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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

A dialog with plants

Japanese Ikebana expert conducts master class in Kyiv
30 October, 2007 - 00:00

Ikebana is a traditional Japanese art that conveys one’s mood and world outlook through flower arrangements. This art, which combines the technique of making floral compositions and a subtle philosophy of life, was born when the Japanese decided to reproduce the beauty of the natural landscape inside their homes. Since it is impossible to repeat all the charms of nature, not even with the most talented hands, the Japanese leave much of this “information” outside the picture, leaving it to be mentally added by the viewer. This is the essence of the Japanese philosophy of life: the main thing must remain invisible, or “untold,” as Lina Kostenko has written. For example, Ikebana’s Ikenobo technique focuses on creating the impression of a wind, believed by the Japanese to bring joy and happiness, as does the art of flower arrangement.

During his 90-minute class, Professor Takashi Moribe, a noted Ikebana expert, who recently conducted his fourth master class in Kyiv, succeeded in conveying to his audience only the basics of building harmony with the aid of plants. The combination of red and white is for happiness and success, while the blend of green and yellow symbolize the unity of the past, present, and future. Ikenobo attaches special importance to the central flower’s vertical position (all the other plants in the composition can be horizontal or bowed) because it symbolizes man’s aspiration for something good.

“If you are in Japan or living your normal life, boldly use the word yoka,” the Ikebana professor advises. “Say yoka whenever something good happens in your life. When you experience a failure, say yoka. Whatever your mood, remember the word yoka. The meaning of this word changes depending on your feelings. The same is true of ikebana; we convey our mood to those who view our composition. Even if we start working with sorrow in our hearts, it vanishes by the time we finish our work.”

Moribe says that flowers must be handled with the utmost care; you have to speak to them gently, converse with them, and show them your appreciation of what you have created. While working on his composition, the Japanese master would often spread his hands in admiration of his design. Moribe is the 45th master of the Kyoto-based Ikenobo Ikebana School of Japanese Flower Arranging since its inception. He says he does Ikebana even when he is very sick, because he receives energy from the plants and this helps him recover quickly. He is convinced that a dialog with plants is the basis of a nice composition.

He revealed his secrets: “In communicating and conducting a dialog with plants, you can learn which placement suits them best. You keep asking them and then, at a certain moment, you receive an answer. Ikebana has no rules stating that the master must always produce effective compositions, because the plants are also alive. They are comfortable when the master is thinking about what is happening here and now. I believe that the here-and-now approach is the most important one. If you are lost in thought, thinking of other things, you may break a twig and the flower may fail to hear you.”

As with any other true art, ikebana starts with philosophy, because technique alone does not yield anything. At least you will not be able to create an “entire cosmos” and a half-moon with the aid of three twigs that vary in length, flowers, and greenery. Moribe says that one can talk about true art only when “mastery and technique are combined with the power of ssion.” He puts his heart into every composition, each of which is original and inimitable.

Moribe teaches at a school attended by thousands of pupils, who are learning a number of Ikenobo styles. It is the oldest Ikenobo school in the Land of the Rising Sun, home to nearly 2,000 Ikebana schools. As a rule, it takes an Ikebana expert several hours to create a composition, but the visiting master worked much quicker in Kyiv thanks to his assistants Yamada, who teachers Ikebana in Moscow, and Anzhela Lobastova, the founder of the Ikenobo School in Kyiv.

Moribe says that his pupils are mostly interested in the rikka style, in which plants are used to create a landscape. In order to hold up the plants, Ikebana masters use wires (which should not be seen) and a special kind of Scotch tape. These help to hold the plants together from below and form a cluster that spreads out to symbolize open-heartedness. This type of composition signifies cosmic harmony and “all of space.”

According to Professor Moribe, not all Ikebana schools like to use dry leaves and twigs or branches in their compositions, but his classical school does not reject this type of material. He says that even dead flowers are a symbol of life, even if they have a different form. He thus confirms an axiom of Japanese philosophy: all things in this world have a designated purpose.

Traditional Japanese schools teach the oldest style of Ikebana called shoka, which dates back 1,800 years. At first glance, it is not complicated, something you could never say about philosophy. It consists of three twigs symbolizing the sky, the earth, and man.

“The main twig is in the center; its shape is reminiscent of the half-moon and symbolizes the state when we are worried and tense,” the Japanese master told his audience members, who are not accustomed to seeing the invisible. “But I am begging the half moon to turn into a full moon by the end of our meeting, as a symbol of friendship and harmony with the Universe...In Japan, human feelings and emotions are traditionally conveyed through invisible things. If you see this creation when visiting our country, you will know that there are people who wish to befriend you.”

Among the flowers Moribe used were ordinary roses, chamomile, twigs and branches of trees, daffodils, Ficus leaves, as well as rare plants donated to the master by the Fomin Botanical Gardens. He urges everyone who wants to create such floral compositions in their homes to work on a seasonal basis: only seasonal flowers must be used because “people who understand this principle of the seasons with regard to fruits and plants have very big hearts. Man’s soul and heart are enriched by using seasonal flowers.” This is food for thought.

While working on a composition using the leaves of the calla lily, which long ago were used as parasols by Japanese women, the master pointed out: “In Japan, it is believed that a woman looks especially attractive in the dark, at a distance, and beneath a parasol.”

During the master class Moribe and his assistants used sharp scissors, the necessary tools of the trade. These scissors must always shine like a samurai sword and be in good condition. At the end of the class he presented a gift to the people of Kyiv. For this floral arrangement, depicting the city as viewed from space, he used four vases with a number of twigs and branches with yellow and green leaves that resemble gold coins to him (“I’m listening to the twigs and this symbolizes the obedience of my soul”). He added several Ficus leaves and white lilies — the symbol of a sincere heart — as well as some mysterious red flowers that signify the courage and enthusiasm of the people of Kyiv.

While working on 12 compositions, Moribe kept up a dialog both with his plants (most of it probably non-verbal) and the assembled Kyiv residents, telling them repeatedly that his audience is beautiful, the reason why the plants were obeying his instructions. The Japanese master promised he will definitely pay another visit to Kyiv “because your audience is so attentive that my flowers are listening to me like never before.”

By Oksana MYKOLIUK, The DayPhotos by Borys KORPUSENKO, The Day