Bringing East and West together through flowers

Keys Sunday contributorMay 26, 2008 

While American gardeners who create flower arrangements in their homes tend towards large and lush arrangements, the tradition in the Far East is much different. Their style, particularly in Japan, tends toward a spare and much simpler, style. Often the approach is integrated with the flower arranger’s own spiritual life.

Mieko Kubota, an accomplished artist in ikebana, a Japanese method of flower arranging, is just that sort of person. Kubota brought the beauty and simplicity of this art form to Marathon at a meeting of the Marathon Garden Clu. Speaking to a room full of local gardeners accustomed to western ways, Kubota explained and demonstrated a style that is truly foreign to Americans.

As Kubota explained, she arranges flowers, greenery, bamboo and even berries to reflect her own personal interpretation of the natural forces. While the form was originally very codified with strict rules and guidelines, now there are as many as 300 different schools of ikebana.

These range from the strictly traditional to the various contemporary free-style forms. On the Historical Museum of Southern Florida Web site Kubota describes her own style as eclectic. Similar to the manner in which a jazz musician improvises within standard chord changes, she says that she “explores personal interpretations of traditional ikebana patterns.” Her designs incorporate found objects, experimental containers, native plants and tropical flowers.

Ikebana is also closely connected with Zen Buddhism and Kubota indicated that she was introduced to this spiritual and personal discipline as a young woman.

“While the boys received instruction in kendo and karate we learned ikebana and the tea ceremony,” she said. “It’s a way to simplify your life.”

Often too the art forms including calligraphy are used as a tool in Zen meditation. She told the group that ikebana can form a way for people to understand their own nature and achieve an inner calmness.

Certainly the arrangements represent that simplicity. Often consisting of just one flower or a branch of bamboo, ikebana is anything but a western way of viewing the world.

The Japanese flower arrangement creates a harmony of linear construction, rhythm, and color. While westerners tend to emphasize the quantity and colors of the flowers, devoting their attention mainly to the beauty of the blossoms, the Japanese emphasize the linear aspects of the arrangement. They have developed the art to include the vase, stems, leaves, and branches, as well as the flowers. Kubota brought several vases with her including one given to her by her late mother over 40 years ago.

Kubota teaches and demonstrates ikebana throughout South Florida. She lives with her daughter and her daughter’s small children in a house in Miami, whose entranceway is decked with bonsai formed from blooming bougainvillea and ficus plants.

On her Web site, Kubota explains that her perceptions of ikebana parallel her feelings about bonsai, the Japanese art of shaping small shrubs to give the illusion of trees in nature. In 1971 Kubota and her late husband founded a nursery in rural southern Dade County, dedicated to bonsai.

She says that “bonsai teaches you that you must follow the rules of nature. You shape bonsai to emphasize nature’s shape. And there are many styles of bonsai, but nature decides what style it will be.”

Today, flower arrangement continues to be venerated as one of the traditional arts in Japan. It is practiced on many occasions like ceremonies and parties, and people still choose to study the art.

Kubota is the local president of the Ikebana International school, which was founded in the United States in the 1950s. The motto of Ikebana International is “friendship through flowers.”

In keeping with this motto, Kubota uses ikebana to reach out to others in the community through the beauty of arranged flowers. Her trip to Marathon was just such an effort.

In addition to teaching, she has demonstrated the art on many occasions. She donates her time each year to fund-raisers for the Miami Horticultural Society, held at the Miami Museum of Science.

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