Interview with Yoshiko Hirao, Ikebana teacher -Sogetsu Foundation of Tokyo

The art of gardens that has fascinated the West for centuries and continues to influence the aesthetics of Landscaping on various scales belongs to the Japanese civilization. A conception of Landscape imported from China, which means ‘ Shinto and Buddhist elements, creating landscapes of extraordinary delicacy and beauty in cities (just think of the famous blossoming cherry trees that attracts hundreds of visitors). An art that can be brought inside the homes through the Bonsai, and especially thanks to the art of Ikebana, the art of composing with flowers.

We talk with Yoshiko Hirao, Teacher of Ikebana graduate Sogetsu Foundation, Tokyo.


FM. What is the origin of the word Ikebana and what are the purpose pursued by this art?

YH. “IKE” means ” dial ” and ” to live ”; “BANA” means ” flowers ”.Therefore, literally means ‘ IKEBANA ‘ compose flowers and making them live, ” which means ” to live ” flowers .The origin of IKEBANA is to be found in the Shinto tradition, voted to Evergreen. It was believed that God came down on the branches of Evergreen as camelia. Following the arrival of the current Buddhist in Japan, which devoted the loti and chrysanthemums to Buddha and deceased, these two traditions have joined. Thus was born the IKEBANA, but there are those who say that history cannot be true. Later, In the course of the 11st century, the nobles imitated what until then had been a practice of monks, disengaging the tradition by religion, and so the Ikebana is become the art for the Interior of houses of citizens.


FM. What is the role of Ikebana in the Japanese tradition and how do you think will grow in the future?

YH. Traditionally, Ikebana had the role to make the change of the seasons from the rooms of the houses (being an interior art), which gave the “tone” to the room. But now there are two predominant roles: the first concerns the teaching of good manners to women (trend started about 200 years ago, before the authors were all men). The other role is given from being an art that involves the three-dimensional size. I think the Ikebana will grow as three-dimensional Art international and hope that they might return to treat also men.


FM. How Come you chose to become a teacher of Ikebana and how you started your training?

YH. First of all, if you wanted to become a teacher of Ikebana should be for a minimum of 3 years and you should be accepted by your Teacher. After earning the title of “Master” can participate in special courses dedicated to teachers and one can of course begin to exercise the profession. Only after 5 or 6 year course, in my case, my teacher I was awarded the title, since before had had no intention of becoming a teacher and I had not submitted any request to the school. I was composing. But once I attended a workshop in Moscow, Russia, where she had been invited. I’m pretty amazed by how many Russian had so great a passion for Ikebana, attended ben 70 students during the days of the workshop. And there I changed my mind.


FM. What can you tell us about shapes and basic techniques of Ikebana?

YH. The shape of Ikebana is totally different from the typical ” flower arrangement ”because even if we arrange the flowers, actually create white space. Do not cover all the empty space with flowers. The ikebana deliberately shape space using the flowers. Exercise all KATA (or composition) makes us understand how you create white space effectively. It’s more difficult to find space just that fill all with flowers. For this reason it is best to start the courses with KATA, this provides us with all the information.

FM. White space is empty? I think the white watercolor, a fundamental concept in that technique.

YH. Yes, the white space means empty. But when we say Japanese ” space ” does not mean ” completely empty and nothing ”. We feel in a vacuum something invisible. We call it ” air ”, although the air is empty, nothing. There is an exact correspondence between our concept of space and your. And as I’ve written in Ikebana, the surface of the water is as important as the flowers and the empty space. We calculate how see it in the composition.

FM. What materials you use in Ikebana compositions? There are special links with the cycle of seasons?

YH. Any plant, branches, flowers, or vegetables go well. There is a strict rule. For example, we have composed with large wooden sticks disposable. But usually we prefer to choose seasonal flowers. For new year we often use bamboos and pines, and for the feast of the little (March 03) are made up of peach branches.

FM. You represent the Sogetsu Foundation, the oldest School of Ikebana and important of Japan. There are courses for foreign students?

YH. Sogetsu school motto is ” anywhere, anyone and at any time ”It is its objective, without exclusion opportunity to compose. There is also an international course in Tokyo, where the teacher teaches foreign students in English. Also there are many study groups throughout the world. In Italy there is already in Rome. Here is the site of the school, readable in English

FM. In Italy, when we talk about environmental art, the reference is given by parks-museums of foundations who may focus on sculptures that host rather than on the landscape. According to you, what is the contemporary conception of Landscape in Japan?

YH. I regret having to say that between IKEBANA and the Japanese garden there are very few reports. I personally think that Japanese is the finest, most delicate in the world. It is also the IKEBANA. However develops inside dwellings, in the rooms, not out of the building. I know that there is an outdoor performance (I had the experience of build it out), but is very rare. In conclusion I believe that the Japanese garden little influence on Ikebana.

FM. Speaking of Japanese Gardens and art of Ikebana conceptions about the nature, as you can see the architecture and landscape design Italian?

YH. I’m sorry to tell you that in my opinion the European gardens are a bit boring (not just the Italians but all European gardens) because they were built symmetrically. The symmetry makes us feel the harmony but there gives the impression of dynamism. Balanced asymmetry which is expressed by the Japanese garden and the Ikebana makes living in nature. If you create the art symmetrically the liveliness you run ends in art. However, if you create the asymmetrically expands outside, as if it grew and moved alone. But the feeling is subjective in front of the composition, also depends on personal taste, it remains my opinion accordingly. However, I am sure that the force of art asymmetric calculated does not end in itself, its energy is itself and yet leaves himself.


Author’s notes: March 11, 2011 the Japan was hit by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in living memory. Only a few days prior to the municipality of Bologna were donated a series of Japanese flowering cherry trees which will be seen each year at Giardini Margherita. Ikebana seminars that have made possible the encounter with the Sensei Yoshiko Hirao, however, were not affected by sadness and concern caused by the recent news. They represented an opportunity to renew a hymn to beauty and love for nature and art.






About Odile Milton

I travel through words whenever possible. Odile Milton is my signature on the web as I wanted an alter ego to indicate only my writings and works, not my personal life. Odile like the dancer in black swan, and Milton from the novel An old-fashioned girl. View all posts by Odile Milton

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