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Would you like to really experience Japanese culture? I mean, riding a shinkansen or blowing 1,000 yen on Pachinko is one thing, but these experiences, although interesting, lack a great deal of cultural depth. To really get inside Japan and the Japanese psyche, one really needs to explore Japanese fine art, in this case, ikebana or as it translates literally ‘live flowers’.

An art form which originated around the 6th century, ikebana was originally practiced as a ritual offering made to the heavens by Buddhist monks. These days the once exclusive art of ikebana has developed into an art form practiced by many. Unlike floral arranging practiced in Europe and the West, the more spiritual Japanese approach aims to capture the wonder of nature on a smaller scale. Ikebana isn’t really about making the flowers look as “pretty” as possible; it is really about expressing oneself as a communicative art form. Each arrangement should describe the arranger’s emotions and character as well as work in harmony with the environment in which it will be displayed. Another striking contrast between Japanese floral arrangement and its western and European counterparts is that each composition focuses on working in asymmetry, following a triangular framework.

There are many rules governing the arrangements in classical ikebana. Luckily there are also a great variety of styles including ‘freestyle’; definitely less complicated and more in tune with a foreign take on flower arrangement yet still trademark Japanese.
Does it sound like I know a little bit about this rather interesting art? Let me acquaint you with my learning process.
A couple of weeks ago, as I made my way to Kazumi Shoin, a school specializing in ikebana and Japanese calligraphy or ‘shuji’, I was busily thinking about what would be the best and most appropriate questions to ask the teacher of one of Japan’s most historical arts. Images of students kneeling on a hard wooden floor, gazes fixed intently on the teacher as technique after technique was uttered in rather severe tones kept on bubbling up in my mind and I quickly became aware that, apart from asking moderately dopey questions like, “What kind of flowers do you use?” and “How long does it take to get a firm grasp on the techniques involved?”, I had relatively no idea about ikebana and the beads of sweat on my forehead were testimony to the fact. My apprehension decreased only marginally as I arrived. Phew, an apartment building (a rather nice one at that). Maybe this won’t be as serious of an affair as I was imagining… Or maybe it is a prestigious school located inside a prestigious apartment!

I gave the owner of the school a quick call to get buzzed inside and away I went, meanwhile checking my tie and cursing my lack of colour coordination due to dry cleaning. This was a school specializing in flowers, harmony and the wonders of nature and a 2 dollar tie on a 6 dollar shirt were offending even me as I peered at myself on the elevator’s monochrome internal monitor.
After my short ride on the elevator to what I was convinced would be another embarrassing encounter, I was finally standing in front of Kazumi Shoin’s entrance. “Looks like an apartment. Could it just be a facade? Too late let’s press the button”.
At the door I was greeted by a smiling, neatly dressed (yet not formally), Japanese lady. Thinking I had made a mistake, I quickly reconfirmed the appointment with a cunning, “thanks for taking the time to answer some questions about ikebana” statement. I indeed had the right place and there was neither a hard wooden floor to be seen nor a severe tone to be heard. In fact, as I was graciously offered a cup of tea and a seat, I was surprised to learn that Kazumi Shoin, run by Kazumi Miyamoto, has more of a chat club feel rather than a school for an art form older than my shoes and bound by more rules than the latest Pokemon card game.

After gleaning some of the basics from Kazumi (which I shared with you in the second passage) some of the students started to arrive including an ultra friendly Australian lady by the name Fiona who has been studying ikebana (sometimes attempting a bit of calligraphy as well) for about 6 months and who told me she is interested in becoming a florist at some stage in her life. I watched as she received instruction from Kazumi on arranging flowers in the Shouka style which requires an odd number of flowers (in this case 7). Wanting to get a little bit more technical, I asked about the way in which the stems are prepared; random hacking of leaves or was there a method? Fiona explained that traditionally the practitioners of ikebana would place the arrangement in the ‘tokonoma’ (a part of the Japanese house reserved for ikebana or paintings) so the side of the stem with the leaves would receive the most direct sunlight.

Hmmm…More rules
More about ‘freestyle’ please.
Freestyle, as the name suggests, is limited by virtually no rules. The exception is that each arrangement should express movement; a sense of flow. This can be aided by the use of wire to sculpt flowers, stems or grasses; a practice not seen in the more traditional styles of ikebana. Now, although in theory there are no rules for freestyle, in practice it isn’t quite true. Fiona alluded to the fact that some unwritten rules seem to be in place. After finishing an arrangement which she deemed a total success, sensei Kazumi would “fine tune” the position, setting, or spacing. In the end though, Kazumi would be the first to admit it really is about your own style.

So, despite my ill-conceived pre-conceptions about what Kazumi Shion was all about? I discovered that ikebana, at least at Kazumi Shion, was for anybody interested in having a chat, a laugh, expanding their horizons and exercising their artistic flare. Anyone who likes the sound of a cultural experience with all the enjoyment of coffee with friends should give Kazumi a call. She has no problem with English so newcomers to Japan needn’t worry.

One thing I should mention is, currently Kazumi Shion is only accepting female students so, fellas you’ll have to keep your fingers crossed for the future.

Interested? Let me give you the details:

Ikebana costs: FREE to join and ¥1,000 per 2 hour flower arrangement lesson for.

Perhaps Ikebana isn’t for you. Why not give calligraphy a go? It’s a great way to become proficient in writing Japanese.

Calligraphy costs: ¥1,800 per lesson plus ¥300 for ink (lasts about 6 months) and ¥50 for 20 sheets of paper (each lesson students will usually use about 20 sheets). All other equipment is provided so you don’t need to bring anything else but yourself.

Class times: Tuesday 19:00 - 21:00
Wednesday 13:00 – 15:00
Thursday 10:00 – 12:00
Saturday 15:00 – 17:00

A message from Kazumi: “We have about 20 students at the moment, many of whom are foreign nationals and whom are also students of Japanese. Each lesson we aim to not only expand our knowledge of ikebana (or calligraphy) but also to expand our students’ Japanese language ability. You will definitely have a great time at our lessons.”

Location: Sawakami Atsuta ku. Five minutes walk from Kanayama Station.

Contact details: 090-3300-1117 or