Sunday, July 22, 2012


Thursday (2nd June( week 9 continued))
Ms Sumide Bizen took the class with the theme of a vertical arrangement. I didn’t get off to a good start. In spite of their reputation the Tokyo subway is not always on time! When I arrived at my station a train was stopped at the opposite platform and an alarm was sounding. I have no idea what caused the problem. I waited for about twelve minutes instead of three. By the time I arrived at class the material I would have chosen was taken and so I decided it would be good discipline for me to do the alternative exercise. A basic slanting nageire (tall vase) arrangement. 

I used a dogwood branch and some long-stemmed roses with variegated petals. I really struggled with this because the stem of the Soe (secondary branch) was very thin and therefore I had to change my fixing technique half way through the process to cross-bars. Also I had to do the reverse (mirror image) of this arrangement because of the way the Shin (principal branch) grew. Sumide sensei said I had done the exercise correctly. The point of correction was that from the left side the cross bar fixture was visible and need to be covered.

In the afternoon I did a vertical arrangement using a reed (Schoenoplectus acutus). I teamed this with one of the roses from the mornings class, that I had not cut short, and a trimmed spray of a fine yellow orchid. Initially I started doing the work using two kenzans with the rose placed separately to the left and leaning it into the shapes I had created at the top of the reeds. This looked too weak so I repositioned the rose in the same kenzan as the reeds but behind them. The consequence, as I realised, and Sumide sensei pointed out, was that the vase was then too big for the arrangement. She did say that I had made a good composition and noted that I had focussed the colour in the upper part of the arrangement.

Here is the work placed in a more suitably sized suiban.

I really loved this arrangement (below) of the same exercise by Mrs Hirayama Kikuyo who was attending this class. Note that she removed the petals from the sunflower at the front and one on the right, which from this angle is just visible.

On Friday (3rd June) I attended a teachers workshop taken by Mr Ishikawa Ryo. The theme was an arrangement using 'seasonal material’. We were encouraged to express ourselves and the season. Well, it was a slightly warm and steamy day and I was perspiring. So I decided to try to make a work that had a cool feeling. I used a ‘Lace cap’ hydrangea and some long stems with small white cup-shaped flowers. (I’m afraid I forgot to ask what they were.) I selected two white-streaked, fluted wide-mouthed glass vessels that I stacked one inside the other. I thought they looked like ice and they allowed me to show the water in the top vessel. I stripped most of the leaves from the hydrangea to give it a light appearance and trimmed the other material to show the lines that curved to the left back of the work.

I arranged all the material in the spaces between the two vessels and did not use fixing devices or wire. Ishikawa sensei looked surprised when I stepped up for the assessment and expressed his surprise that the work was mine. He spoke approvingly of the work and said that it had a Japanese sensibility. I was worried that the two lines at the top of the work were similar length. However, he said it was alright because the lower one goes rather further to the back. He then spoke to the class at some length about Norman Sparnon and recalled the moving eulogy Mr Sparnon delivered at the memorial to Teshigehara Sofu that caused everyone present at the time to weep.

The MYSTERY MATERIAL used on Monday was a very fine pink azalea (see picture above). This is how the unstripped leftover material looked five days later in my apartment this morning. 

In front of the Iemoto's bamboo installation at the Spiral Garden. More next week.
4th June 2004
Week ten: 6th - 12th June
Straight and Curving Lines
On Monday 6th June I attended two more Teachers’ Workshop Classes, taken by Mr Ishikawa Ryu. The theme was using seasonal material, the same as last Friday. My translator, Ms Hoshino Yoko, said the literal translation was ‘Singing the Season’. In the morning I thought I would like to capture a feeling of rain. (The rainy season has arrived 20 days early). I chose two large Japanese banana leaves and some deep pink peonys. Again I used the large right-angled iron vessel. My thought was to ‘shelter’ the peonies under the leaves which, I bent and split make them look wind and rain-torn. I used the reverse side of the lower leaf to create textural contrast.

