ikebana and life in japan

a blog about ikebana and life in japan


Christmas Ikebana in the Snow

Twinkling lights, smells of cinnamon and spices from the kitchen, smiles on people's faces, familiar songs on the radio, decorations everywhere you look, and the hope of snow -- yes, it's that time of year again, Christmas!

Christmas is my favorite time of the year. There is just something about the season that brings out the best in people, it's a time when wishes are granted, a time of magic, hope, love, and giving. Who wouldn't love that?

It also means it's time for some Christmas ikebana. It's difficult to find what I think of as Christmas materials, cedar and pine branches, the traditional evergreens of Christmas, here in Japan. The thought here is that if you have any kind of green and red, you have Christmas. But it just doesn't feel right to me. Yes, it is pretty, but it just isn't Christmas without the traditional Christmas boughs.

A couple of weeks ago, the Morioka Chapter of Ohara-ryu Ikebana had a small exhibition, a みんなの花展 (Minna no katen). It was the beginning of November, but everyone wanted to do a Christmas themed exhibition. I felt it was a bit too early, but some of the others pointed out that in ikebana, using materials and themes earlier than their time is a common practice. So, we decided to have a Christmas exhibition with the sub-theme being Christmas Wish, trying to bring a bit of magic and hope to the people of the area after a devastating year hear in Japan.

I knew once the theme was decided that I wanted to do a circular form arrangement and use some candles, something a bit westernized. I began to make some plans about what I wanted to use -- Christmas evergreens, white spider chrysanthemums, white carnations, maybe even some poinsettia? I also wanted to make it look as if it was in the snow, so I began to look for some snow on the Internet.

I couldn't find anything I liked and just happened to stumble upon a picture of some snow in a jar surrounding a candle; and the snow was, believe it or not, some Epsom salts. On one of my outings to the grocery store, I tried to find some Epsom salts, but they don't have that here in Japan. So, I tried to look for some big crystal salts, which proved difficult to find, too. I ended up back on the Internet and found some beautiful salt from Nepal. I ordered a couple of kilograms and was set to go!

The week or so before, I began to look for the Christmas evergreens that I wanted to use. Close to Christmas it is difficult to find that kind of material; it was even more difficult to find it in the beginning of November. Outside of the school that I teach at, there are a few Christmas evergreens, so I snipped a few branches from the bushes. I was lucky enough to find some suitable evergreens at a flower shop in a local grocery store, too. And I even managed to find some eucalyptus to mix in with the other evergreen branches. I think I had 5 different green materials by the time the exhibition rolled around. The white carnations and spider chrysanthemums were easy to find, too; but in the end, I decided not to use any poinsettia. I wanted to use only white flowers and use a few red ball ornaments to add a splash of color to the arrangement.

I made my circular form using 5 small jam jars that I had been saving for quite a while. (I knew they would come in handy one of these days.) I had a large candle stand that I placed in the center of the arrangement with a large white candle, and I covered the base of the arrangement in my salt "snow". I thought it looked very cold and frosty, but with the red ball ornaments, it still had a happy feeling to it. When viewed from above, it looked like a wreath, but I had used 5 containers with the materials spreading out in a circular motion -- a perfect combination of eastern ikebana and western Christmas.

Circular form
A close-up -- you can see the "snow" and the way the materials reach out in a circular form.
I also added a few pine cones to give it a more natural feel.
I thought the spider chrysanthemums also looked like snowflakes.
A close-up of the "snow".
View from above, a wreath. (Sorry, not the best picture. I took this one with my phone.)

The exhibition was held in a hotel lobby, and it put a lot of smiles on people faces as they walked around looking at all of the beautiful flowers. I think the magic and hope of Christmas was felt by everyone who attended the exhibition. I certainly felt it, and it warmed my heart.

Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think, or any of your favorite Christmas memories.


Golden Fall Ikebana Exhibition

It's that time of year again -- time for the fall ikebana exhibitions. Yes, that's right, exhibition"s".

This year, the two exhibitions were held at the same time. One of them is the local one in my city, but the other exhibition is the prefectural exhibition held in a city about an hours drive north of where I live. The prefectural exhibition is held in two parts over four days. I was lucky enough to take part in the second half, so I didn't have to worry about trying to do two different arrangements in two different cities in one day. Whew!

This year, I wanted to use something gold in my arrangements. I always think of gold as a fall color. I bought some petrified willow, which has great shapes and movement. It's not really petrified, but it is very hard and will not bend, hence the name. I left them out of water for about a week, and then I got out my can of gold spray paint and sprayed away. The golden effect was achieved.

I also wanted to use some type of colored leaves in my arrangement -- it is fall, after all. But most of the leaves that you can use do not last a long time. And the place where the exhibition is held gets quite warm, causing the flowers to wilt or fade faster than usual. I went to the flower shop to see what they had, and they had the perfect material -- colored hypericum leaves. Usually, hypericum has small red or yellow berries, but these didn't have any berries, and the leaves had turned wonderful fall colors. Perfect! I had my two main materials. Now I only had to decide what I wanted to do.

For the exhibition here in my city, I wanted to do a Hanamai arrangement. It is my favorite style, you know (it is the name of the blog, after all!). I thought that I needed some type of large leaf to go with the line of the petrified willow, and I thought a punch of green would made the colored leaves stand out a bit more, too. I ended up using a small banana leaf. Instead of doing a rising form of Hanamai, I did an inclining form of Hanamai that showed off the movement of the petrified willow.

Hanamai (view from the front)   Petrified Willow, Hypericum, Banana Leaf

view from the right

view from the left

I thought that the arrangement turned out well, except for the horrid background of the old, dirty, peg board. Just don't look at that part of it!

For the prefectural exhibition, I wanted to do a basic form, the Inclining Form. Usually at an exhibition, the arrangements are very big, using lots of flowers and different kinds of materials. I wanted to do something simple, and really show the beauty of the line of the petrified willow. I chose a bright yellow chrysanthemum for this arrangement. I wanted a beautiful brown/yellow one, but they didn't have any at that time. The one that I did choose is very big and almost balls out when opened. Many people thought that it was a Dahlia, but no; just a beautiful chrysanthemum.

Inclining Form    Petrified Willow, Chrysanthemum "Anastasia", Hypericum

You can't tell in the picture, but the vase also had a nice texture to it that added a bit of weight to the arrangement.

It was a busy four days, but I think the arrangements turned out well. Both of them were simple, yet had interesting lines and textures to bring out the beauty of the materials.

*Now, this coming weekend, I have another exhibition. It is a little early, but it will be a Christmas themed exhibition. I have some thoughts on what I want to do, but haven't quite made up my mind, yet. I will post pictures later and let you know what I did.