Finding our roots & receiving an Ikebana Certificate

Chikae receives her Ikebana certificate!

Some exciting news! Slightly delayed but better late than never! I received my Beginners' certificate for Ikebana from the Ohara School of Ikebana in Tokyo, Japan, one of the most well known, highly respected Ikebana schools in the world, let alone Japan. One day we hope to teach Ikebana when we have a proper studio so if people would be interested we would love to know!

I have a long way to go still, but I am excited to learn more about my Japanese culture & bring more Japanese traditions & arts back to England!

Below I give you a little back story to why I wanted to study Ikebana, & a little bit of information about myself. For those that simply want to skip to the tutorial, scroll down past the story.

The Story

Okishima & Simmonds is made up of Jessie & myself, & with it comes our multicultural background.

I am half Japanese, half American, but born & raised in London except for two years that I spent in Tokyo in 9th-10th Grade, or the equivalent of the 5th form in England.

I then moved back to England for the remainder of secondary school, & have continued to live here ever since.

However something was always missing, & I realised, I had never really learnt about my roots, even though I had lived in Tokyo, & having never lived in America. Since graduating from University, I began to realise how much I wanted to get back in touch with those roots. Fast forwards to now...

I am not a writer, I’m a visual person. I speak better using imagery rather than words, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t provide a lot of information. I am better to talk to in person, as writing has never been a forte of mine. I have too much going on in my head, that I cannot possibly capture in words, so for me, my stories are told, & my imagination is portrayed, with photography.

So without further ado, here is the beginning of my long & very exciting journey to discover my roots, my heritage & my culture outside of England, & what better way to do so through the language & art of flowers.

So my journey begins, & it begins in Tokyo, Japan...

Studying Ikebana at Ohara School of Ikebana & getting my beginner certificate

To become an Ikebana master, as with all traditional arts in Japan, takes many many years, often decades to master.

I am merely brushing the surface of a very vigorous training scheme. I am learning & progressing forwards, out of love of flowers, interest, to better understand my culture & its history as well as my constant need to keep on learning, something I will never stop doing.

I found various Ikebana schools, & opted for the most well-known school, Ohara School of Ikebana, which had locations all over Tokyo. I did also enrol to the school headquarters in Omote-Sando, as they had an English speaking course for beginners, which I also took. Omote-Sando is my favourite area in Tokyo, as it has the famous Meiji-jingu shrine as well as Harajuku up the road & a huge selection for shopping & food.

Long story short, to obtain the Beginner’s certificate for Ikebana you have to learn & master two of the basic base structures for Ikebana.

I had to do each four times, under the tutors supervision. Once I had done these, if the tutor was happy, only then would I get my certificate. Japanese traditions require patience & persistence & the importance of keeping it consistent, makes it all the more difficult to learn, as it has to be perfected.

The two basics of beginner (Hana-isho Kihon) Ikebana are:

  • The Rising Form (Tatateru-katachi)
  • The Inclining Form (Katamukeru-katachi)

It gets a little complicated to explain, so from here the images will do most of the talking, & I will try my best to caption exactly what I did. 

Kenzan is used in Ikebana & Japanese flower arranging. You may know them as frogs. They are incredibly heavy & help to weigh down the weight of the flowers. There are many different shapes & sizes, I hope to one day collect a wonderful collection!

For the beginners course & certificate, we use this quarter circle shaped kenzan known as ichou-kenzan.

So I begin my first ever lesson which was in Japanese. This was a bit of a struggle as I can speak Japanese, but my technical vocabulary is very limited, so luckily my mom helped translate the first lesson, but thereafter over the next two days I had to really put my Japanese to the test!

I will be putting a little index at the bottom to help further explain the technical terms & processes of both the Rising & Inclining forms.

