The art of Japanese Flower arranging, known as Kado or Ikebana (“way of flowers”), has been part of Japanese culture since the 7th century. Kado features unique and specific traits, often emphasising shape, line, form and minimalism. The art of Kado is now taught across more than 1,000 schools in Japan, and has also attracted interest from people from all over the world.
55 years ago, Okawa-san started learning Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) at the Ikenobo school, and 30 years later she opened her own school right here in Kutchan. This sensei first started out offering daytime classes, before she began to offer night classes due to so many requests from potential students who worked at lodges, stores, and at offices in Hirafu. Many students didn’t expect to have such a great opportunity to learn Ikebana in such a small town like Kutchan.
Okawa sensei enjoys meeting with students from all over the country and from all over the world. She loves learning about their lives and cultures, and learns from their experiences. Flowers themselves can invoke particular thoughts and feelings and so flower arranging can help develop people’s mind and understand those feelings. Through Ikebana, Okawa-san hopes to pass down this traditional part of Japanese culture that often goes unnoticed in our modern lives.
Belinda Whitby was born and raised in the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia – she has been living in Niseko for three years. She shared her experiences studying Ikebana with us;
Why did you decide to come to Japan?
I studied Japanese at university and also did a 3 month teaching practicum in Japan as well. After graduating, I wanted to improve my Japanese and experience the culture and lifestyle first hand.
What were you doing before you came to Niseko?
When I came to Japan, I lived in Ibaraki and worked in an ‘eikaiwa’ (conversational English school) and then worked in a Junior High School as an English Teacher. After the Great Tohoku Earthquake, I moved to Fukushima and worked at a Resort Hotel that was also an English Education Facility for 3 years managing the Education Department and teaching.
Why did you decide to learn Ikebana?
I went to a lesson with a friend and found it quite interesting and unique; not like flower arranging. My Japanese teacher at the time also taught Ikebana, so I eventually joined one of her lessons. I enjoyed it and found that it was also a great way to learn and practice Japanese as well. I could also meet some very interesting people; I was fortunate enough to have lessons with the Miko-san (girls who work at the shrines) from the local shrine which was interesting.
What are the differences between Ikebana and flower arranging?
That is an interesting question and really a little difficult to explain. My image of flower arrangement is solid and uniform. Put simply, Ikebana uses lines and blank space and it is more about a focus on the way things are naturally.
There are many Kado schools in Japan, why did you choose Ikenobo?
To be honest, I have only been studying the Ikenobo style for three years now. Before that I studied the Ryuseiha style. While the styles are very similar and share the same origins, there are some differences. I changed to Ikenobo as Ryuseiha is more common on Honshu (the main island of Japan) so it is difficult to find a teacher in Hokkaido.
Initially, I was going to take a break from Ikebana, however I was introduced to Okawa-sensei who was very kind and accepting as were the other students.
What do you learn from Ikebana?
I have learnt so much from Ikebana it is hard to narrow it down. Ikebana classes have been a place to not so much learn, but immerse myself in Japanese language and culture. I have also learnt the importance of flowers, lines and space in this art form. In English, we often say ‘less is more’, this really fits with the concepts in Ikebana. For example, it is possible to use only one type of flower to make a very beautiful arrangement.
What are the most interesting things in Ikebana?
I wouldn’t say that there is any one specific thing that interested me about Ikebana. I found it to be a very interesting and beautiful, but different art form. Now it is something that is quite relaxing and enjoyable.
Have you noticed any changes in yourself since you started learning Ikebana?
Well of course there is the way I look at plants, trees, branches, flowers and even, very strangely, weeds and see the lines and movement in them. But I also value my lesson time; I look forward to my lesson each week and often finish my lesson feeling much more relaxed and refreshed.
What are the things you would like to challenge next?
I would like to continue studying Ikebana and working toward getting different levels of ‘qualification’ for Ikenobo also. But the most important thing is to keep enjoying my time with my teacher and the other students and to keep learning from them all.