ikebana and life in japan

a blog about ikebana and life in japan


Zokei Exhibition -- More than flowers

This past weekend, I took part in a Zokei exhibition. Zokei is a highly advanced form of ikebana, that when looked at one may think, "That's ikebana?"

Anything can be used as a material, anything, and you don't even have to use flowers. Each work is a piece of art, a sculpture. Form and shape are the main themes of zokei. The materials used in each piece should transcend their original form or meaning and be transformed into something new. It is a process of trial and error and trying to make your idea come to life.

This was my third time to take part in the event. It has been held for the past 19 years, and every year, I am amazed at some of the beautiful and new things I see.

This year, I wanted to create a large work that had not only impact and visual appeal, but also textural appeal. In ikebana, one always uses flowers and branches and leaves as the material -- things that grow above the ground. I wanted to show the beauty of what is beneath these things, the material that helps all of the beautiful things we see above the ground grow and bloom. I wanted to showcase "dirt". I love the smell of the ground after it has been freshly tilled, and the range of colors is also amazing -- from light brown to red to yellow to black. It's something that is ever present under our feet, but something that we rarely think about. I had given myself quite the challenge!

After a couple of weeks of working on the piece, I had something that I had never seen before and definitely had impact. It was about 2 meters tall and 80cm wide. I was proud of the piece but wasn't sure how it would be received. I was nervous but at the same time excited by what I had created.

Upon arriving at the exhibition, most of the pieces were already on display. And like the previous years, I was amazed at what I was seeing.

Small shells layered into an interesting shape

Small balloon shaped pods en mass

Dried corn husks and the silk from the corn

Dandelion flowers gone to seed

Over 20,000 pieces of felt rolled by hand

Rope that has been deconstructed and bleached

Dried lotus leaves arranged in a flowing line


I began to set my piece up, and several people stopped to look at it and ask questions. It seemed that people liked what they were seeing, and it was something new and different.

In the afternoon, the judging began. A top teacher from the Ohara School of Ikebana along with the 4th Headmaster's widow (up until this year, she had been acing as the Head of the school) went around to each work and looked at them carefully. This year, there were a total of 46 pieces, and they were all different and unique in their own way.

I was very surprised at the results of the judging. My piece got the top prize, the Riji-cho award! This award was chosen by the Headmaster's widow, so I was very honored. She said it was something different and new, and the copper wire was just the right touch to add a sense of delicacy to the large and heavy weight of the soil.

Soil and copper wire
Zokei. Another reason I like ikebana.