Ishikawa sensei said the work was good and was surprised that I used the leaves in this way. His correction was to turn the vessel even more to the front and remove some peony leaves I had placed at the right lip to hide a cross-bar.
In the afternoon I selected some Japanese snowball and New Zealand flax. I used an extra large cylinderical vase for this nageire arrangement. This turned out to be an exercise in making a mass. It was made a little difficult because the snowball flowers were on four very straight stems which, I ended up bending into concealed triangles. I struggled with the placement of the flax as initially I had made curving lines that went out of the arrangement to the left back. When I re-inserted these curves back into the mass I felt the result was much better.

At the appraisal Ishikawa sensei, opened a space behind the lower right flax leaf that I had rather too tight against the mass. He also created more space in the centre of the arrangement.  Again he spoke of Norman Sparnon to the class. He said that Mr Sparnon was ‘better (at ikebana) than the Japanese’.
At the Iemoto class, taken by Ms Isono Gaho, on Tuesday 7th the theme was an arrangement using straight and curving lines. In the morning I chose a material with dark leaves, that I was told was related to 'mock orange', and long stemmed roses with pale 
yellow and red striated petals. The leaves on the branch material were small and deep green merging into a maroon. I was instructed that if I wanted to increase the slight curves in this material to 'bend it tenderly' (it is actually quite brittle). I used two triangular vases with openings in the sides. By working very slowly and carefully I managed to put the desired curve into the stems and then judiciously removed some of the leaves from the rose stems. The stem in the right hand vase comes forward passing behind the roses and in front of the other branch on the left side.

The picture above is of the 'corrected' work. At the appraisal Isono sensei said the work looked beautiful however, the straight lines needed to be emphasised further. She removed even more of the leaves on the lower part of the rose stems as well as a third slightly shorter rose I had between the two that remain in the photo'.
In the afternoon I repeated the exercise. I wanted to create a work with more volume and lots of interesting curves. I used bullrush leaves and a striated reed in a large horizontal bamboo shaped ceramic vase. I really worked hard to create a strong flowing mass of curving lines. However, I was not at all happy with the straight lines. Isono sensei commented positively on the dynamic feel of the work I made and said it was a good composition as it was that also showed the water well. However, the straight lines were too weak for it to have achieved the set exercise. (I quite agree.) I'm afraid I hurriedly took this photo' and forgot to take a better one later with my bag out of the frame.

The picture below is a lovely example of this exercise done by Mrs Yamaguchi Kazuko using plumb pink calistaemon and New Zealand flax.

Thusday's classes were the same exercise. The master instructor was Ms Shinozaki Junga in the morning I used kangaroo paw (couldn't resist it) and a yellow St John's wort in an iron vessel.

Shinozaki Sensei said the curving lines have been extended well in the very wide vessel (to the side and front) and I had made a good balance of contrasting the straight lines which were shown clearly. Her point of correction was that I should lower the mass of the kangaroo paw so that it does not dominate the curving lines. (see below).

In the afternoon one of the assistants recommended that I try the exercise using the straight stems of this pompom dahlia. I teamed it with some New Zealand flax in a black ceramic cylinderical vase with a red-coloured bowl shaped top.

Shinozaki sensei said I had done well with this work extending the straight lines strongly to the side and right front. She approved of the tight curving lines in the centre of the work. 
On Friday evening the men's class was taken by Ms Koike Hagika. I decided to work with some exceptionally long reeds making a design of straight lines and repeating a shape. I used a wide-mouthed vase with perforations around the top. The lines have been contrasted with three sunflowers as the accent.

Koike sensei liked the work and noted that I had not placed any material in the opening of the vase. She commented that it is extremely important to be consistent in the handling/placement  of materials so that the design is strong and coherent.

