Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Ikebana International is holding its Ninth World Convention in Tokyo Oct. 27-30. Some 850 ikebana enthusiasts are participating.
Debbie Kopinski, president of Ikebana International New York Chapter, is a convention delegate as well as an exhibitor. She comes to Japan after an absence of six years since her last visit.
“Ikebana International,” she said, “was founded to unite the peoples of the world through mutual love of nature and enjoyment of ikebana. I do love ikebana, and really feel that the motto ‘friendship through flowers’ is very powerful. I was able to do a small demonstration for a group called Sorosis, the oldest ladies’ club in the U.S. So there was ikebana and classic New York, blossoming in friendship.”
A graduate of Grand Valley State College in Michigan, Kopinski decided while she was in college that she would be a teacher. “Teaching seemed a practical thing to do,” she said. “As a profession it has value. I thought it would be nice to work with children. As it happened, though, apart from my student teaching in Venezuela, I’ve always taught adults.”
Thirty years ago, Kopinski came to Japan to teach at the Sony Language School in Fukuoka. She said, “There was one other teacher there, and that was it. There was no one else to talk to. I had to learn some Japanese quickly. I made friends, studied flower arrangement and the tea ceremony and traveled all over Kyushu and western Japan. I really enjoyed it. I thought it would be for only one year, but then I was transferred to Kichijoji in Tokyo.”
She taught at different universities. “I decided I should get a master’s degree and went for two summers to the States. The same year that I got my master’s, I was teaching full time in Tokyo. I was president of the Forum for Corporate Communications and I was stage manager for Tokyo International Players. It was the busiest year of my life, intense, the way I like it.”
Kopinski is still a member of FCC Charitable Initiatives Committee. When she was with TIP 20 years ago, she volunteered to do the unsung, behind-the-scenes jobs that are vital for the success of any production. For several years she was on the board of TIP. “Theater,” she said, “is magic. I had done English through drama, and I studied Japanese through drama too, so theater from that point of view was interesting to me.”
She was associate professor at Toyo Eiwa when, having met her husband, Mark, a financial analyst, in Tokyo, she resigned. The two married in the States in 1988.
When she left Japan, Kopinski had lived here for 14 years. Making their home in New York since 1993, Debbie and Mark adopted a baby girl from China. Celena, who will be 15 in December, is “quite the city girl, taller than her mother, entering high school, on the volleyball team and into anime and art.”
One of the organizations in which Kopinski is active is Families with Children from China. She also supports community projects connected with her daughter’s school, her church, and genealogical groups. She still lives life intensely.
Kopinski began her study of ikebana at the Sogetsu School when she first came to Japan and has achieved the third level of teaching qualification. She said, “Unfortunately I didn’t join Ikebana International when I lived in Tokyo, but it is a great link to Japan now. Many friends in New York have Japan connections — it seems that we just gravitate to each other, and it is great to touch base.”
Exponents of the Japanese art of flower arrangement say that ikebana is more than simply putting flowers in containers. It is a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is a living thing. Nature and humanity are brought together in it.
It is steeped in the philosophy of developing a closeness with nature.
Kopinski said, “Ikebana is as good as yoga for making one feel peaceful. It teaches one about being in the moment, for, of course, the arrangement doesn’t last. It is meditative.”