Photos courtesy of: Sogetsu

“Ikebana is a form of sculpture that exists only within a limited time span, transforms from moment to moment, then perishes.”

Can you introduce yourself, and give us a little family background?
My name is Akane Teshigahara. I am the 5th generation headmaster and instructor of the Sogetsu Ikebana School. I was born in Tokyo, Japan as the second of three sisters. My father directed movies such as Sunono Onna (Woman Inside the Dunes) and Tanin No Kao (A Stranger’s Face). He later became the third generation headmaster. My mother, Kobayashi Toshiko, was also in a similar field. She was an actress featured in movies such as Carmen Kokyo Ni Kaeru (Carmen Comes Home).

I started practicing Ikebana when I was 5-years-old. My Grandmother Kasumi, who was the second headmaster, instructed a juniors class. Yet as a child, I perceived Ikebana as something to be watched and enjoyed, not performed.

For those of us who don’t have a good understanding of Ikebana, could you give a brief explanation?
Ikebana is the art of creating three dimensional pieces using plants. The difference between Ikebana and other forms of sculptures is that the materials are “alive”. Ikebana is a form of sculpture that exists only within a limited time span, transforms from moment to moment, then perishes.

In the Sogetsu School, there are times when we create pieces exceeding the average or standard size. Yet, no matter how grand or powerful the piece may be, it too will transform, deteriorate, and come to an end. This undeniable fact of all living things, that they are perishable, is the essence of Ikebana. I believe that because of its limited time, Ikebana has the power to touch people’s hearts strongly.

From a more historical point of view, it is said that the practice of Ikebana began in the late 14th to early 15th centuries. As business, culture, and economy evolved, it became a more common process. More people became conscious of the notion of “space”. Yet from the Edo period to the Meiji period, Ikebana had turned into a practice of confining plants into a given space, rather than highlighting the plant’s natural form.

Can you tell us about your Grandfather?
My Grandfather, Sofu Teshigahara, doubted this strict form of Ikebana and the restriction of its formats and rules. He believed that the art of Ikebana encompassed infinite possibilities, that it was a three dimensional form of art through which one can freely express his or her self. With this strong belief, my grandfather established the Sogetsu-Ryu school of Ikebana in 1927.

What does it mean when we talk about “schools”, “ways”, “houses” or “ryugis”?
They all pretty much mean one thing. We are talking about the different schools and their beliefs and ways of teaching, or should I say styles. There are said to be as many as 700-800 Ryugis. Each has its own unique basic guidelines and carries its own philosophies of what Ikebana should be and how beauty is defined. Those who agree with or are positively influenced by the beliefs of a certain school attend classes demonstrating the embodiment of the teachings, the headmaster, and thus, a ryugi is formed.

How do you learn Ikebana?
It is similar to how an artist practices by sketching or how a singer trains vocally. One must have a basic understanding of their medium of expression. Students will learn the plants’ characteristics, special techniques on how to handle them, along with the specific school’s unique guidelines.

In Sogetsu, once one has mastered the basics, we minimize their limitations and encourage them to express themselves freely. Our motto is that the Sogetsu style Ikebana can be performed at anytime, anywhere, and by anybody. We aim for our students to be able to entrust their emotions into the flowers or plants, and to enjoy that process of expression.

What are some characteristics specific to Sogetsu?
First of all, we consider the vases or vessels to be an important part of the piece. It is not just a container in which we keep the plants watered, but an element that determines the whole structure and layout, sometimes even becoming the highlight of the piece. Yet, it doesn’t mean we only use expensive or rare vessels. At times, it requires the finding of an unlikely object from one’s surroundings or the combining of a few found objects to create a vessel. It is not the vessel itself that we take pride in, but the act of paying attention to it, and continuously being creative and imaginative with it.

Other than the plants and the vessels, there is one more key element that we pay close attention to at Sogetsu. This is space. Without having a full understanding of the location, and a comprehension of the environment, time and space, Ikebana cannot be successfully conducted. The students of Sogetsu are encouraged to be well attuned to their surroundings and the time period which they live in.

Approximately how many students do you have?
There are people that practice Ikebana casually and others that practice it more professionally. I’d say, at a professional level, Sogetsu holds 30,000 students who are licensed and registered throughout Japan, and approximately 1,800 members who are registered overseas. It is hard to say how many practice Ikebana casually.

Now that we have a better understanding of this art form, what is Ikebana to you, Akane?
Ikebana to me is an irreplaceable medium of expression. At times it is a portrayal of emotions directed at one person, and at times it is a message directed towards the world.