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Ayumi Ikushima gently corrects me when I call her ‘sensei’ (‘teacher’). She is still learning the art of ikebana from a Buddhist monk, no less. ‘My teacher always tells me: “Do it half right, half wrong.” He means half of the arrangement should follow nature, and half is what you create yourself.’

Ayumi first demonstrates a more formal style of flower arrangement, called moribana, and begins by choosing the tai – the main diagonal line. One of the fundamentals of ikebana is taking away unnecessary elements, and so a large sprig of witch hazel is reduced to the ideal branch. Two smaller sprigs are added to create an asymmetrical triangle, along with some feathery pinks, a couple of closed irises and a single peony just beginning to open. In proportional terms, ikebana is often more ‘leaf and branch arrangement’ than ‘flower arrangement’.

The second style, keshiki, is more naturalistic. In it, Ayumi seeks to evoke the feeling of a landscape, in this case a marsh with irises. Like all ikebana, it is only meant to be seen from one side, in contrast to Westernstyle 360-degree arrangements. The thought that goes into it is a marvel: some irises are just coming into bloom and others are fading, and by running her fingers repeatedly over one of the long leaves, Ayumi makes it bend slightly to create a sense of gentle breeze. For her, making an arrangement is always an immersive experience. ‘Now I feel like I’m in the mud,’ she declares happily.

The arts of Japan cross paths in both predictable and unexpected places, from the tea ceremony to Koho’s ceramic-lined shuttles. Yet all ways have this in common: they begin and end in the mind.

Discover more

  • Ayumi Ikushima teaches ikebana to guests staying at restored townhouses, known as machiya, rented through Windows to Japan. The company also organises garden tours in Kyoto, which can include an ikebana demonstration.
  • Ikebana is divided into a number of different schools. Ikenobo is the oldest, dating back more than 500 years, while Ayumi works in the Saga Goryu style.
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The article ‘The art of Japan’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.

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