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.