Check! I have now completed Level One of Book One in my Sogetsu Ikebana course. I started the first two lessons of Level Two on Tuesday, and will persist in my attempt to complete Level Two before leaving Japan.
I will then be able to apply for certification from the school. I don’t have to do that and it involves a fee; however, certification for Level One was my goal and I am sticking to it. That I can surpass it is a bonus.
The work is still all very elementary on basic variations with set materials: one type of branch and one type of flower in a round, shallow container (moribana) or tall cylindrical container (nageire) with a very occasional “freestyle” thrown in. That’s about as “free” as a timeshare trip. There are conditions.
My evaluations are consistently good. Always excellent for choice of colour and material (branch/flower/container) and balance of the same. I also score very high on the emotional sensitivity of the arrangement. Luckily for me, I have so much background in the culture and its codified aesthetic sensibilities that this is something I didn’t need to be taught on arrival. To have it recognized and commended by master teachers is incredibly gratifying.
Technique is another matter. However, I am improving significantly by taking 5 classes a week, two of them back to back on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m reminded of something Itzhak Perlman said about playing Bach. Once he had mastered the technical elements, he had complete freedom to play the music. Ikebana is like that.
Yesterday when the sensei shifted two blossoms back a little to better emphasize the primary one, she commented on how well the arrangement was “fixed.” Nageire is like playing pick-up-sticks backwards as the branches and blossoms balance on each other and on branches inserted into the container to hold them. Fortunately for me, and a mark of my progress, nothing else shifted or even collapsed (which is not uncommon) when she made that slight change.
When (through the interpreter) I joked about beseeching the kami-sama to have it stay in place, she had a quick comeback. That was not the job of the gods or matter for prayer, but mine and my skills. Touché.
I always grade myself on my own arrangements before comparing it to the sensei’s verdict. Usually (as is common with self-evaluations) I underestimate what I have done and can upgrade myself a little afterwards. I can move my B plus to an A minus. Occasionally now, even an A.
Standing at my table, working with the flowers (even when they vex me), looking out over the trees of the Akasaka Imperial Property, Tokyo’s towers and the skies beyond is nothing less than pure bliss. Joy!