Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ikebana and aesthetics

When I am caught up with my day-to-day life, trying to be practical, rational and maximising my time, all I need is an exposure to the Japanese to suddenly bring me into the world of aesthetics.

It never fails, happens all the time. Whether it is seeing them work in an Ikebana class, decorating their food or giving a gift. I am left feeling clumsy and uncouth and bumbling (add to this the fact that I'm almost twice their size!)

When they attend a class, they will work in such a way that there will hardly be any mess around. Whereas I will litter the place around me, and then clean up!

The dish they use to serve their food, the way they present it is as important as the food itself. I would just clunk the food down in the first dish I can lay my hands on.

They will give a gift in a wrapper which is so beautiful that you dont feel like opening the present!

Ikebana has definitely improved my sensitivity to and appreciation of aesthetics. I really look forward to the monthly workshops, its the time to leave my routine behind, relax, meet a bunch of lovely ladies and work with flowers.

What do you think?

(In case you are wondering what the picture is, its the dessert served to us at the Sogetsu 80th anniversary dinner in Tokyo! I did eat it, after capturing it for posterity in this photograph.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Lovely yellow spikes

I remember using these lovely yellow spikes in our last Ikebana exhibition, but did not know the name.

They are in bloom once again, and I have been able to identify it, thanks to the flowers of india website. It is called Candle Bush - how appropriate, isnt it?

Here are the details from that site:

"Common name: Candle bush, Ringworm shrub, Dadmurdan दादमुर्दन (Hindi), Seemaiagathi (Tamil), Simayakatti (Malayalam)
Botanical name: Senna alata Family: Fabaceae (pea family)
Synonyms: Cassia alata

This plant, a 6 - 25 feet tall, perennial shrub, has erect waxy yellow spikes that resemble fat candles before the individual blossoms open. The large leaves are bilateral - symetrical opposed and fold together at night. The fruit is a pod, while the seeds are small and square. The leaves contain chrysophanic acid. The leaves are reported to be sudorific, diuretic and purgative, being used in the same manner as senna. The leaves are commonly used for ringworm and other skin diseases. The leaves in decoction are also used to treat bronchitis and asthma. Because of it's anti-fungal properties, it is a common ingredient in soaps, shampoos, and lotions in the Philippines."


There is a lot of it in the empty plots in Kotivakkam. How about in your areas?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Looking for more dialogues

Ambika a very useful idea, it allows all team members to see events as they happen esp. the members who have missed them.
Chitra, I hear you want to host the next workshop at your place on Dec. 11th, it is OK with me, can you pass on the date to the other members also?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Three cheers

It is really facinating to read both Mams' & Ambika's narration on Japan event.Hope to get more. Molly.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A feast for all the senses


First, the demonstration started with Iemoto Akane doing an Ikebana composition on one side of the stage. Take a look at the amateur video below, to see how she worked.

No music, just silence for this prelude. And the oncidium used in the exhibit stood out, in my opinion.

In the diagonally opposite corner, she did another arrangement with huge hydrangeas and glory lilies. The vase for this piece was outstanding, and was her own creation. All this was carried out in silence. Suddenly, a parchment covering the entire floor of the arena almost, appeared, and there was Akane, creating a lovely calligraphy, which read "Flower is Heart" - we were told, by the announcer


Then the stage was cleared, and we were thrown into pitch dark silence. Then came some haunting chanting as the musicians of Yaz Kaz ( along with some drummers from Senegal took to the stage! This was a really dramatic portion of the whole performance.

Take a look at the video below, just to get a little idea.

The Senagalese drummers complemented the dancers who came on stage holding branches in their arms, and performing a dance where they froze in different formations. Were they trees, swaying in the breeze?


Joining this tableau was a Japanese solo dancer, Kaiji Moriyama, ( To me as a viewer, his performance conveyed grief, turmoil and agony, just through dance, which was exquisite. The picture below shows him on the big screen, as well as in the left corner of the stage.

As he danced, other team members brought in several bamboo poles and erected them one by one. Moriyama continued to dance through this bamboo. Iemoto Akane led her team in holding this long, woven "kyogi" dragon. (Kyogi is very then sheets of wood, kind of connected together). The dragon wove through the bamboo, and then came the most fantastic part of the show, for me - winter.


There was the lovely light and shade show wit the bamboos and their shadows. As Malathi says in the interview essay, the still bamboos came to life, moving and dancing with the shadows and lights. The effect was almost ethereal. And then came the "snow", or what seemed like it, showering down from above, as the picture below shows.

Spring, again!

Iemoto Akane, re-entered in a bright red outfit, to signal the change of mood, tempo and emotion. Her team members scurried about, as they made some of the bamboos cross one another, inserted more kyogi, and brought in woven bamboo "cages". (Somehow, I did not care for this one element. How did it fit?) Flowers in abundance - magnolia, peach blossoms and azalea developed the composition.

