Sunday, July 22, 2012



From my childhood growing up in the coastal countryside of Victoria I have long been a lover of the botanical world that surrounded me. I developed an early and keen interest in gardening and from these beginnings have always enjoyed having fresh flowers in my home. In 1992 I spent four months in Japan during which time I had my first formal lessons in Ikebana. In 2001 I began studying Sogetsu Ikebana with Carlyn Patterson and then Elizabeth Angell.
I became a teacher in 2005 and started giving classes in Geelong at a community centre. In this role have formed a relationship with the artist potter Graeme Wilkie and over the past seven years have organised workshops and collaborative exhibitions of Ikebana and Ceramics with him at his Qdos Gallery in Lorne on the Great Ocean Road. (see
In August 2010 I had the enormous privilege of being awarded the Norman and Mary Sparnon Endowment Scholarship to undertake three months of study at the Sogetsu Headquarters in Tokyo. It is now a week before I am due to fly to Tokyo. Two weeks ago tragedy struck Japan in the form of a huge earthquake and terrible Tsunami in the Tohoku region. Even at this distance, in Australia, we feel a deep sadness for those lives that are lost and those that have been irrevocably changed by the event. So it is with mixed feelings that I approach the time I am to spend in Tokyo.
It is my intention to make a one journal entry each week to share my experiences with you.
24th March 2011
Week one: 4th - 10th April, Sunday

Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo

As I sat down to breakfast the first thing I saw outside the window was on old cherry just beginning to blossom. What a joy. I then spent five hours walking around Tokyo. Day one! After going past the Sogetsu Kaikan I walked on to the north side of Tokyo and came back via the northern end of the palace grounds where I found a lovely craft museum. There was a fantastic retrospective exhibition of glass objects by a single artist as well as things from their permanent collection. The cherry blossoms have just started coming out and look fabulous. It was very cold and overcast so I felt the people sitting under them having their Ohanami parties were showing determination to have fun. The cherry trees outside the national theatre looked particularly beautiful as you can see. 

The Iemoto took the first two classes I attended on Tuesday in which I did freestyle arrangements on this years theme of 'Looking for Encounters'. In the first I used corky elm, spiralling dried strelitzia leaves and two strelitzia flowers to create a slanting arrangement with the elm inverted into a large squat cylindrical vase. In the second arrangement I re-used the elm in a small horizontal vase with two vertical openings. To this I added red willow sweeping forward and across into the elm on the left side. I placed two tall arum lilies in the right side opening with the willow. The Iemoto pointed out that the Arum lilies side by side were too strong for the willow and I should have placed them one behind the other. Sorry no pictures, I forgot to take my camera to the class.
Thursday 7th April, the class was taken by Ms Shinozaki Junga. The theme was 'Tones of the same colour'. In the first I used Arum Lilies and Birds Nest fern, shades of green being the colour, in a black iron vase.

In the second class I re-used the Lily flowers with their yellow columns, acacia and a small yellow orchid in a low black ceramic bowl with cutout sides. The assessment by Shinozaki sensei was it looks attractive 'but I would like to see you do some thing more dynamic, with a strong line'.

Of course the staff are being very attentive and helpful; I especially appreciate the translation assistance. Also the other students are being friendly in the classes. Attending these classes is a wonderful way to spend the day.
Week two: 11th - 17th April
Start at the beginning: Revision of Basic Upright

This exhibition (below) was only up for two days Friday and Saturday 8th and 9th April. It looked really strong with a lot of bare branches, vines and a modest amount of flowering branches. Apparently there were few flowers because it is still quite cold in the Nagano area. 

Sculpture with vine by Ide Biho from Nagano in the ‘Sogetsu Plaza’.
Sculpture with vine, large branches and traditional flower cart by Ide Biho from Nagano in the ‘Sogetsu Plaza’
The material was brought to Tokyo in four trucks. Mrs Ide also produced all of the ceramics used in the exhibition many of which were unglazed clay with a rich brown body. They were really striking and had most inventive forms and were both domestic in scale as well as quite large and sculptural.
At the beginning of each class the tragedy of the earthquake in the Tohoku region has been acknowledged. The Sogetsu Foundation is donating 5% of its fees to disaster relief. We have been encouraged to make ikebana with a smile to raise the spirits of other people as well as our own. There have been many stories of people initially feeling unable to make ikebana at such a time, but now it is recognised that it is an important step for individuals to take toward recovery.

This week I attended the Teachers Workshop classes, Iemoto classes and the Men's Exclusive class. It has been interesting using material that is unfamiliar. On Monday at the Teacher’s workshop taken by the Iemoto,  I used Japanese Winter Hazel and Fasciculated Willow. To my surprise the Winter Hazel was very pliable and the willow was exceptionally fiberous. So, while the willow could be bent it tended to return to its original shape. I think it ended up looking a bit messy as I had to cut it short (picture below).

I recycled the Winter Hazel for this freestyle in the afternoon using a triangular (tetrahedronal) iron vase with birds nest fern as you can see. I was pleased that the small point of the vase on the right showed, as it some how helped to make to leaves look light rather than tightly wrapped around the vase, the Iemoto also approved of this element.

