ikebana and life in japan

a blog about ikebana and life in japan


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Zoukei Ikebana with Dirt and Glue

Zoukei Exhibit
Judges Prize
Dirt and glue on Styrofoam base

On September 12-13, 2014, I took part in the 23rd Annual Aomori Zoukei Exhibition. Zoukei ikebana is a totally free form of ikebana where anything can be used to make a sculptural arrangement. This was my forth time to participate in the exhibition.  

Professor Yokohigashi was the judge, along with Rijicho, the current headmaster’s mother. The Professor and Rijicho both congratulated me on my work and said it was very powerful and had a strong impact. They especially liked the natural cracking of the dirt as it dried. I thought the cracking was a nice contrast with the curved shape of the piece.

I was so excited and honored to receive the prize! I’m already looking forward to next year’s exhibition.

A different angle of the work.

Here you can see how large it is.

Judges Prize 

My certificate and prize!


Autumn Rimpa Ikebana

This week for my lesson, I did a Rimpa arrangement, which is unique to the Ohara School of Ikebana.

The Rimpa arrangement is a type of ikebana that is based on he highly decorative works of the Rimpa School, which flourished during the Edo Period. Representative artists include Ogata Korin and Tawaraya Sotatsu. The goal is to capture in ikebana the decorative qualities of materials and the overall design effects typical of Rimpa works of art. To this end, the unique characteristics of plants are exaggerated or refined. For the most part, materials used are those found in Rimpa paintings. Mastery of the Rimpa Arrangement depends upon knowledge and study of the original works of the Rimpa artists.
     -- taken from the English textbook from the Ohara School of Ikebana, Ikebana for Everybody

Arrangements are usually done in large, flat containers, especially for arrangements done at an exhibition. But for personal study and practice, the use of two Basic Moribana containers can also be used. All of the materials, except the small chrysanthemum, were from my teacher's yard. I was lucky to find interesting and unusual shapes with the Toad lily, and the the Japanese Pampas Grass (susuki) was a beautiful shade of red.

The arrangement spreads out horizontally, giving full play to the shapes of the Toad lily. The small chrysanthemums give a nice contrast and focal point connecting the two containers by placing a small group of them in each. Last, I added the susuki, which was the most difficult part for me. They spread out throughout all of the groups helping to unify the work as a whole. The susuki leaves also help to connect the groups to each other. Showing the surface of the water is also a point in this arrangement. It helps to give the arrangement a light feeling and helps the viewer to feel the cool fall breeze blowing over the surface of the water.

Rimpa Arrangement
Toad lily, small chrysanthemum, Japanese pampas grass (susuki)

You can see in the above picture how it stretches out horizontally, but there is also a depth to it that doesn't really come forth in the picture. So, I decided to take a video of it to show that off. (If you click on the four arrows that are pointing out in the lower right-hand corner next to the vimeo logo, it should make the screen larger.)

rimpa from stephencoler.com on Vimeo.

Please feel free to leave any comments below. I love to hear what you have to say.


Summer Ikebana In a Vase

Summer is in full swing here in Japan -- it is hot and muggy most of the time, making for long days where you don't want to do anything because of the heat. I like the cold winter months much more than the hot summer months. But, it has not been that bad this year. The hot weather came later than usual, and I am happy for that.

In the summer, it's important to find ways to help keep yourself cool. One of my favorite ways is with a cool feeling ikebana arrangement. Just looking at an arrangement can help to cool you off, and you get to enjoy the beauty of the arrangement, too.

This week, for my weekly lesson, I did an arrangement in a vase. The Japanese witch-hazel has many large leaves on the branches. To achieve a cool feeling, you have to cut off many of the leaves and expose the beautiful gray/brown color of the branches. The leaves are a beautiful dark green and feel fresh and alive. Amongst the branches I inserted a couple of purple Chinese bellflowers. They rise up tall in the arrangement, showing the elegant line of the stem. To me, a purple and green arrangement always feels cool and refreshing.

Nageire, arrangement in a vase
Japanese witch-hazel, Chinese bellflower

In this arrangement, I have used only 3 branches of the witch-hazel and 2 stems of the bellflower; yet, it feels large and full of life. Paying special attention to the movement of the branches to show off their individual beauty and character is what makes ikebana special and different from Western style floral arrangements. Using fewer branches also helps to make the arrangement feel cool. The large space above the vase created by the curving branch of the witch-hazel stretching up toward the sky makes a beautiful space for the bellflower to be inserted. The tall bellflower in the space also helps to make the arrangement feel cool and refreshing. 

I thought it would be interesting to show a view from the side.

Here you can see how far forward it stretches. But, you don't notice it when looking at it from the front -- part of the magic of the Ohara School of Ikebana!

I hope you are staying cool in your part of the world. Maybe this will help to cool you off and make you feel refreshed.

As always, please feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below.


Early Summer Landscape Moribana

This week for my lesson, I did a Landscape Moribana arrangement depicting early summer near the bank of a pond. 

In Landscape Moribana, the arranger expresses the natural scenic beauty of the materials being used. Having an understanding of the natural growth characteristics of the plants, the environment, and the seasonal aspects of the materials is important when creating a landscape arrangement. The feelings and the creativity of the arranger are also part of the work.

In the front of the container, Spiraea thunbergii stretches out over the edge of the container creating the ground near the water’s edge. The bulrush rises up tall in the arrangement, leaning slightly forward, helping to bring the viewer into the arrangement. The bulrush is found naturally at the waters edge along the bank, so it is placed behind the Spiraea. In the back of the container, calla lily that has just begun to bloom peeks out from the white speckled leaves of the plant. The leaves of the calla lily stretch out over the surface of the water, helping to create the illusion of the flowers growing up out of a pond. 

Within the small confines of the container, three different spaces have been created — the ground, the bank, and the water. The large surface of the water helps to give the arrangement a cool and refreshing feeling, perfect for the hot days of summer. 

Spiraea thunbergii, bulrush, calla lily

I'll leave you with a haiku by the famous poet, Matsuo Basho, which I think is perfect for this arrangement.


furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

an old pond
a frog leaps
the sound of the water