My New Year Resolution in 2006 was to take up an activity in my spare time which was somehow artistic and creative and in complete contrast to my ‘day job’ as a full-time hospital consultant in obstetrics.
Nothing immediately appealed until about May when something made me think about Ikebana. I still do not remember what actually triggered the thought as I did not really know anything about it. I googled Ikebana and the first thing which popped up was Ikebana by Junko and when I looked on her website there was a Beginner’s class starting the following week at Swiss Cottage Community Centre (only 5 minutes from work) and yes, she had a space for me in the class. It was obviously meant to be!
I was hooked at the first class and have continued ever since.
This was my first ever arrangement and the fact that one could make an arrangement straight away which was beautiful (to me at any rate!) was the great attraction.
Initially it was all about learning how to use the kenzan and scissors and the basic styles of moribana and nageire but slowly the concepts and philosophy of Ikenobo Ikebana began to creep in. I remember Junko asking us all what our favourite flower was in that very first class and we can all relate to being told that ‘your flower looks sad, Gaye’!
Those classes after work were a real oasis of calm and it was interesting how difficult it was to do an arrangement if very stressed-out or still involved with a problem at work showing that our arrangements really are a reflection of what is going on inside our head and heart.
The philosophical side of Ikebana was one I could relate to from the Buddhist perspective and doing an arrangement can be a meditative practice in itself. Given how trendy ‘mindfulness’ is at the moment creating an arrangement is a training in ‘mindfulness’ wherever one is coming from whether it be Buddhist or otherwise.
Retirement from work was planned for March 2011 and a trip to Japan was planned with Sue Pryke inspired by hearing about Japan from Junko and other students who had visited Kyoto to go to exhibitions at Ikenobo Headquarters. Sadly the earthquake of 2011 was only a few weeks before we due to go and so the trip was postponed until the following year (2012).
Both Sue and I had done some WEA classes in Japanese Art and Culture in preparation for our visit and we carried on with these. As well as learning about Japanese Art and things like ‘The Way of Tea’ we ended up by giving a presentation to our class about Ikebana and ‘The Way of Flowers’.
My friend who is a Deputy Headteacher at a secondary school in Cambridgeshire asked me if I would give a class about Ikebana to her 6th form students who were studying Buddhism for their A levels. I persuaded Sue to help me and we had a great afternoon getting them all to do an arrangement and for them to explore how Buddhist principles are involved in Ikebana. I had to do some reading up about Zen and Ikebana myself!
We went to Japan in April 2012 for three weeks and were lucky to enjoy the cherry blossom wherever we went. We started off with time in Kyoto to go to the Ikenobo exhibition at Ikenobo Headquarters and had classes on two days with a teacher who theoretically spoke English but in fact most was done by sign language! The size of the exhibition was mind-blowing (thousands of arrangements which were changed to another thousand or so half way through!). After exploring on our own around Kyoto we spent a night in a monastery on Mount Koya before travelling to Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Kanazawa, Takayama, Matsumoto and then ending back in Tokyo for the Ikebana International World Congress for another huge exhibition. Junko was exhibiting at both exhibitions and I think she liked having her students there!
Practising Ikebana makes one appreciate flowers, trees and gardens in a new light. I love visiting gardens anyway but one endlessly spots marvellous leaves or flowers now that could be used in an arrangement and a recent trip to Sri Lanka had me positively drooling at plants that could be used.
Ikebana classes continue and like many things in life the more you learn the more you realise there is still to learn and I guess there is no end to it. One is forever a student of Ikebana!
Understanding more about the philosophy behind Ikebana is fascinating and a very nebulous
oncept to try and explain in English. Another trip to Japan is planned for this October hopefully to see some autumn colours this time, imbibe more Japanese art and culture and undoubtedly make a visit to Ikebana Headquarters in Kyoto again.
I would not have imagined when I made that New Year Resolution in 2006 that I would be practising Ikebana for ten years, falling in love with Japanese art and culture and making two trips to Japan.
A big ‘Thank You’ to Junko.