Kika Shibata, right, demonstrates the Japanese art of ikebana at Neiman Marcus with the help of her daughter June-na Shibata.

School takes ikebana
beyond simple flower

There's more to ikebana than pretty flowers, and the Sogetsu School, in particular, believes in ikebana with no limits, in which anything -- even people -- may be used as "material" to be displayed anywhere and in any circumstances.

Members of the Garden Club of Honolulu got a firsthand look at this phenomenon during the group's breakfast event "CreaTables," at Neiman Marcus Wednesday morning -- ikebana as performance art, if you will.

Building her arrangements in a form of live theater, Kika Shibata, deputy director of the Sogetsu San Jose South Bay Branch, wielded wire and clippers in dazzling the plant enthusiasts with her expertise, working quickly with fresh flowers, plus material she had gathered a few days earlier on hikes, during arboretum explorations and from club members' back yards.

"That's where you get to see the local plants," said Shibata, who heads home for California today. "I like to challenge myself; I don't want anyone to say, 'Oh, she can do that because she's got beautiful things to work with.' "

Her displays included twigs, branches covered with mold, and leaves in various states of decay, appreciated for their texture and curl. Some of her arrangements towered 8 to 10 feet, more than double her height, at 5 feet.

The works will be on display -- some as part of table settings enhanced by china, crystal and silverware -- at NM through the week, or as long as the plant materials hold up.

One of the revelations to her audience was the placement of branches, upside down. "It gives a more exciting line, like calligraphy," she said.

For her last demonstration, ikebana master Kika Shibata (far right) created an arrangement of people holding various stems and flowers. Among them were her daughter, June-na Shibata, left, Jeannine Espinda, Joyce Tomanari, Allison Holland, Joan Farrell, Jody Yu, and Anne Hagar.

Shibata hoped to deliver the message that anyone can create ikebana. "Everyone has the talent," she said. A good arrangement is a matter of studying one's materials.

"Even if it's a single flower, look at it carefully. If it's facing down, your arrangement will look unhappy. That's not the way a flower grows."

A side benefit of floral arranging, is that those who practice the art gain an appreciation for changing seasons. "As you drive or walk around your neighborhood, you see more things, how a palm leaves look different from week to week. You enjoy nature more."

The Sogetsu School of ikebana was established by late Iemoto Sofu Teshigahara (1900-1979) in 1927. Believing that the art -- traditionally of flower arrangement -- should be both enjoyable and creative, Sofu developed a philosophy rooted in Japanese tradition yet meeting the requirements of the age.

Recognizing man's ability to travel the globe, he sought to eliminate borders, incorporating customs, plants and materials from all over the world, making ikebana available to everyone, thus preserving its legacy.

For her finale, Shibata did no less than incorporate people into her work. Her assistants, clad in black, were composed and set with flowers and branches in their hands in the still life.

"I have to fall in love with my materials to work, and my helpers were so wonderful I loved them, so I said, 'OK, you're going to be part of my arrangement.' "

And like the ephemeral beauty of flowers themselves, her human tableau was intended to create but a small moment of joy and wonder, preserved now on film and digital medium, but also in the imaginations of witnesses to the event.

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