On Tuesday the Iemoto Class was taken by Ms Sumide Bizen. The exercises were basic upright nageire and freestyle of 'colours in contrast'.

The correction for the basic upright by Sumide sensei was that the supporting branch at the rear of the shin should touch the front of the vase and arise in an 'S' curve in such a way that it does not touch the back wall of the vase.

I really enjoyed making this double container arrangement in the afternoon. In particular I wanted to have the blue of the Delphinium partly obscured by the contrasting yellow Dancing Lady Orchid. I also liked the strong line of the newly opening elm which projected forward. (The three dimensionality of this work doesn't show well in the photo'.) I discovered this aspect was enhanced when at the last moment I put a third stem of Delphinium to the rear of the work. Oh, by the way just as we were about to begin the room wobbled slightly for a few seconds with another aftershock and I wondered whether these narrow based vases were a good idea. However, they remained upright as you can see.

For the basic upright (above) I used a beautiful maple with a dusty pink bark, for the shin and soe, and a red gloriosa lily as the hikae. The vessel was a large, ceramic and has the shape of a horizontal piece of bamboo. The comment by Ozawa sensei on this work was that it looked strong and dynamic because it was quite large, even though is was a basic exercise. It was a little difficult arranging the hikae line as the gloriosa flowers face different directions. The Kenzan I used was interesting as it had closely placed pins on one half and more widely spaced ones on the the other side, this turned out to be perfect with these materials. I discovered that the maple was not at all flexible and snapped easily. 

So in the afternoon I recycled the maple in the exercise of using one kind of material. At lunch time I walked around the outside of the 'Akasaka Detached Palace' opposite the Sogetsu building, which took forty minutes. While walking I thought I might try the experiment above, re-useing the maple and trying to make a virtue out of its brittle nature. I deliberately tore the end of the main stem on the right, broke the finer branches and re-inserted them back through the hole in the side of the vase out of which they came. The assessment was that it was a modern interpretation of the exercise. Comparing this to the work from the morning Ozawa Sensei said 'It is not beautiful, but it is beautiful'.
On Friday evening I attended the Men's Exclusive Class taken by Ms Nishiyama Kosa. There was no set exercise as the attendees were at many different levels. To my surprise one young man was doing his first exercise from Book I, Basic Upright moribana. I was impressed at his achievement. I chose to use Horsetail reed which I have only used once before, at the I.I. Convention in 2006, and two stems of amaryllis lilly (below).

The Horsetail has such an interesting surface texture and I wanted to explore its manipulability. I was fascinated to be able to create the interesting bow curve on the hypotenuse of the triangles that I was making. They seemed to compliment the gentle curve in the stem of the amaryllis. Nishiyama sensei commented that I had made an interesting contrast between the vertical movement at the front of the work and the more horizontal movement at the back of the work. Although it probably doesn't show in this picture the tips of the Horsetail had a brownish pink that picked up the pink of the flower. 

Another student, Yoshiya Ohki, had also chosen horsetail and he also created 'repeating shapes' in his arrangement pictured here. I was very impressed with his technique and the up-turned ends of the Horsetail looked great standing free and not connected to the horizontal lines above them. As we often observe in classes, the same material can express such different feelings.

Week three: 18th - 24th April
Tradition: Flowers for a Special Occassion

For those of you who are particularly observant the material I used last Thursday, with the pinkish bark was not cherry but maple. Thank you to Eguchi-san for the correct identification. Also Ishikawa-san told me that the material I used on Monday of last week was Winter Hazel not Witch Hazel, the latter has white flowers.

On the weekend in the Hakone area, in the mountainous region to the west of Tokyo, I saw these dainty Japonica flowers growing on the road verge. They were such beautifully cup shaped flowers.

Yes, it really was the side of the road.
It was a little cool walking along this section of path that followed the route of the Tokaido, the road that used to connect Edo and Kyoto. This picture was between the two lakeside towns of  Hakone Machi and Motohakone. 

Passing through the gardens of Hakone Detached Palace I came across what was obviously one of the prize sites for viewing Mt Fuji, judging by the bare earth at the railing that was facing in that direction. I took this picture of ‘hidden Fuji’. 

I also couldn't resist buying this lovely little Bizen beaker shaped vase as I passed by a pottery in Gora, a small hillside town on the way to Ashinoko Lake (above). It was made by Ishida Kazuya, form Okayama. I added the gloriosa later. Sorry that the picture was taken in rather dim lighting. 

On Tuesday the subject was 'Special Materials and Arrangements for Festive Occasions' in this case Japanese Iris for 'Children's Day'  (formerly called Boy's Day). The class was taken by Ms Sumura Eiko. In the morning I did a freestyle arrangement.

The vase is made of heavy black iron. I found the variegated flax not as stiff as the flax in Australia. This gave it slightly softer curves, that I rather liked. The gloriosa lilies complemented the colours of the flax having a yellow tinge at the base of the petals and in the new growth. I thought the arrangement looked rather celebratory. Sumura sensei observed that I had placed a cross bar too high on the right side and it was visible. (I must have been kneeling when I was placing the right hand flax leaf!)
The second exercise was once again material that was new to me, Japanese Irises. Although in the past I have used 'bearded' irises in this traditional arrangement. I was intrigued that we were given five groups of leaves and two flower stems. The leaves were in groups of three to five and still attached to each other. This meant that they did not necessarily have to be taken apart to be correctly grouped.

