“Walk in, you’ll be in Kyoto,” proclaims the brochure of Kyoto-Kan, Akasaka.
Just over a year ago, the Kyoto Industrial Promotion Center opened Kyoto-Kan as its showplace in Tokyo. On two floors on a corner of the Ark Mori Building, Kyoto-Kan features a gift shop of elegant Kyoto specialities, a tourist information counter and an event space where seasonal events and exhibitions are held. Included in its special occasions are free-of-charge seminars on the Way of Tea and flower arrangement.
Last December, American Kenneth Jones from Kyoto spoke on the Rikka style of flower arrangement. On Feb. 2 he will handle the Shoka style, and March 2 his topic will be the Moribana free style. Each session is from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
“I’m not required to wear kimono at these lecture-demonstrations. They are quite informal, relaxed and conducive to questions and answers,” Jones said. “People living in Japan want to find out in English more about ikebana. Japanese people who have lived abroad like to consider Japanese culture in terms of English. This is a way for them to keep and improve their English-language abilities.”
Jones grew up in Oregon. He said: “Oregon has a lot of beautiful scenery. From a very young age, with my family I did a lot of camping and hiking. I became interested in botany, biology and eventually ikebana.” He took his bachelor’s degree in biology, and found his first employment in a California flower shop.
“I was helping with designs,” he said. “The shop used to do arrangements for hospitals, and I worked with the designers. It was in that florist’s that I saw my first book about ikebana.” He was so captivated by the photographs in the book that he found an Ikenobo school in San Francisco and went there to see the weekly arrangements on display. “I decided I would like to do arrangements like those,” Jones said.
Seven years after taking his degree in biology, Jones began the study of Ikenobo flower arrangement. He received a certificate in floristry from San Francisco’s City College. He spent a while in a florist’s shop in New Mexico. Then in 1980 he came to Japan to embark on advanced Ikenobo study.
“My parents were surprised, to say the least,” Jones said. “But they were very supportive. It was a big step for me to take.” He showed himself to be so adept and earnest that within a year he was offered employment in the Ikenobo Society of Floral Art at its headquarters in Kyoto. He accepted.
“I learned a little of the language at a local school, but mostly I have had total Japanese-language immersion on the job,” he said. Over the next few years, Jones was called upon to be interpreter for the 45th headmaster, Sen’ei Ikenobo, and Ikenobo professors at ikebana demonstrations and workshops around the world. He visited 14 countries in America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. “I would never have had such chances to travel if I had not been involved with ikebana,” he said. “Going and working as an interpreter was challenging — but wonderful, invaluable experiences.” He was also sent as visiting instructor to the Philippines, Singapore and Calcutta.
Jones became section chief of international events for the Ikenobo Society of Floral Art. Helping with international programs is very important to him. “I help with some of the groups who receive introductory lessons in English,” he said. “I don’t teach, just assist, especially with first-time visitors.” He emphasizes that the lecture-demonstrations he comes to give in Tokyo are introductory. In his own advanced studies, he has proceeded through four additional grades at the Ikenobo Central Training Institute in Kyoto.
He describes the appeal that arranging flowers has for him. “It’s a very accessible art form,” he said. “It helps to have a container and necessary tools, but the materials are available for everyone. It is different from other art forms in that it is temporary. For the short time that your guest is expected, it serves its purpose. It is similar to music, since the actual moments of arranging or performing are the most beautiful. Ikebana was originally a Japanese art form, characteristically using raw materials to express something you want to say. Nowadays it is getting people back in touch with natural surroundings.”