Flower arranging connects students, nature

By Rachel Bass

Peter Abasolo sat arched over a table at the Japan House on Saturday afternoon, armed with flowers and a pair of scissors in his hands. Abasolo, president of the Asian American Association, participated in a Japanese flower arrangement workshop once before and said he enjoyed it so much that he wanted to make it a cultural event for his organization.

“The way we arrange flowers mimics real life,” said Abasolo, senior in LAS. “I found enlightenment and connections with life.”

Ikenobo Ikebana is the art of Japanese flower arrangement that spread with Buddhism throughout China, said Jeanne Holy, vice president of the Illinois Prairie Chapter. Holy hosted the Saturday workshop to share the art form with University students.

Ikebana attempts to emphasize the human connection to nature and finding the life in everyday things, she said.

“The main thing is the essence of nature and enjoying nature,” Holy said. “Almost all countries have flowers in religious rituals, and in offerings to ancestors it’s always about food, drink and flowers.”

The two parts of the word Ikebana mean “to arrange” and “to be born” or “to give life to,” Holy said. Thousands of schools and styles of flower arranging exist. Holy said that Moribana, the simplest style of Ikebana, means “piled-up flowers” when translated. Moribana is a more modern, naturalistic style that was introduced after World War II and is seen in Western style homes as centerpieces, she said.

Holy brought freshly cut flowers, branches and leaves from her garden and handed out sharp scissors called hasami. She instructed the class to cut the stems diagonally to preserve the freshness. The tallest stems are inserted on an angle into a pin holder base called a kenzan. The branches are then slightly bent and the shorter branches are arranged in the kenzan so the final product will appear in a “V” shape.

“All life is coming from the base or from the Earth,” Holy said. “All the leaves are also looking up like the way they grow in nature.”

Eric Lam attended the event with his twin brother Frank and their friends, another set of twins, Roger and Ronald Tam. The four used the flower workshop as a match in a series of friendly competitions between the two sets of twins, Eric Lam said.

“Hopefully, we’re going to win,” Eric Lam said. “We try to make the competition interesting, and I see nature in all of this.”

Jennifer Lo, the cultural awareness director of the Asian American Association, said the sets of twins had wanted to compete for a while, and the Ikebana workshop gave them the opportunity.

“I thought something feminine would be amusing,” Lo said. “I don’t know a lot about Ikebana, so it’s exciting and this isn’t something you would do everyday.”

Kira Ho had fun at the Ikebana workshop she attended last year, and so she decided to go again. The senior in FAA said she also enjoyed coming to the Japan House because of its emphasis on culture. Ho said she likes the tradition of taking her shoes off upon entering the building.

“This is something new and it’s different than everything else on campus,” Ho said. “There isn’t as much meaning in American flower arranging.”

Holy compared her relationship with nature through flower arrangement to life.

“When you go home, walk around and look at things. Look at the dandelions growing in the crack of the pavement. It’s a weed but it’s gorgeous,” Holy said. “It shows incredible strength of life and maybe we can learn something about ourselves. ‘I got a raw deal, but I’m going to keep going.’ It’s all philosophical.”