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Notes on the Valley

By Monith Ilavarasan

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About this blog: My parents, brother, and I moved to Pleasanton when I was in the seventh grade. I then graduated from Amador Valley High School, went to college at UC Davis and started out a career in tech. After several years working in large co...  (More)

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The simple beauty of arranging nature

Uploaded: May 10, 2023
As a kid whenever I went to the library or bookstore with my mom I would always head straight to the comic section. While I was absorbed in the stories about people with powers I was unlikely to get and physiques I was even more unlikely to achieve, my mom would keep busy in another section.

I remember her looking through various books around arts and crafts that she would explore in her free time. I was not a very artsy person so I never understood the appeal. At the time, I thought one of the least interesting types of books she would bring back were books containing pictures of a few flowers and a weird phrase, “ikebana”.

Recently the East Bay Times ran a piece around how ikebana was being practiced regularly right here in Pleasanton. At the Stoneridge Creek retirement community, a group of women get together on a regular basis to practice this art.

Ikebana, also known as Kado, is the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement and its history is rich with symbolism and meaning.

The origins of Ikebana can be traced back to the sixth century, when Buddhist monks first introduced the practice of offering flowers to Buddha. Today, there are hundreds of Ikebana schools, each with its own unique approach and philosophy. However, all schools of Ikebana share a common goal: to create a harmonious and beautiful arrangement of flowers that reflects the natural world.

The three main practices are called Ikenobo, Ohara, and Sogetsu.

Ikenobo, the earliest form, was simple and focused on creating an arrangement of flowers that would reflect the beauty of nature. The school emphasizes the use of natural materials and simple, elegant arrangements that reflect the beauty of the natural world. It also emphasizes the use of harmony, balance, and rhythm in creating arrangements that evoke a sense of calm and tranquility.

The Ohara style of ikebana, also known as Ohara-Ryu, is a modern school of ikebana that was founded in 1912 by Ohara Unshin. This style has two main forms, the Moribana and Heika. In Moribana plants are arranged in low, wide containers called Suiban while Heika emphasizes the usage of tall, cylindrical vases.

One of the key features of the Ohara style is its use of three levels or tiers in the arrangement, known as the shin, soe, and hikae. The shin is the primary branch or stem that forms the backbone of the arrangement, while the soe and hikae are secondary and tertiary materials that are used to create depth and interest.

In the nineteenth century, a new school of Ikebana emerged called Sogetsu. Sogetsu was founded by a man named Teshigahara Sofu and was characterized by a free-form approach that encouraged practitioners to use their creativity and imagination. It was also one of the first schools of Ikebana to incorporate non-traditional materials into arrangements, such as wire, plastic, and even rocks.

In addition to its aesthetic qualities, Ikebana is also steeped in symbolism and meaning. Each flower and stem used in an arrangement has a specific meaning, and the way in which the flowers are arranged can convey a particular message or emotion. A simple arrangement of white flowers might be used to express purity and innocence, while a more complex arrangement with multiple colors might be used to represent the changing seasons.

Ikebana is a beautiful and meaningful art form that has been an important part of Japanese culture for centuries. Its history is rich with tradition and symbolism, and it continues to evolve and inspire new generations of artists and practitioners around the world.

It took me over twenty years to finally understand and appreciate this art form like my mother did. When my partner and I were planning our wedding we took one look at the prices for floral arrangements and immediately decided we would do most of it ourselves.

My mother heard us and came up with a plan. The day before our wedding she ordered flowers from Costco and found some discount vases. She spent hours late into the night with a few family members putting table centerpieces together. I saw the beauty that arranging a few bits of nature could hold.

Like many other forms of expression, ikebana offers a rewarding way to connect with the beauty of nature while expressing creativity, imagination, and love.
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