Ikebana with a youthful flair


POSTED: Monday, March 15, 2010

Betty Tanaka can often be found scouting tree trimming sites and garbage left alongside the road. Her trips reveal a bountiful lot of branches, fronds, driftwood and an array of materials beautifully transformed into ikebana arrangements.

“;We are so fortunate in Hawaii. There is lots of greenery and flowers,”; she said. “;You don't need special materials and that's what makes it fun. Enough material can be found in the yard to make arrangements. It doesn't need to cost a lot of money.”;

Tanaka spends the first Saturday each month sharing her knowledge of ikebana with a youth group she established six years ago to perpetuate the culture. “;The culture is dying,”; Tanaka said. “;I hope a few of them will take an interest and become teachers some day.”;

The kids start by going out to find leaves in the yard to use in their arrangements, she said, opening their minds to possibilities beyond florist-cut flowers. Once in a while, they might knock on a neighbor's door to request specific plant material.

THE STUDENTS' work will be featured alongside the masters' at the “;Splendors of Ikebana”; exhibit at Honolulu Hale opening next Monday. More than 40 arrangements in all different shapes and sizes will feature a variety of exotic materials. The demonstration intends to showcase the evolution of the centuries-old Japanese art form by including both traditional and contemporary arrangements.

One student, 15-year-old Zoe Shimizu, hopes that she will be among those creating arrangements and sharing the knowledge when she reaches Tanaka's age.

Anela Shimizu, Zoe's mother, has fun trying to guess which arrangement her daughter created at the end of each class.

“;Their personalities really come across in the arrangements,”; she said, noting that each student has her own style. “;Zoe's arrangements are bigger and louder, like her,”; she said.

Thirteen-year-old Carly Shimizu hopes that she can teach the art form to her friends once she becomes more skilled. “;I really like flowers,”; she said. “;My arrangements have become more creative and artistic.”;

Both girls have taken classes for about five years.

The Sogetsu School of Ikebana is especially known for its contemporary, artistic approach to ikebana. It wouldn't be unusual to see these students incorporate old bicycle parts and tires into arrangements.

“;Anyone, anywhere can create an ikebana with anything,”; Tanaka said. “;They just need to look at it and know the basic form (i.e., three stems may be used to form a triangle). Once the form is created, anything can be used to fill in the arrangement.”;

Zoe added, “;You start to see things in a prettier way, not just as rubbish.”;

Tanaka tries to incorporate other materials and art forms such as ceramics and origami into the monthly class to keep things interesting. She also teaches adult classes. What she finds most interesting is that “;everybody has the same materials but no two arrangements are alike.”;

The adult and youth classes have differences, as well. “;Kids are fun because they are so naive and spontaneous. Adults want to do it perfectly,”; she said.

Tanaka admits that she might be the teacher but also learns new things from the kids.

“;There's always something to learn ... things you didn't even realize.”;