The arrangement has a partially opened white flower and a purple/blue bud only just opening. The assessment was that the base was too narrow, as you can see. I have taken copious notes about how to do this traditional arrangement so my students need to start planting Japanese Irises in their gardens.
On Wednesday I went to the Sakura House office to pay the next months rent. The owner/Managing Director of the organisation, Mr Hisaeda, whom I had met at a 'getting to know you' function, a week and a half before, invited me to his office for tea. There he showed me a book of ikebana diagrams his grandmother, born in 1887, had made in the early 1900's. They were quite beautiful pen and ink sketches, on fine translucent paper, of the various studies she had to do. I recognised one as showing the positive and negative aspects of and arrangement of aspidistra leaves, as well as the one shown below. 

This made me think of the Iemoto's theme for this year 'Looking for Encounters'. There are encounters between: ikebana materials, materials vessels and settings, people and ikebana, between people, across cultures and across time. Mr Hisaeda made the observation of the connection between me as I sat in his office and his grandmother whose  book I was holding. What a remarkable net of connections the Norman and Mary Sparnon Endowment  Scholarship has helped to make. 
On Thursday the classes were taken by Mr Nakamura Sozan. He told us there were five special festivals in the year, being: New Year (pine) on the 1st January, Girls day 3rd May (plum blossom), Boys Day (iris) 5th May, Tanabata Festival (bamboo) 7th July and Choyo Festival (chrysanthemum) 9th September. All consecutive uneven numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th).
In the morning I did a freestyle with orangy-pink dogwood. The stems were too even and I was not happy with the balance of my initial work. Ishikawa-san challenged me to do something less obvious as it was looking a bit like a basic exercise (kakei). So I ended up doing a horizontal arrangement in an earthen ware nageire vase with two splits at the top. I know a 'bad workman blames his tools' but I photographed both of todays exercises badly. 

This (above) should have been swung slightly to the left to get more of the horizontal movement.

The same goes for these irises (above). The angle is so bad that I have obscured the blue bud altogether. I also meant to take a side view of this second iris arrangement because it fans out quite a lot both forward and back with a finger wide space at the bases between the five groups of leaves and the two flower stems. I found this an interesting exercise and wish I had access to these materials back in Australia. It is especially hard to get sufficient leaves unless you grow them yourself. 
I had another go at the formal arrangement of irises in the Men's Exclusive class tonight (Friday22nd). Ms Koike Hagika said I had (finally) mastered the materials after my third attempt. 

The side view below shows the spread of the leaves.

The April term has come to a close. Three weeks, sixteen classes. Intense and wonderful. People have been both very kind and friendly. Visiting teachers, staff, students, volunteer interpreters and even strangers have spoken to me while walking in the street and while sitting having coffee at a street cafe.
I intend to post journal entries over the next two weeks but they will include other aspects of Japanese culture as I will be traveling.
Week four: 25th April - 1st May
Travel and Some Snippets of History
This past weeks program has been one of travelling to Kagoshima at the southern end of Kyushu, the southern most of the four main islands of Japan,  via Nagoya and Okyama. On Saturday I first went to Owariashahi City east of Nagoya to stay with friends, the Goto family.  Seen from the shinkansen, I was amazed at the extent of the urban sprawl, which is much greater than I had remembered from my 1992 visit to Japan. Could there really have been so much growth over the past ninteen years? On Sunday morning after a large traditional Japanese breakfast I went for a walk for about half an hour around Tado Jinja, the Shinto shrine above my friends house. The grounds were somewhat rampant rather than a landscaped garden. I was delighted to come across some wild-growing azaleas that were in early bloom. It is fascinating to see these plants growing wild that I have not been able to grow successfully in my rather dry garden.

I also took some pictures at the shrine entrance of maple branches that created a fabulous layering effect overhead. Being so early in spring the leaves were quite fine and looked like just so many green stars.

Later that morning we went off to the Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum. There is a current exhibition of ‘Ceramics of Medieval Japan’. Focussing on the famous Six Old Kilns of Japan. One of these ancient ceramic towns is Seto just a little further east of Owariasahi, so much regarded as the original kiln in Japan that one of the terms for ceramics is are Seto mono, ‘things from Seto’ . The day before Mrs Goto had said that the manufacturing of everyday ceramic ware in Seto has been virtually ruined by the importation of cheaper wares from China. The exhibition was fantastic with many (large) vessels in very good condition including from other museums as well as private collections. Quite a number of the pieces dated from the 12th C. I was surprised that some had a precise year date and Laurie explained it was because they were inscribed with the year date of the then reigning emperor. 
On another walk later that day into the residential area below the Goto’s house and I came across three beautiful pink dogwood trees at their peak on the corner of a road outside a private house.

On Monday at one of the subway stations in Nagoya there were some ikebana works by a local school. I was intrigued by the way this bamboo was cut. It had been sliced on two opposite sides creating a ladder like shape.