Week eleven: 13th - 19th June
Emphasising Water

The International class was taken by Ms Takagi Suisen. She suggested I make a work to be 'viewed from below' as in an earlier class she had set me the exercise of an arrangement 'viewed from above'. Takagi sensei first showed me the technique of using a single cross-bar fixture using string, that she recommended for use with this type of narrow necked wide bodied vase. I used a fine white flowering material 'Mountain Ash' (that turned out not to be as flexible as I had expected) and she approved of the cascading shape I had created. She then suggested I add some flowers, that I would not have chosen, deep red anthurium lilies.  The photo is after the appraisal. Takagi sensei moved the anthuriums from where I had placed them in a horizontal position in line with the branches to a central vertical position. This created an emphatic contrast that had the effect of lightening the appearance of the work.

On Tuesday in the Iemoto class Ms Seiko Ozawa introduced this weeks theme: Emphasising Water. In the morning I chose a single small arum lily and some very longstemmed Plantain Lily leaves as the reverse side of the leaf produces a beautiful silvery effect under water. After I made the work I realised my original suiban (shallow vessel) was too large so I changed it for the blue one shown below.

At the appraisal Ozawa sensei said the work was a very good composition as it was. However, she pointed out this suiban was a little too small and definitely too dark. She recommended the lighter one below. 

Detail of the leaf in water. In a later discussion Ozawa sensei made the observation that ideally I should have used a smoothly curving dish shaped vessel with no vertical walls to compliment the way the leaf swept down into and across the vessel.
In the afternoon I decided to practice a basic slanting nageire arrangement in this tall ceramic cylinder. The material is loquat and an unusual green flower (a type of ginger, I think).

Ozawa sensei said this was well done and asked whether it was difficult fixing this material. It was, being extremely heavy. She also commented positively on the asymetrical way the leaves at the mouth of the vase were placed. I was interested in the idea of using unusual flowers as a contrast to the main material. 
On Thursday the class was taken by Ms Sumura Eiko. I thought I would use a tall cylinder for the plant material and a suiban with water only. I chose ‘love lies bleeding’ Amaranthus caudatus) and a bell shaped flower (Google has not been helpful and denies it is a Chinese bell flower).

Unfortunatley, in this photo' the space between the two amaranthus stems hanging down toward the water does not show. Sumura sensei was pleased with the cool feeling this work gave. 
In the afternoon my attention was caught by the bleached  edgeworthia and I decided to create a structural work as I had not done so to date. I was pleased to find the material flexible. I have anchored the construction in a glass shell-shaped vase within a glass suiban and used the bell flowers for an accent. 

Sumura sensei liked the sweeping lines I had made and felt I had created a feeling of wind as well as water. I commented to her that I knew the strong stems on the upper right need to be cut off and the strong stem in the centre needed to be closer to the upper curve. I hadn't made these changes as the work was quite precariously balanced. Sumura sensei also said I needed to cut all of the fine ends neatly and bring them all to a point. They were irregular, some torn and others cut.

On Friday 17th I attended a class taken by Mr Kawana Tetsunori. The theme was emphasising water and/or imagining water. There were a number of excellent examples of suggesting water without showing any water at all. Unfortunately I was unable to photograph them so you will have to imagine. Most of these works used long curving or straight lines to suggest the movement of water. After I had chosen a glass bowl Kawana sensei suggested that some of us work in the tatami room and try an installation. This is what I did.

At the appraisal Kawana sensei pointed out that I had not related the work well to the space of the room and there was too much discrepancy between the way I treated the arum lily draped against the pillar behind the vase and the other material all of which was connected to the glass vase. 
In the evening the Men's class was taken by Ms Kosa Nishiyama. I did the exercise again using the same glass vase with another resting in it, but placed obliquely. The material is horse-tail. And the design deliberately simple. I have tried to bring the eye back to the water in the top bowl

I consulted Nishiyama Sensei at this point because I felt satisfied with the work. When I asked she said the work was finished and in response to my question said that the addition of any floral material would badly weaken the design.

Greetings from Christopher in the Chinzan-so garden at the Four Season's Hotel Tokyo. (Following afternoon tea)
18th June 2011
The orange bell shaped flower used on Thursday 16th has been identified as Sandersonia aurantiaca thanks to Mrs Joan Norbury.

