Earlier in the summer, I was clued in to a new cultural course in Kyoto called Ikebana Cadeau. Now, it doesn’t take much to convince me to take a cooking course, or even sign up for a tea ceremony or a walking tour. But ikebana (Japanese flower arranging)? I have to say my interest was piqued but I wouldn’t say I was overly enthusiastic.
Kimiko Yamamoto thankfully changed all that. Kimiko is the driving force behind Kyoto’s newest ikebana experience, an intimate but easy-going class for beginners on the principles of Japanese flower arranging. I joined her on my last trip to Kyoto to see if I could be convinced to like this traditional art.
The class, which is held in a refurbished machiya (townhouse) that also hosts En Tea Ceremony in the afternoons, began with a short history of ikebana. With pictures and clear explanations, Kimiko lead me through the basic styles of ikebana and how they have changed over the years. She also told me what to look for in the practice of ikebana – the use of empty space in an arrangement, the concept of showcasing both life and death in the materials chosen.
Lest you think this was just a lecture, rest assured there is definitely a hands-on component! With Kimiko’s gentle guidance, I worked with three seasonal plants – bright bushy cockscomb blooms, white gentian, and the leaves of the Japanese raspberry plant.
Making an arrangement was both easier and harder than I thought. The actual placement of the flowers was simple, made easy by a spiny flat tool called a kenzan into which you stick the stems. Kimiko told me I wanted my arrangement to cover the kenzan so it couldn’t be seen when viewing the flowers. I also wanted my arrangement to be built in three levels, with one type of plant up high, another occupying the middle space and one down low near the kenzan. Sounds easy, right? I thought so too, until Kimiko’s trained eye showed me two branches I had arranged that were in exact alignment, a no-no in ikebana. She also helped me to see that – with my Western flower-arranging mentality – I had made most of my branches point to the sky. With her help, I rearranged some to lay flat on the dish or even bend away from the container at an odd angle.
Before this class, I confess to not having much interest in ikebana beyond admiring an arrangement briefly before moving on. Thanks to Kimiko’s enthusiasm, however, and the chance to actually try my hand at this art, I must say I’d love to give it another go! If you are looking for a unique way to spend a morning in Kyoto, I wholeheartedly recommend Ikebana Cadeau.
Check out the Ikebana Cadeau website for more details.