Today’s destination is Okayama.  All that remains of the original 15th century Okayama castle is one watch tower. The Keep was restored in the 1960‘s. The original residential buildings of the palace were destroyed in WW II during the bombing raids. On an island in the river opposite the castle is Koraku-en, the palace garden, It is really unusual for the extensive lawn areas (complete with 'Keep Off' signs) most of which had originally been cropped. Other areas were landscaped and the tall growing bamboo at the edges of the garden created a very effective transition to the borrowed scenery of the hills beyond. The first azaleas were just coming out and made quite a blaze of red among the green. 

The garden contained a number of pavilions and tea houses as well as a large beautiful guest house. One of the pavilions had a stream running through it with seating on either side. When writing about the art of caligraphy, Alex Kerr describes a pastime of drinking wine and composing poems he says, ‘...the tradition goes all the way back to Wang Hsi-chih (the Chinese poet) in the fourth century, who would gather his friends at the Orchid Terrace where they floated wine cups down the river while writing poems...’ (Lost Japan p.129). I am sure there is a connection with this pavilion in this garden. 

Leaving the garden by a different bridge I came across a small Bizen ceramic shop absolutely jam packed with beautiful ceramics, from playful chop stick rests to large vases. (I could happily have bought half a dozen but settled on two and am so tempted to go back to buy a particular third but have decided to wait until next week when I have been to Mashiko, a ceramic village made famous in the 20thC by Hamada Shoji.
Tuesday, to Kagoshima. After checking into the hotel we walked to St Francis Xavier park (commemorating his arrival in Kagoshima in 1549) where we caught a bus to Senganen Garden (also known as Iso garden). The garden was created in 1658 by the 19th head of the Shimazu family. They are beautiful traditional Japanese style landscaped gardens notable for their views of Sakurajima as the ‘borrowed scenery’, across the bay. We were fascinated to come across a previously hidden feature of the garden that was discovered only in 1957. It was another poetry composing garden. (Does this sound familiar?). There was a photograph of costumed people re-creating a Poetry Composing Party and the following information.
Participants in the Kyokusui Party (poem writing party) sat along a winding stream. Before a cup of Japanese sake on a piece of board floats down to a participant, he was supposed to make a poem. Then he takes the sake cup and drinks. This style of garden was created  in ancient China and has been a  popular adaption in Japanese gardens. Iso garden is the only one in Japan that still has the original shape of the Kokusui Garden.’ 

I’m not certain whether the sake is a reward or punishment for the poet. We then walked  up a climbing path into a valley to a point that we could see a lovely waterfall that looked as though it was issuing from a hole near the top of a shear rock face. It was so refreshing to walk in the damp dim green of the forest, hear a variety of bird-song and breathe in the cool air, and admire the wisteria growing wild on the opposite side of the steep valley. 

Wednesday 27th April
Today we caught a ferry across to Sakurajima where we went to the visitors centre and watched a film about the volcano. We then went for a walk along the shore through a park area of the 1914 lava flow. 

We played ‘Andy Goldsworthy’. (Environmental Sculptor)
After lunch we caught the bus circuit tour of the ‘island’ (it was actually connected to the mainland in the massive eruption of 1914). The peaks of the volcano looked brooding in the late afternoon thunderstorm.

I was surprised and delighted to see whisps of steam coming from the third smaller cauldera. Naive me. I thought all the dramatic photo’s on the post cards dated from an earlier eruption in 2006.

As we were about to go out to dinner the next day, this was the view from the hotel window. I looked out to see Sakurajima erupting with a huge cloud of ash. We had seen the image on the TV news and assumed it to be old footage. I was able to get a pic in the fading light through the hotel window.

28th Thursday April
We walked to the station via the river’s edge just to the north where we looked at all the historical information signs about the role of Kagoshima at the beginning of the Meiji period and the beginning of modernisation. From the station we got ‘day passes’ and caught the pink bus to the Municipal Museum of Art which has a fine collection of late 19th and early 20th C European art, Sissley, Picasso, Kandinsky to Warhol. There was a room dedicated to works of a local artist Yamaguchi Takeo that I really liked. A few of these were abstract geometric works in oil using a subdued red and yellow that reminded me strongly of the ochre paintings of north west Western Australia.   We then went to the Reimeikan, the city museum. This turned out to have a great display starting with stone age flints etc. and the Jomon ceramics so recently discovered in southern Kyushu that has lead to the view that the islands were populated in that period, 10,000 ago by people coming northward from the pacific.

Week five: 2nd - 8th May
Ceramics, Irises and a little Ikebana

This week again was light in terms of ikebana with only one class being scheduled at the Sogetsu Kaikan. The usual program had been changed earlier in the year in anticipation of the Ikebana International Congress that was subsequently cancelled following the earthquake and tsumami on 11th March.  
On Sunday 1st while still in Nagoya I made an arrangement for Matsuura Keiko at the family altar to commemorate the memory of her mother who had died last year. Her mother had studied Ikenobo and had enjoyed pictures of my work that I had previously sent to friends in Japan. The work was made with dried Yucca leaves that I had picked from a garden plot next to the house of another friend, Suzuki Minoru, on the previous day. I asked him to ask permission from the owners of the garden for me to cut the leaves that I had noticed earlier. It transpired the older of the two women working in the garden had studied ikebana in the past.

