I had the opportunity to try ikebana (Japanese art of flower arrangement) for the first time.
I had the image of ikebana about gorgeous flowers and plants and had a vague feeling that it was about harmonizing the different characteristics of the flowers.
My friend invited me to attend his “flower arranging group” and I casually joined the small gathering with the intention of just watching.
As I had never done it before, I thought I would just observe what other people were doing from the back, and I was slightly nervous when I showed up at the class.
Yuji Ueno, a flower arrangement artist, does not say “ikebana”, but “hana-ike”.
The more you hear about his policy, the more you are convinced about his commitment. His relaxed kind of looks give us the impression of an artist in every sense, and his sharply sculpted face is somewhat un-Japanese. He sometimes makes us, the students feel intimidated by his frank and straightforward comments, but this is actually, conversely pleasant, and it easily breaks down the barriers of our first encounter.
He first shows us what we will be doing. A single, simple, modest flower in a vessel, speaks to the viewer in a heartily way and makes your heart flutter.
Now, arrange them just as you feel, he said.
Then, he picks “the one” that strikes his heart, from the many flowers and plants placed in a wide variety of locations. It doesn’t matter if it is a flower or a plant. One that you feel as if it is questioning you. Find a “presence” that seems to project yourself.
Why a single flower?
This is where you can see Yuji Ueno’s policy as a flower arrangement artist.
For example, in plays on stage, “Many people don’t come out and talk about important things, but only one person speaks in the spotlight, impressively.” Ueno-san compares a single flower to a single person and makes it “confess” something. That is the “way of life”, a single flower is a figure of a person’s life itself. The flower is a symbol of a person’s life and the artist assimilates a message that is important to himself into the flower and lets it speak.
It is the same with playing the violin.
I have always thought that performance is “storytelling” and “confessing”.
Standing alone on an empty stage, unaccompanied, and entrusting a special message from the heart to the sound. Even with a concerto, you are alone when you begin to speak, and the orchestra supports, emphasizes, and converses with you.
It is the same with piano accompaniment. It is a “monologue”.
Now, going back to “hana-ike”.
You choose a vessel that you feel complements or is in tune with the single flower you have picked.
It is also Ueno’s style to fill the vase or jar with water to the very brim. He is very particular about water too.
We Japanese incorporate water into our sensibilities from various angles. We have expressions such as “adding water” (meaning throwing a wet blanket), “water dripping women” (meaning good-looking women), having a moist heart, having a dry heart, and so on.
Water is obviously an essential thing to drink to live, but it is also essential for all living things, both in body and mind. Therefore, when arranging flowers and plants, the presence of plenty of water also leads to another way of expression.
Also, “soegi”, a tree that supports a single flower is indispensable to stabilize the delicate balance. Soegi are selected from thin tree branches. They are adjusted to fit the inner dimensions of the vessel for supporting the flowers. This makes the flowers come alive in the space and each flower, seems to “try to live” and the flower radiates energy.
Balancing is also important. Balance is not just between the flowers and the vessel, but also about the balance between the flowers and the space that surrounds them.
You need the air surrounding the flower and vessel to be in harmony with them, and then the flower comes alive. The air is really important, even though it is invisible. Air is not just something to breathe, but also has a part to play in the message of the single flower.
I learned a great deal from the wonderful flower arrangement time by Yuji Ueno.