ONE of the more fascinating avenues of insight into Japanese culture provided by the upcoming Canberra Nara Candle Festival is ikebana, the traditional art of making cut flowers come alive.
Initial comparisons with the creative skills used by florists are hard to avoid, the most obvious difference being that in Western flower arranging, bigger is generally better while ikebana tends to favour a minimalist approach.
Ping Block, who has taught ikebana locally for more than 10 years, is probably Canberra’s foremost expert on the artform, although she politely deflects the suggestion.
“The word ikebana actually means to give life to the flowers, and it has been going on for the last 500 years,” says Ping.
Over the centuries, different traditions or “schools” have been established within the artform, the oldest of which, ikenobo, was developed by a priest in Kyoto, building on religious rituals thought to have come to Japan with Buddhism.
Flowers, branches and other materials are carefully selected, trimmed and arranged with close attention paid to how the parts relate to each other in terms of length and angle. Wide, shallow containers filled with water are often used, with the stems supported by a metal weight covered in brass spikes called a kenzan.
Ping won’t be running workshops and demonstrations at the Candle Festival this year, due to illness, but taking her place will be ACT public servant Sachie Terasaki (pictured), who moved to Australia six years ago, and has lived in Canberra for about 18 months.
Sachie will be giving two demonstrations, each followed by a hands-on workshop.
“Actually it’s not about flower arranging,” she says. “We really try to create the space, with the flowers and branches. You don’t even need to have too many flowers. Usually the main structures are two stems, with only the leaves.”
Sachie was first introduced to ikebana as a teenager in Japan, where it was an activity at high school, and loves to share her hobby with others.
“We look at the flower and the branch and we see each leaf, and they all perform different roles in the arrangement,” says Sachie.
“Sometimes we go into minimalism. By pursuing that kind of ultimate beauty, we see that we don’t need this or we don’t need that, and it could be quite simple, so probably we’re more pursuing the core of the beauty.”
Canberra Nara Candle Festival, Lennox Gardens, Yarralumla, October 26, 4.30-9pm. More information at events.act.gov.au/nara
Top image: Ikebana practitioner Sachie Terasaki… “We look at the flower and the branch and we see each leaf, and they all perform different roles in the arrangement.”