And the finale was the arrival of Yuka Kamebuchi and her choir. Singing Japanese gospel? music, the choir came down the aisles, electrifying the audience with a very catchy tune. The sound and the music thrilled us all. In the picture below, she can be seen on the right, with the choir coming down one side.

Also, take a look at this video, to enjoy the audio for a while.

At the end, for me, it was a thrilling experience. The combining of Ikebana with music, dance, light and sound made the art into a performance in a way. I enjoyed the process immensely, and at every stage there was a sense of anticipation, as to how this piece would now develop.

I was left with some points to ponder at the end of the show.
Was there a unifying motif or theme, in the final composition that I had missed?
Or was it the process itself which was important to our enjoyment?

The Sogetsu School has brought out a DVD, which will do more justice to the show, than these little clips. Here's the link for the DVD.


Thursday, November 15, 2007


March 10th 2007: Arrive in Tokyo from Bangkok, late at night.

Take the airport limousine bus and alight at Akasaka. Its only a short walk to our hotel, but my mother and I are unprepared for the icy winds! With chattering teeth, we drag our suitcases to a sheltered corner of the closest highrise and take out our warmest coats.

After getting lost for a little while, we did find our hotel lobby, which was WARM and lovely. My memories of our dinner that night, were that it was tasty and warming and comforting! Like all hotel rooms in Tokyo, this one too was a little cubby hole. Certainly not something for two well built Indian ladies. Our every move had to be coordinated and planned like a duet!

March 11th 2007, Sunday: Up and ready early, all in anticipation for the show ahead of us. A hearty breakfast, and we are all set to go. It was a cold, blustery and bleak day in Tokyo.

We had a long ride ahead on the Tokyo subway. Sign language and some helpful Railway attendants and we managed to make our way from Akasaka to Otemachi on the green line. Change to Hanzomon line. On to Kiyosumi Shirakawa. Change to Oedo line and off at Ryogoku!

We emerged to our view of the initial cherry trees in blossom.

"Blooming Flowers for Tomorrow" - that was the title of Akane Teshigahara's enchanting show at the Ryogoku Kokugan. Its been several months since we witnessed the demonstration by Akane, in Tokyo, but the memories are still clear. The show was to start at 1, but we were there by 11 in the morning, and there was an excited stream of Japanese women all heading in the same direction!

The Rogoku Kokugan, seen in the picture is actually a famous sumo wrestling stadium, and the lay Japanese were very nonplussed at the choice of the venue for an Ikebana show! They were quite sure we had got it all wrong, but when we reached it was clear as to why they had chose the venue. Seating was on four sides of a square, and as the show progressed, we realised that as a result, everybody had a good view.

There was an anticipatory hum, as the hall began to fill up. Her Highness Princess Hitachi arrived to signal the start of the proceedings. The organisation was superb, and we non-Japanese were also given headsets to hear the English translation in real time. There was around of awards, and a film on 80 years of Sogetsu, before the stage was cleared for Ms Teshigahara's show.

Read about the show in the next post!


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An interview with Iemoto Akane

Iemoto Akane, brought out all the features of Ikebana and Sogetsu in her wonderful demonstration that was the centrepiece of the 80th anniversary celebrations of the School, at Tokyo. Attended by some 6,000 delegates from across the world, the event was staged at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, the famous Sumo-wrestling auditorium, and graced by HH Princess Hitachi.

Here is a picture of Akane at the exhibition

I was moved by the “homage” she paid to previous Iemotos, unconsciously weaving their signatures into the show, as well as her solo exhibition titled “Ikebana Through My Eyes”. The demonstration incorporated stunning jazz drummers, powerful gospel singing, calligraphy and dance, along with lighting and other special effects, all complementing the Ikebana. The whole programme traced the seasons and unfolded in six acts.

On my return, Iemoto Akane graciously answered my questions on the show, via e-mail, and here are the highlights of our dialogue.

Malathi: The whole demonstration was spectacular and dramatic. Can you give us an idea of the process of collaboration between you as an Ikebana artiste and the singers and dancers?

Akane: Ikebana has great potential in correlating different forms of art. What I wanted to incorporate into the Sogetsu 80th Anniversary Commemoration Festival was "the power of voice" that gospel has, which I thought more primitive, moving and emotionally stirring rather than just music. What can we expect from the correlation between the human voice and plants? – I wanted to see it. This was the beginning of the interaction, and the best members that could be expected at that time were assembled - Yuka Kamebuchi, one of the best gospel singers in Japan, Kaiji Moriyama who showed us the soulful dance performance as if he was possessed by a dragon, and YAS-KAZ, jazz drummer who transmitted the vibrant rhythm of people and the earth in four seasons by the instrument. They all embodied my wish to express changing lives by comparing them to the four seasons through their own art. Empowered by them, I could also give a better performance than I had expected.

Malathi: How long have you been working on this project?
Akane: For about two years.

Malathi: I was fascinated with how you used the "still" bamboos and then broke the stillness with the use of stage lights. The bamboos seemed to dance. Integration of dance, music and calligraphy besides space, light and shade - would you say this has transformed Sogetsu Ikebana into a performing art? Can we look forward to more such performances in the future?