Placing the Shu-shi (subject)

Above, the tutor teaches me how to start with a single stem, known as the Shu-shi (subject), which you place in the back leaning slightly forwards or backwards at a maximum angle of 20°. This is not as simple as it sounds, as you must think about the movement of the stem & how to create an imaginary straight line upwards from the base of the stem to the top of the flower, when looking at it from the front. This does not mean that the stem is straight - as we go along, have a look at the Shu-shi in each image to see how it might be curved to the untrained eye, but the imaginary straight line starts at the base of the stem & will end at the top of the flower.

Next I was instructed to cut the Kyaku-shi (object). This was to be placed straight down & then bent forwards away from the Shu-shi at a 45° angle & 20° to either the left or right of the Shu-shi. This creates the beauty of the 'empty space'.

Second, is the placement of the Kyaku-shi (object)

Lastly, the Chukan-shi is added in the space between the Shu-shi & Kyaku-shi. The positioning of the Chukan-shi is determined by whether you chose to position the Shu-shi forwards or backwards. The area in which the Chukan-shi must lie is indicated by the green areas in these diagrams.

Source: Ikebana for everybody by Hiroki Ohara book

Lastly, you add the Chukan-shi (filler stems)

The stems all follow one basic straight line from the back of the kenzan & container to the front

Front view

Side view

Angled view

I then practice this technique a further few times until the tutor is happy with my understanding of Tateru-katachi in both Kihon & Ohyo styles.

I then move on to Katamukeru-katachi (Inclining form)

Some more profiles of the work above

The Happiest of coincidences

The funniest of coincidences happened when I was at the Ohara school headquarters attending the English speaking lesson. I bumped into Rachel of Green & Gorgeous Flowers! I couldn't believe it when she recognised me & I released who she was. The world is so small! It is so interesting! So that was very exciting to have shared this experience with her! I can't wait to go & visit her farm in Oxfordshire & collaborate one day, using her beautiful flowers!

Useful words & tips - general guidleines to get you started

Tateru-katachi (Rising Form)

  • Shu-shi (Subject) - to be cut no longer than twice the measurement of the container, upright position leaning front of back at a maximum of 20°
  • Kyaku-shi (object) - to be cut to one-third of the Shu-shi positioned in front of the Shu-shi slanting forwards at a 45° angle within 20° to the left or right of the Shu-shi
  • Chukan-shi (filler stems) - not predetermined, the way you cut it is up to your judgment based on the flowers & foliage you have, & by how you place your Shu-shi & Kyaku-shi

Katamukeru-katachi (Inclining form)

  • hu-shi - to be cut no longer than twice the measurement of the container & placed at a slant of 60-90°
  • Kyaku-shi - one-third of the Shu-shi - positioned in front of the Shu-shi slanting forwards at a 45° angle & no more than 20° to the left or right of the Shu-shi
  • Chukan-shi - Not predetermined, but to be within the green area indicated in the image on the right.


Katamukeri-katachi diagram of the angles & placement of flowers & stems

  • Kihon (basic) - in this style, the kenzan / materials are placed in the middle of the container
  • Ohyo (variation) - in this style, the kenzan / materials are placed either on the left or right side of the container
  • The Shu-shi tends to be a flower or branch that has less leaves, although not always as you have to really judge by eye what you think will work best here.
  • The Kyaku-shi & Chukan-shi tend to have more leaves so as to hide the kenzan & create a beautiful natural space in the area represented by the green in the diagram above. The difference with Ikebana & the Western/European way of flower arranging is that you want to preserve the beauty of what nature has given you, therefore you don't condition your stems in the way that we are used to. You keep the leaves on as they are & merely cut any that once you are finished, look out of place, so that it created an overall feeling of calm.

- This information was a mixture of my notes from my course & from the book Ikebana for Everybody which I have referenced below

Well... there we have it a tutorial, as brief as I could have possibly made it but hoping that it makes sense! It is so difficult to describe in the written word, and there is so much more I want to share with you. Look out for future tips & tricks I learnt while in Japan, & more about Ikebana!

Useful links & books