I added some brick-red coloured alstroemeria flowers to the dried leaves. The vessel was a hand made round ceramic vase with a green ash glaze on the right hand side.    
Monday 2nd. 
The International class at the Sogetsu Kaikan was very small, with only about a dozen people. For a change I was not the only foreigner, as a young Sydney woman was attending her very first class. She told me she had been in Tokyo for three years teaching at a language school and thought ikebana was an aspect of Japanese culture that she could relate to and had been intending to try for some time. 
Sensei Takagi set me the task of making an arrangement with three themes combined: an arrangement to be viewed from above, not using a kenzan and intertwining of the materials. I selected two materials, a woody branch of Viburnum macrocephalum with small round green flower clusters - otherwise known as Chinese snowball bush (identified by Joan Norbury, thank you), and another material of fine branches with small yellow flowers, the name of which I don't know (but now identified by Joan Norbury as Kerria, thank you). I then chose an oval red-brown suiban as the container. As I began to set the the principal branches I realised that the container was too small. Fortunately there was a matching one available so this made it possible to have a wider base to the arrangement that helped make it stable. After creating the principal structure I did a lot more removing of leaves so that the interweaving of the material would show. Next, I arranged the second material following the line of the first material. I had initially tried placing it in the right hand suiban but it looked much too weak. Being finer the yellow flowering material was much easier to intertwine. Once the basic arrangement was complete I did further pruning to reveal the intertwining lines. 

At the evaluation Sensei Takagi pointed out that I should have created more space between the two stems in the right hand suiban. I think this was especially because I had a 

woody and a fine stem side by side. Otherwise she was satisfied with the work.  I had to place the suibans on a ledge beside the window and then draw the black vertical blinds closed. There is some light leakage around the blinds.
Tuesday to Thursday
The first cultural experience for this week was a two night visit to the pottery town of Mashiko. You may remember from my introductory journal entry that I started collecting ceramics in the early 1970's and this became one of my connections with ikebana. Mashiko is not an ancient ceramic centre but became famous after Hamada Shoji established a pottery here after returning to Japan from the UK in 1923. He was interested in a return to handmade work in reaction against the growing mass production of the modernisation period of the late 19th century. This style became known as Mingei, meaning 'folk art' (according to Wikkipedia the philosophical pillar of mingei is “hand-crafted art of ordinary people”). Hamada was also influenced by and worked with the British potter Bernard Leach who had a similar philosophy as expressed by members of the ‘Arts and Crafts’ movement in Britain. Hamada was later to be designated a Living Intangible Cultural Treasure. 
When we arrived at Mashiko we walked along the main street with a considerable crowd of other people. The narrow, slightly winding street was jammed with cars going into the town. The street was so choked with traffic that we outpaced 
them on foot. 

Our hotel was a 20 minute walk out of the township among rice paddies that were being newly planted with rice.

The hotel seemed deserted of guests when we arrived and the escalators to the first floor were not operating, I assume because of the power saving in this area. However, it filled up in the later afternoon. We walked back into town and started checking out the galleries. I was staggered at the number of stalls, shops and galleries in the street.

My plan was to only look today and buy tomorrow. One gallery that really took our fancy had work by a father and son who were doing high quality ceramics that looked to me like a modern extension of the Hamada ideal. After going a bit further I started to get anxious that some-one else would buy a lovely white-glazed bottle with a black 'brush stroke' design that I had seen so we back-tracked and I bought my first Mashiko piece. We also 
ended up buying four fine mugs that have a bend in the middle and fit really well into the hand. 
Later we came across a climbing kiln that has been in one family for six generations and the work was classic Mingei style. Below is the interior of the gallery/shop.

The son of the family spoke very good English and showed us around the kiln and also a small tea cup by Hamada that he allowed us to hold after he had taken it out of its box. We said we would return the next day as it was getting late and had started to rain. We were lent two umbrellas and were quite exhausted by the time we walked back to the hotel. On the following day we returned and came away with a beautiful bottle with an iron brown glaze and a single turquoise brush stroke decoration.

I was very saddened to see earthquake damage to this other climbing kiln (above), as well as an old gallery/studio we had passed on the road out of town. The floor of the latter was strewn with shattered ceramics. Later, during our return train journey through the countryside to Tokyo, we noticed many house roofs had obviously sustained earthquake damage to the ridge capping and had blue plastic covering them. 
Mashiko also boasts an Indigo dying works that predates the town's fame for its ceramics. The business is still operating out of this beautiful old building.

This picture shows the interior and the small vats in which the dyeing is done.

Back in Tokyo we found the nightly TV news has now returned to a half hour bulletin. Since the earthquake the news had been extended to one hour and often the first forty minutes were about the aftermath of the disaster. It has been rare for me to get through the news without tears welling in my eyes. Stories of sorrow, hope and compassion between people.
Back in Melbourne in March my teacher Elizabeth Angell had recommended a visit to the Nezu Museum and gardens. So that was today's (Friday's) destination. What a great choice. Among other art works the museum is home to a pair of beautiful six fold screens of irises painted on a gold background. These are designated national treasures and were painted in the 18th Century by Ogata Korin. I had wanted to visit the garden while the irises are still in bloom. Thank goodness we went as the screens are only on display for another week. The exhibition will then change to more seasonally appropriate works, as today is the first day of summer according to the old reckoning in Japan. The irises in the garden were at their peak as you can see.

