PENN TWP — More than 60 disciples of an ancient Japanese art gathered in Butler last month to learn from a master.
Akihiro Kasuya, the iemoto, or headmaster, of the Ichiyo school of Japanese flower arranging, was the featured speaker during two days of workshops last week at the Butler Country Club. The event marked the 30th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Ichiyo School of Ikebana Tokyo Japan.
Ikebana, which translates as “living flowers,” is an art form that uses flowers and plant life to create compositions whose beauty may be overlooked if the same materials were seen in nature.
There are numerous schools of ikebana, each with its own set of rules and techniques.
The Ichiyo school was founded in Japan in 1937 by a brother and sister, Meikof and Ichiyo Kasuya. The two sought to create original ikebana suitable for modern lifestyles and environments.
The two core philosophies of the school are the concept that an arrangement must fit the environment in which it is displayed and that the individual arranger's emotions and character are expressed in the arrangement.
Akihiro Kasuya, Meikof's son, said of his arrangements, “It can go any place. Before, there was only one place for the display of calligraphy or flower arrangements, the tokonomo (alcove).”
“But now in Japan, the system changes,” Kasuya said. “Before Japan was not connected with other countries. Japan was closed. But with the living system getting changed, ikebana must change.”
It was in Japan that the Pittsburgh chapter's co-founder, Shirley Winkler of Saxonburg, was first exposed to the art of flower arranging.
Winkler lived in Japan for six years between 1969 and 1975 when her husband worked for Pennzoil.
“I lived in Kobe, Japan, and there are many arts available,” said Winkler. “It was through a friend who suggested I take ikebana. I finally found an English-speaking teacher and she was Ichiyo. It could have been any school.
“In Ichiyo, less is more,” said Winkler. “We have beautiful arrangements. We deal with nature, and we have voids and movement. And many times we arrange with Japanese music.”
“It's a new dimension in that there's not an abundance of flowers,” said Gerry Tinder of Pleasant Hills, the chapter's vice president.
About Ichiyo, Tinder said, “When we consider choice, it's space and a much more open arrangement than the Western style.”
A desire to continue studying and practicing ikebana led Winkler to co-found the Pittsburgh chapter.
Currently it has 32 members and meets on the third Thursday of the month at Phipps Garden Center in Shadyside.
Winkler said it would take her about a half hour to do a flower arrangement as opposed to the 90 minutes to two hours needed for a beginner.
“We use branches, the flowers of the season, a container, the kenzan or needle holder,” said Winkler. The kenzan is a heavy lead plate with erected brass needles.
“That's why we use music. It just relaxes you and gives you that Oriental feeling at that Oriental design,” she said.
Tinder said the flower arranging is “so totally different from the Western style.”
Tinder lived in Tokyo in the 1980s, where she studied ikebana for three years.
Her teacher told her about the Pittsburgh group, said Tinder, “and when I got to Pittsburgh I called Shirley and began.”
Winkler said 67 Ichiyo enthusiasts from 13 states converged on Butler for four lessons in the two days with Kasuya.
When asked how the classes went, Kasuya said, “This lesson, I don't talk much, but the people were quiet and respectful.”