One of the inspiring moments for me as an ikenobo novice was simply standing and looking at these magnificent, monumental creations bringing to life an art form hundreds of years old. (It helped, too, that a fellow participant standing beside me had witnessed the construction of the above rikka and was revealing the secrets of putting together such an amazing arrangement. First stop: Home Depot.)
In fact, what made me want to learn the ikenobo style from the very beginning was seeing in San Francisco at the Ikenobo USA headquarters a rikka arrangment on display, which before I had seen only in old pictures. Their complex, sculptural, tree-like qualities appeal to me very much. I know rikka is a form difficult to master, and I'm eager to progress to the point that I can begin to learn it.
Even more inspiring to me in Boston was the full day of workshops. Because I've only been studying ikenobo for about a year, I was placed in the shoka/free-style workshop. In the morning we heard a lecture on shoka shofutai, the classic, traditional form of shoka and then attempted our own shoka arrangements. After lunch we listened to our professor from Japan, Professor Kobayashi, explain what free-style arrangements are all about and then, again, tried our best to create them.
This was a wonderful opportunity because I've been studying via email, photographs, and phone calls with a teacher in Colorado (I live Albuquerque, New Mexico). I hadn't seen shoka in the flesh (other than my own attempts), only photographs and drawings. I had also never experienced a professionally taught workshop in ikenobo before. It was exciting to watch the carts of gorgeous flowers, some of which I had never had the opportunity to lay hands on, arriving in a corridor of the Back Bay Events Center where our workshop was to take place: brilliant bird-of-paradise flowers, sunflowers, large satiny green leaves, and then later, stems of stunning helleconia, white orchids, palm fronds. I was nervous about what the professor might say about my arrangements as he went from table to table, looking at everyone's work, making large and small corrections, but I was also anxious to hear the in-person comments of an expert teacher from the source of ikebana, Japan.
I was also delighted by the unexpected. I knew that ikebana originated in a religious setting and has great spiritual significance. But I was surprised to find that it also includes competition and game-playing. On the first day of the celebration, the audience was allowed to see a ceremony apparently rarely performed that involved competition. It's called the mawari-ike ceremony and was established by Senjo Ikenobo in 1806 to improve skills through competition. Each competitor created an arrangement quickly, and then a judge selected the best.
|Shoka arrangement in mawari-ike ceremony|
The many Japanese teachers of ikenobo who accompanied Headmaster Sen'ei Ikenobo and his family to Boston definitely displayed playfulness and a sense of humor. A group of them performed a comic game for us, which reassured me that all is not seriousness in the art of ikenobo. The game involved a group of arrangements in progress before an audience. A bunch of teachers would come on stage, each bearing a leaf or flower from his or her favorite plant, and then be hit with the surprise task: use that leaf or flower for one of the named parts of a rikka arrangement not known to them beforehand. So one by one, each group would have to struggle to insert their usually inappropriate plant parts into ongoing rikka arrangements while we in the watching audience laughed at their efforts. It was very funny, but more than that, it demonstrated to me that all of us could take a lighthearted and undignified approach to their honorable ancient art form.