Greetings from Christopher in Tokyo.

Week six: 9th - 15th May
Colour and Lines

On Monday, 9th May, I attended two teacher's work-shops. They were taken by Mr Kuboshima Iccho. At the beginning of the class before we had chosen our materials and vases he spoke to the class. The theme he had chosen was an interesting challenge, it was み⋅ど⋅り (mi⋅do⋅ri). The word for green in Japanese. However,
Kuboshima sensei deliberately put a dot between each of the Hiragana (phonetic symbols). He asked us to think about what writing み⋅ど⋅り in this way means and to consider what is meant by the dots. He deliberately did not provide an answer to this question. He then asked us to think how we would translate this into our ikebana. I think if we did the same thing in English writing, placing dots between the letters of a word, the word is emphasised and it also suggests there is some additional meaning. For example the word could be an acronym with each letter having another referent.
For my first work at this exercise I made this ikebana.

I couldn't resist the waratah and I chose some red willow to go with it in these two black vases. I created loops with the willow and inserted the waratah through them. I left two green leaves 'though only one was visible at a time, depending on the viewing angle. My intentions were to use the red as it is opposite green on the colour wheel and the green leaf then makes a strong contrast.   Kuboshima sensei approved of the strength of the design but said there should only be one leaf and it should be on the left side of the flower. This brought the leaf into the centre of the curving lines. The version above has been corrected after his appraisal. 
In the afternoon I repeated the exercise. This time I thought I would make a design using leaves of birds-nest fern. I coiled four together so that their rippling edges would be the strongest feature of the design with two additional leaves above them following a different open line. I placed a smaller waratah behind the main part of the work. I'm afraid I did not photograph the work in its original state, so you need to imagine how it looked. In his critique Kuboshima sensei said the work was not correct for the exercise because red had become the subject. This was because the way I had placed the flower dominated the green. He said this would be the case even if I placed a single red petal on the water. Like this.

Kuboshima sensei said the correct way to use a red flower would be within the arrangement, as below, so that it is subordinated to the main theme. I must add that he did not see this final re-working of the arrangement. 

On Thursday (12th) the two Iemoto classes were taken by the Master Instructor Isono Gaho. I managed to mis-read my calendar and so chose some flowers for the 'colours in contrast' exercise, some small yellow double sunflowers and two stems of blue lisianthus. After I had started something made me check on the day's theme only to discover that it was 'a design using straight lines'. Fortunately, I had began in a way that was relevant making 'triangles' with the sunflowers and the lisianthus had straight stems. I then tried to put a sharp angle in the lisianthus and it immediately snapped (Uh-oh!). Rapid change of plan required. I did a Morticia (remember The Adams Family on TV?) 

I cut off all the flowers and stripped the leaves from the stems. This is how the final (modified) arrangement looked.

At evaluation Isono sensei said: the design was strong but, the sun flowers were too large, she was worried that they would not draw water because of the way I had bent the stems and the stem on the right was not bent as attractively as the other two.
After lunch I repeated the exercise and chose the more suitable material of Japanese bullrush. I liked the unusual ceramic vase and made supports for the work using cross bars and re-used the sunflowers.

I also liked this work below done by another student,Takako Wada. It was interesting that she used two vases. Unfortunately some of the three dimensionality is lost in the photo'. The lilac from the right side came forward in a beautiful curve.

One of the other attendees in the class was Sato Akiko who reminded me she had attended the 50 Golden Years Celebration in Sydney last year. She did the interesting work below on the theme of 'intertwining materials'

Here is a picture from Miyajima, where among many wonders I saw a beautiful Altissima rose (which I was able to identify thanks to Emily Karanikolopoulos).

Week seven: 16th - 22nd May
Where some flowers come from: Mass and Line, Kabuwake

My sister-in-law and her partner are visiting Japan so we went to Miyajima on the weekend. Quite apart from the long history of this sacred island it was wonderful to be surrounded by green again and to see plants that are exotic in Australia growing wild in their natural environment.

We also spent a night in Hiroshima. I was impressed again to see ikebana by local groups at the railway station. This bad photograph, taken in a hurry, was one of four in glass cases that I noticed.

Monday 16th May 2011

I attended the International Class. For the first time since the earthquake there were more foreigners than Japanese students, about eight out of the twelve or so participants. The International Class does not have a specific theme. So when Ms Sakaguchi Suikei introduced herself to me before the class I took the opportunity to ask her to set an exercise for me. She agreed and said, "...nageire, using one kind of material and a design of mass and line.". I chose Japanese snowball bush and stripped one branch completely because it had an attractive line. This is the material, two bunches, before I had stripped it fully. 

The line, below, is supported by a vertical fixture (down stick) and as it was not really long enough to balance the mass, I have joined a shorter section going to the left. I have placed the thicker end of the stem on the left because I felt it would have looked too weak for the mass if it went to a fine point.  