Week twelve: 20th - 26th June
Other aspects of Japanese culture: some ikebana and some travel.
This week began with a cultural experience. On Sunday, with friends visiting from Nagoya we attended a Kabuki performance at the National Theatre. It was Kabuki for beginners, being a single act of a much longer work. The performance began with a demonstration of some of the traditional techniques of Kabuki performance. We also had earphones that provided translation and explanation of the action on the stage. Our Nagoya friends had the same thing in Japanese and commented that the Japanese of Kabuki is quite old and not readily understood by them. Presumably like Shakespearian English for us which, coincidently is of the same period. I enjoyed the performance enormously. The action frequently had a dance quality and reminded me of some of the pantomime that occurs in classical ballet.

Monday 20th June. 
On the previous Saturday (18th June) Joe Gayton, an Australian friend, took us across Tokyo Bay to the Chiba Hanto (peninsular) to the south-east of Tokyo, to look at the recently laid foundation of his beach house. It was really lovely to walk on a sandy beach again and see the familiar sight of people in wet-suits on surfboards. 

The outing was also an opportunity for one of my favourite activities, scavenging material from the roadside to be used to make ikebana. So, at the International class on Monday 20th, taken by Ms Fukushima Koka, I created a structure of lichen covered branch material that I had collected on the previous Saturday. It was my first opportunity to use woody branch material. Because I didn’t have a saw I had to break the branch into short lengths so that I could carry it on the subway. I chose to leave the ends of the branch showing the torn fibers, as it went well with the surface texture of the bark. This material made a framework for a freestyle work using three flowers and leaves of strelitzia in a cylindrical ceramic vase. The design of the branch material was simple. I joined the two straight, thick pieces with a single screw so that it would hinge with one end to be secured in the top of the vase. It also meant I could again carry it on the subway. Fukushima sensei said that it was a good idea to bring the third, slightly finer, branching piece forward in the design. She also said I must make sure that the framework was stable.
Below is the completed work.

Joe, who works for the Victorian Government Department of Business and Innovation in Tokyo, had invited me to be the guest speaker at a function that took place that night at the Westin Hotel. There were two agendas. Firstly I spoke about how I became interested in Ikebana and my time spent studying in Tokyo as the recipient of the Norman and Mary Sparnon Endowment Scholarship. This was followed by agenda two, the tasting of Victorian wines. I gave a brief demonstration of a basic upright moribana work and the freestyle above.

Below is the Omukaebana, ‘welcoming flowers’ I had arranged before the function began. I used another branch from Chiba, five monstera leaves, smoke bush and oriental lilies, in a large ceramic cylindrical vase.

The basic upright (below, left) is of red Japanese maple and two large pink peonies. This turned out to be an unexpected challenge. I had ordered the materials from the florist a couple of weeks earlier and was expecting three branches about 1.5 metres. They sent two ‘branches’ that would be considered medium sized trees in Australia! Much closer to 3 metres. ‘Stems’ a good 8 centimetres thick and I only had my hasami (flower scissors), no saw. An interesting lesson in being prepared! 

On Tuesday I attended two Iemoto classes taken by Mr Nakamura Sozan. The theme was a horizontal composition. I chose some branches of oak leaf hydrangea, some stems of delphinium and a lovely blue round-bodied vase.

As you can see something got ‘lost in translation’ and I did a vertical arrangement. A bit of an embarrassment. In his appraisal Nakamura sensei noted that this was indeed a vertical composition and also an example of emphasising lines at the base. However, I learnt a couple of useful things. Firstly, this type of narrow-mouthed wide-bodied vase is called a tsubo in Japanese, and the ideal fixture is the single ‘cross-bar’ I used on Monday last week. Secondly, Nakamura sensei advised that teachers should note, when students are first practicing the ‘vertical arrangement’ exercise, they must use a suiban or other low flat vessel

