Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Old Ikebana Master

Teaching ikebana is a long tradition. I found this charming old photo on the internet and thought it would be nice to share it with you.

This photo is from 1873, 140 years old. Japan had been secluded for more than 200 years when the Japanese authorities were forced to open up it's borders in 1854. The Tokugawa shōgun had to to resign, and the emperor was restored to power. With the Empire of Japan started a period of nationalism and intense socio-economic restructuring known as the Meiji Restoration. It was a time of great change.

It's fascinating to reflect on the changes in the ikebana world that this old ikebana master must have experienced. In his life time he saw ikebana changing from being a male practice to one open to women. And later even a standard part of women's education, and a government supported policy training them to be "good wives and wise mothers".

His generation also saw an increase in the number of pupils practising Ikebana and ikebana schools multiplying. The rules of ikebana were simplified. The old ikebana master probably teached a nageire style in tall vases and the fashionable seika style, a simplification of the rules of the more formal rikka. The ikebana seen in the photo is a kind of leaning seika. This simple style is characterized by the use of three branches symbolizing heaven, man and earth.

If he had a long life it is possible that he experienced new and more extravagant flowers arriving with the huge western influence after the opening of Japan. At the end of the century the new flowers and the western style of furnitures inspired Unshin Ohara, founder of the Ohara school, to present a modernized moribana style, restoring ancient traditional  landscape arrangements. What was this old master's attitude towards the new flowers and the trendy moribana? Was he able to adjust? Was he even interested? Ikebana always flourishes at the crossroads of tradition and renewal. What will be the changes in the lifetime of our generation?

This photo is believed to have been taken in Yokohama. It belongs to a series of staged "real life" in old Japan photos attributed to the camera of Shinichi Suzuki, student of the famous Renjo Shimooka. The photo is reposted from the Flickr photo stream of the user Okinawa Soba. You can read his comment on this photo and more in the same series through this link.

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