Akane: The pleasure of Ikebana is not limited to appreciation of completed works. I would like you to enjoy the process of arrangement, namely the creation of finite beauty out of nothing. You don't have to make large-scale arrangements. For instance, demonstrating a small arrangement using two or three flowers at a party would be enough to convey the enjoyment of Ikebana to the audience.

Malathi: At the same time, you had your solo exhibition, "Ikebana Through My Eyes", at Takashimaya, filling the entire exhibition floor. For someone like me who has been associated with Sogetsu from the time of Sofu, I could see the beautiful way, in which you paid tribute/homage to all the past Iemotos of the school. Would you agree?

Akane: I was not conscious of the past Iemotos at my solo exhibition. I pictured myself in the past, present and future while making arrangements for the exhibition. However, even if I am not aware of them, my heart is always with the spirit of Sofu, Kasumi and Hiroshi. In this sense, I think the past three Iemotos were present somewhere among my works displayed at the exhibition "Ikebana through My Eyes"

Malathi: What has been the most rewarding experience for you, after taking over as Iemoto?

Akane: What I find most enjoyable and rewarding now is creating something toward the same objective in cooperation with the Sogetsu members. Even if it was not working well at the beginning, we gradually opened our hearts to one another, and finally understood each other. I found this communication process with the members fruitful.

Malathi: What is your message for aspiring Sogetsu Ikebana artistes in India?

Akane: I respect the sincere attitude of the members in India who are always willing to study and master something. Although plant materials and tools the same as those in Japan are not available, I would like each of them to think about what they can do by taking advantage of living in India or what is unique to them, and express their own "Ikebana through My Eyes".

Malathi: I recall that the late Iemoto Hiroshi Teshigahara had experimented with a collaborative effort with the Indian classical danseuse, the late Ms Chandralekha. I was particularly interested since Ms Chandralekha was from the city of Chennai, where I live. Did you have a chance to meet her, and what were your impressions?

Akane: I met Ms Chandralekha a few years before she passed away. She had already been in ill health and lay on her bed in her backstage room when I visited her. The warmth of her hand shake when I greeted her made me feel her strength and tenderness. She was a deep and spiritual person.

Malathi: Lastly, can you enlighten us, on why the name Sogetsu was chosen by Iemoto Sofu, as the name of the new school?

Akane: It comes from the Teshigahara's family crest (Nezasa dwarf bamboo and Moon).

For me, visiting Sogetsu Headquarters in Tokyo is always like a homecoming, and the warmth and friendship of each visit lingers on. Through this association with Ikebana, I am on a constant, unending voyage of self-discovery - an eternal student.

Here is one image of the demonstration. I promise to post more.


Eighty years of Sogetsu Ikebana

The year 2007 has been celebrated all over India as the 50th year of Indo-Japan friendship. In Chennai also, ABK-AOTS Dosokai have sponsored several exhibitions and cultural events to mark the occasion. As part of the celebrations, we had two Ikebana exhibitions as well in the city.

As an Ikebana teacher myself, I was doubly delighted that this year was also the 80th anniversary year for the Sogetsu school of Ikebana. It was with much anticipation that I decided to attend the show in Tokyo, titled “Blooming Flowers For Tomorrow.”

Having started in the Buddhist temples as an offering of flowers, Ikebana emphasizes “livingness” or Ikeru. It stands apart from other floral decorations, by its emphasis of the display of Line, the use of asymmetry, and other art concepts like texture, rhythm, form and colour.

The Sogetsu school has been arguably the most important school in spreading global awareness about the ancient floral art of Ikebana, moving it from its original spiritual roots to a modern art form. Founded by Sofu Teshigahara, the school has thrived under four different Iemotos, from the Teshigahara family. (The title of iemoto is hereditary, and can be translated as “grandmaster” or “founder”.) I have had the honour to be associated with all four of the Iemotos, and a witness to the wonderful metamorphosis of Ikebana, through the years. Founder Sofu was attracted by old, worm-eaten wood, what he called “Nature’s Sculpture”, favouring the camellia flower. Daughter Kasumi loved lacquer-ware, especially the traditional Japanese handcart, and her heart went to small, light-coloured flowers which she would use in abundance. Son Hiroshi on the other hand, with a background in film-making and ceramics, loved to work with bamboo, and the Sogetsu displays became bold, large and dynamic. Hiroshi’s daughter Akane, is the current Iemoto, and she has moved further creatively, experimenting with combining other art forms and highlighting the process of creation itself.

At the Sogetsu School, the student begins to learn several styles called kakei, that help the student grasp the concepts of line, space, shape and patterns in Ikebana. Sogetsu believes that once the technique is mastered, individual expression must be lively and free. Ikebana may go forth into any space and by the free play of our creative spirit, assume a wealth of different forms.

By Malathi

My email interview with Sensei Akane will follow