On Tuesday and Thursday, in the Iemoto classes, the themes were: basic upright nageire reversed and kabuwake (two or more groups in a suiban). 
The Tuesday class was taken by Sumura Eiko. First I did a two-container arrangement (basic slanting nageire reversed and variation four moribana) for the practice and to receive the critique. In the appraisal Sumura sensei observed that the composition was good; however, I had not adequately covered the stems of the shin branch in the suiban of the variation four in the vase at the front. This is a bit hard to see in the photograph below unless you can enlarge it by clicking on the image.

In the afternoon I did a kabuwake. I chose a spray of three banana leaves because I have not used any large leaves in the classes. When I started to prepare the material I was surprised to find the stem was a lovely soft pink with some interesting brown marking. This, I thought, had to be the subject of the work. Initially I used the leaves side on, thinking they should not detract from the pink stem which I had placed upside down. At the appraisal Sumura sensei showed me that I really needed to place the leaf flat on so that its surface made a foil/contrast to the stem. Below is the corrected version of the work.

On Thursday the class was taken by Ms Sumide Bizen. I did two works in the kabuwake style. In the first I used Horsetail reeds and Safflower. I intended to make a strong expressionistic/abstract design so I chose a narrow shallow vase with high sides. This was because I wanted to avoid needing to use material at the base to hide the kenzans, which would allow the upper part of the design to be the focus.

I stripped the leaves from the safflower and tied them together at the top, with the horsetail, which made and interesting ‘cigar’ shape. The safflowers occupied the space between the lines of the two horsetail stems.
In the afternoon I decided I should try to make a kabuwake using three kenzans in a more conventional suiban. I re-used the horsetail and connected the three groups at the top with a knot that made a strong design. Then I got caught up trying to conceal the kenzans. I had chosen some gloriosa lilies, however their colour was too strong so I ended up using a couple that had not really opened fully and were still pale. I also re-used the safflower heads, but cut off the petals as their colour was too strong and distracting. I had become so focussed on concealing the kenzans that the arrangment became heavy as you can see.

At the appraisal Sumide sensei spoke about the balance of the work. She pointed out that I needed to create a space between the groups of material and this was an essential feature of this (Kabuwake) exercise.

I was struck by the lightness and life brought back to the work when I made this correction. One other thing I have learnt is that in doing this exercise it is much easier to cover the kenzans in a more naturalistic design. (While writing this I am imagining ways to make a ‘modern’ style design and address this issue).
Friday the Men's class was taken tonight by Ms Asai Shuei. I asked her to set an exercise for me and told her that I had done a number of kabuwake exercises this week. She suggested extending the kabuwake to focus on emphasising water. So, when we looked at examples in book 3 and 4, I thought it would be an idea to use a glass suiban as I had not done so in Japan. I also thought I would experiment with bracing the material agains the sides of the vessel. A bad idea because the sides were quite slippery and sloped outward.

At the assessment Asai sensei, asked me whether the bracing stems were an integral part of the design. I confessed they were not and she observed that they were distracting from emphasising the surface of the water as you can see. Below is the corrected arrangement. She liked the way I had the material extending sideways even though it was standing upright on its' stems. Also that the left side was lighter than the right making it an asymmetric  design.  The material is a fine pink Statice and Corylopsis Pauicfolia (or Buttercup Winterhazel according to the internet)

Greetings from Tokyo
Sunday 22nd May

Week eight: 23rd - 29th May 
Toward Understanding a Simplified Arrangement

At the International class on Monday the instructor was Ms Fukushima Koka. I decided I would like to make an arrangement extending to the side of the vase. I chose a tightly tied bundle of leafy branches with ovate green leaves the new leaves being white and speckled before turning mid green. I was later told that it is a kind of willow. Some of the tips were faintly pink and this made me think I should try to pair it with some dark red roses (Papa Meilland or Mister Lincoln, wonderful fragrance). When I untied the bundle of branch material it sprang apart to reveal fine curving stems. I used a black vase with a couple of notches in the lip that allowed me to spread the branches then interweave them from the mid point. After I had stripped many of the leaves from the stems I realised I had gone too far and had to rescue the work by putting some small remaining stems at the back to give the other stems more volume. I selected the smallest of the roses and set it close to the vase mouth covering it slightly with some of the leafy material. At the appraisal Fukushima sensei said I had trimmed the material well and that the smaller lines at the back had added depth and volume to the design. She also thought it was a good choice to use only one rose.

Tuesday 24th May
This week the Iemoto class exercise is a simplified arrangement. For many Australian and New Zealand Sogetsu School members this will immediately bring to mind the challenging workshop conducted by Kawana sensei in May 2009. The Tuesday class was taken by Ms Shinozaki Junga. In the morning I chose a philodendron leaf and a large oribe ware bowl. I inserted the leaf upside down to show the veins of the reverse side and added a single red gloriosa lily. I was worried that the veins in this first picture made the work a bit too busy. However, Shinozaki sensei  said not so, and that this worked as an arrangement that could be viewed from all angles.

Shinozaki sensei approved of the work saying I had created a good balance between the volume of the leaf and the mass of the bowl she also admired the space beside the leaf where I had placed the gloriosa.
In the afternoon I repeated the exercise using nandina domestica. I was attracted to the texture of the bark which I thought I would feature in the work. I selected this unusual pyramidal vase that has irregularly spaced circular openings. In cutting the stems into short lengths I also discovered the light yellowy-green of the stem cross-sections.