In the afternoon I did the exercise as set for the day, using the same hydrangea and three dark red dahlia’s.
In his appraisal Nakamura sensei said the finished work was a correct example of the horizontal arrangement, he actually said it was ‘perfect’ (blush). He approved of the placement of the dahlias, especially that the one on the right (slightly collapsed in this photo’) facing the same direction as the extended lines of the hydrangea. He knew it was my final class and kindly wished me well, and to continue teaching when I returned home. To my embarrassment the class applauded. This was the conclusion of my fifty-fifth and final class as the recipient of the Norman and Mary Sparnon Endowment Scholarship.
On Wednesday 22nd we headed north on the Shinkansen to Aomori with the goal of going to the Museum dedicated to the works of the wood-block artist Munakata Shiko. Because we arrived in the late afternoon we had a short wander around the streets near our hotel and came across this building. It had caught our attention because of its' interesting curtain like  facade made of vertical strips of red painted metal that here and there were twisted to create openings. 

It turned out to be a museum for the Nebuta Festival held in August each year. Large floats of 3D internally lit paper sculptures are carried through the streets by teams of local volunteers to the accompaniment of taiko drums, flutes and cymbals. 

After leaving the museum we went for a stroll along the waterfront. In the distance we could hear the rhythm of drums, cymbals and flutes. Among the ware-houses we came across some community groups practising for the Nebuta Festival. The taiko drummers were particularly amazing as after a period a ‘fresh’ drummer would take over a drum without loosing the rhythm of he person they were replacing. 

On Thursday we caught a bus that took us to the Munukata Museum where we saw some of Munakata’s personal art collection as well as work by him. I was surprised to see very large images, about 2 meters wide, made up of small sheets of paper that formed the larger design.This was a really lovely exhibition and we were treated to more of his work at the local Aomori Prefectural Art Gallery. The big surprise here was coming into a vast ‘white cube’ gallery 19 meters high hung with three theatre backdrops painted by Marc Chagall. How did these things get to the remote north of Honshu? The unexpected encounter is so often such a delight. As were these wild flowers. Which look like orange dandelions.

This looks for all the world like a hydrangea.

But has a stem like ivy, 

and climbs like this.
Japan has more than double the rainfall of Victoria and the summer is humid with a rainy season in June/July. The lushness of the summer growth in these warm wet conditions is quite staggering. Plant life seem to be growing before your eyes in a great rush after the harsh winter. Hydrangeas make sense in this climate and it seems remarkable that anyone can grow them in Melbourne, with our hot dry summer. 

The weather has caused a change in our plans. Because of unprecedented rains on the west coast we are having to stay a night in Akita. I'll tell you more of our journey next week.

Greetings from Christopher in Akita
24th June 2011
Week thirteen: 27th - 29th June

As I commented at the end of last weeks journal entry we spent an unplanned night at Akita on Friday 24th June. The exceptional rains stopped the trains so we travelled back to Tokyo on Saturday for one night and then continued on to Kanazawa as planned, for Sunday and Monday nights. The weather on the west coast continued to be wet, however we still managed to walk around the famed garden of Kenrokuen on an overcast and sometimes drizzling day. Some other sights in Kanazawa included: Hydrangeas spilling over garden walls.

Koi swimming in the river.

Young people trying on traditional costumes in the 'old quarter'.

Scenes from the train on the way back to Tokyo, for one last night.

Departure day, in the doorway to the living room. With the packing done.

This journal entry marks the end of my time in Japan as the recipient of the Norman and Mary Sparnon Endowment Scholarship. I would like to honour the memory of Mr Sparnon, whom I never met, and express my appreciation for the assistance provided to me by Barry de Crummere the Trustee of the bequest. I also acknowledge the support and encouragement  of my partner Laurence O'Keefe. Thank you, dear reader, for accompanying me on this journey, it has been great fun and enormously enriching.

Farewell Tokyo 

Christopher James (29th June 2011)

Below is a home-coming ikebana I made for the entrance of our house on the 2nd July 2011.
The material is Bushy Yate (Eucalyptus lehmannii), from our garden, in a vase of Tehshigahara Hiroshi's design but decorated with a wax resist surface design by the Iemoto Teshigahara Akane.