbolic and
illustrative expressions.

I sat before my finished work of art, smug and satisfied. The arrangement before me was everything I had ever dreamed it to be: elegant, expressive, naturally flowing, and (least of all) an expression of ME.

"Owarimashita," I cried triumphantly and moved aside for all to see.
Sensei pondered my arrangement for some time, gazing upon it respectfully before emitting a much humored "cute."

Cute? Cute!

I guess that is not such a bad thing.

It wasn't, at least, until she asked if she could move some pieces around to their correct position.

"Of course!" I answered, ever eager to learn. But then I watched with growing trepidation as she took one piece after the other until finally the arrangement was striped of its "cuteness" and created whole... and new...


Though perhaps not the protégé that I thought I would be, this doesn't mean the end of my Ikebana career. I foresee great things in the near future in all things symbolically representing man, earth and sky. And if all else fails, I am beginning tea ceremony classes on Saturday with Aki...

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