Shinozaki sensei said she could feel the enjoyment I had handling the material and making the work. She thought it was good as it was. However, for her own taste she would like the end of the long branch to be changed. She felt it was rather naturalistic compared to the way I had changed the other stems. Below is the changed work in which the long line is brought to a strong dramatic point by removing all of the leaves. I think this sort of work is rather challenging for people unfamiliar with ikebana.

On Thursday the Iemoto class was taken by Ms Ozawa Sieko, with same exercise again as the subject. In the morning I chose two large banana leaves and a onion flower with an interestingly curved stem. The vase is iron. My intention was to emphasise the surface of the leaves and contrast them with the curving stem of the onion flower.

I wondered whether I should have opened the split on the right of the front leaf further to make it into a slot. Ozawa sensei liked the work as it was and said, in response to my question, that making a slot would have looked sculptural and the rest of the work is naturalistic. She also said revealing the flower between the leaves make us wonder what is behind the back leaf.
In the afternoon I repeated the exercise with 'Golden Evergreen Spindle Tree' (euonymus Japonicus). These branches are very densely  covered with leaves. The new leaves are light yellow and interestingly figured as they become green, so I wanted to make this the subject of the work. Therefore I did a huge amount of stripping of leaves.

Ozawa sensei was pleased with the work saying that I had revealed the characteristic of the material by eliminating the leaves that were completely green. She also said I had made good use of the interesting vase and had done the right thing in not using a kenzan in this open vase. In her discussion she pointed out that this exercise is not a matter of simply using a minimal amount of material but rather removing everything that is extraneous to the intention.

On Friday I attended a class that was taken by Mr Kawana Tetsunori. The first subject he set was the traditional arrangement of irises. His first advice to me was that the flowers should be taller than the leaves to make it look stronger.

This was looking pretty good until I had to add some jushi (fine material at the base to conceal the kenzan) when I slightly dislodged the leaves.

The second exercise was to use the same material in a freestyle arrangement. Kawana sensei said we should first master the traditional arrangement, so that we understand the material, before embarking on the second exercise.

Kawana sensei said I had made a good freestyle work that showed the beauty of the irises in my own unique way. His suggestion at appraisal was to rotate the vases a little so that the flat surfaces of the leaves were more prominent to make it look stronger. In addressing the class after the appraisal he emphasised that we should always be treating the material with respect and maintain an awareness that it is alive.

The Men's Class, on Friday evening, was taken by Ms Koike Hagika. Sensei Koike set me an exercise using two different types of branch material only and no flowers. I was told that the material with the pink flowers was related to mock orange. It was a single branch that I had to cut into three pieces. In spite of its sweeping lines the branch material is not very bendable so I had to use the curves as they were. The second material I chose was smoke bush.

Unfortunately, the three dimensionality of this work is lost in the photograph. The lowest branch going to the right is at the front of the arrangement and the one next above it curves around to the back then forward. Koike Sensei said I had done a good job of making the original lines of the branch more beautiful. She said in refining lines in this way they are changed and become the expression of the person making the work.
After ikebana: as my sister-in-law and her partner were still here last weekend the cultural experience of the week was a day trip to Kamakura on Saturday. Again it was refreshing to be out in a greener space, as well as enjoying the beauty of the sculpture, temple architecture and gardens.

Great Buddah, Kamakura. detail

Hokoku-ji temple Kamakura.

Week nine: 30th May - 5th June
Some things go well (others less well).

On Monday I attended the International class, which was taken by Ms Hosono Yoka. 
She set me the exercise of changing the original appearance of the material and emphasising water. I was pleased with the out-come and learnt an important lesson. Hosono sensei pointed out the when you change the original appearance of the material it should not be immediately be identifiable. For example don’t place branches naturalistically when all you have done is strip them of their foliage, because the source material will probably be obvious. Can you guess what the material is I used for this work? (There is a clue in the photo.)

The Iemoto class of Tuesday (31st) was taken by Mr Nakamura Sozan. The exercise was a composition featuring curving lines. I selected ‘Japanese cattail’, (Typha Latifolia). [I feel reassured by Wikipedia which tells me it is known as bullrush, in British English, as that is the name we give it in Australia. A species of this plant grows in the creek below our house in Torquay])  I also used a fine whispy white flowering shrub known here as Virginia Sweet-spire. 

Nakamura sensei approved of the composition and said I had achieved a good balance between the mass of the very large vase and the curving lines. I used direct fixing in the vase because it was so open as any other technique would be visible. I caught the ends of the curving lines into the base where the leaves separated from each bundle.
In the afternoon I decided to repeat the exercise in an abstract way. I used two large right-angled black iron vessels stacked on each other. This was not a brilliant success. I spent a long time creating a fixing process that didn’t work very well. Then I lost the intention of ‘abstract design’ by hurriedly inserting the second material in a naturalistic manner at the end because I was running out of time. I don't know the name of this material; it is a vine with the most beautiful pale green silvery velvet on the stems and backs of the leaves.

After the class Mrs Ishikawa Misei suggested I might have placed some material against the large black surface of the lower vessel. (Good idea as you can see).

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.