Friendship through flowers


POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2009

The neat piles of buds, branches, leaves and flowers on Elaine Arita's work table are what oils on a palette were to Van Gogh and Monet - the start of a magnificent work of art.

A renowned master of ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, Arita studies the materials with a critical eye before determining their place in a container that she has selected with equal care. “;I don't have any preconceived ideas,”; she said. “;I look at all the materials, and certain things will draw my attention. Once I decide where the first material goes, the arrangement usually comes together easily.”;




Splendors of Ikebana


        » On view: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. March 23 to 27

» Place: Honolulu Hale, 530 S. King St., downtown Honolulu


» Admission: Free


» Call: 768-6622, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or visit www.honolulu.gov/moca


» Notes: A 10-minute video on ikebana will be shown throughout the day. Headmaster Toho Minami of the Toin Misho Ryu ikebana school in Osaka, Japan, and Keiko Fukuda of the Ikenobo School of Ikebana in Honolulu will hold demonstrations from 10 to 11 a.m. March 24 and 26, respectively.




Honolulu chapter abloom with activity


        Established in 1961, Ikebana International Honolulu Chapter 56 is one of 165 Ikebana International chapters throughout the world. Ikebana International has membership in more than 60 countries, from Paraguay, Portugal and Pakistan to Mexico, Malta and Malaysia. Honolulu Chapter 56 has more than 116 members representing 11 ikebana schools.

Ellen Gordon Allen, the wife of an American general, founded Ikebana International in Tokyo in 1956 as a nonprofit cultural organization “;to unite the peoples of the world through their mutual love of nature and enjoyment of ikebana.”; Its motto is “;Friendship Through Flowers.”;


Those interested in ikebana classes should visit ikebana-hawaii.org or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Among offerings is a youth education program geared for children 5 through 15.




Arita's creations are visual poems - expressions of beauty, peace and elegance that are consummate examples of the notion that “;less is more.”; In ikebana, simplicity and clarity are the hallmarks of exceptional design.

“;I first started taking ikebana classes from the late Mrs. Florence Chinen in 1974 as a hobby,”; said Arita, whom the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii honored as a Living Treasure in 1993. “;She emphasized that people's love and appreciation for nature inspire ikebana and that imperfection has appeal. For example, the most beautiful and interesting arrangements often are slanted or asymmetrical.”;

Arita is a past president and the current exhibition chairwoman of Ikebana International Honolulu Chapter 56, which sponsors the annual “;Splendors of Ikebana”; event.

Now in its fourth year, the exhibit welcomes spring, shares the history of ikebana and shows how local artists have imbued their works with a uniquely Hawaiian flair through the use of birds of paradise, anthuriums, orchids, ti leaves, ferns and other indigenous plants and flowers. Eight ikebana schools on Oahu will display 60 creations this year, including works by children ages 6 through 12.

Incorporating bamboo and palm trees, four of the arrangements will rise more than 10 feet tall. Also of note are creations fashioned from materials recycled from other ikebana. These include moss, driftwood, protea and baby's breath, which hold their shape well when dried, and plants that can regrow their roots, such as the willow, camellia and chrysanthemum.

According to Arita, balance, proportion, contrast and harmony are key to good ikebana composition. Artists choose materials with the colors, lines and three-dimensional forms that please and intrigue them.

“;Creating an arrangement begins with thinking, visualizing, researching, sketching, gathering materials and deciding what vessel to use,”; Arita said. “;Putting together the actual arrangement doesn't take long, perhaps an hour.”;

That said, it probably will take several days for her to go from conception to completion for the 10-foot ikebana she's creating for this year's exhibit.

“;Like any art, introspection and contemplation is an important part of the process,”; Arita said. “;I find it rewarding to create something beautiful for the enjoyment of others, and in doing so, I become a better person, more relaxed, patient and aware.”;

Ikebana also helps practitioners live in the moment, develop a sense of rhythm and order, and express their gratitude for all of nature's gifts - including the gnarled branch and the misshapen seedpod. Because ikebana celebrates the beauty of every season, even bare twigs from the ume (Japanese apricot) tree, depicting the austerity of winter, have aesthetic value.

People worldwide have long used plants and flowers for decorative purposes, but ikebana became a disciplined art in Japan to help people foster an intimate relationship with nature. It traces its beginnings back 600 years to the introduction of Buddhism in Japan. Religious rituals included offerings of flowers to Buddha and the spirits of the dead.

Priests and aristocrats, including the macho samurai, were the first practitioners of ikebana. By the late 15th century, however, commoners living in the most remote locales also were enjoying the art, and festivals throughout Japan often featured elaborate ikebana exhibitions.

Over the decades, scores of ikebana schools opened; today there are some 3,000 in Japan alone.

“;Each school has its own curriculum,”; Arita said. “;It takes years for students to progress through the levels from beginner's to master's courses. Most of the schools are headquartered in Japan. You don't have to go there for classes, but in order to qualify for a degree, you must adhere to stringent rules and pass comprehensive tests.”;

Once students grasp the basic principles and techniques of ikebana, they are free to create within the confines of the materials, setting and occasion.

Fresh ideas are shared at Ikebana International's convention in Japan, held every five years and attended by representatives from chapters around the globe. The 10th convention is set for May 1-4, 2011, in Tokyo.

“;The camaraderie at the conventions is something to behold,”; Arita said. “;Ikebana is our common bond; there is no language barrier. We speak through flowers and the flowers speak to us.”;


Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Bulletin have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.