Last weekend, with a large group of Sogetsu practitioners from around Australia and New Zealand, I attended a training day followed by a day of workshops for the new Book 5 of the Sogetsu curriculum. 

The program was presented by Mrs Ishikawa, a Master Instructor from the Sogetsu Head Quarters, whom I had got to know in 2011 when I spent 3 months in Tokyo as a recipient of the Norman and Mary Sparnon Endowment Scholarship. On the morning of the first day, Mrs Ishikawa's PowerPoint presentation covered a number of exercises from the new text book which was followed by demonstrations. Below are photos of some of her demonstrated works.

The example above is of Exercise 1, from the new text Book 5, using 'Seasonal Plant Materials'. In this case Jacaranda j.mimosifolia flowers and strelitzia nicolai. 

In the Australian context, a 'Seasonal Arrangement' can be a challenge as our seasons are not as clearly defined as in Japan. It is especially the case when using native materials. Mrs Ishikawa pointed out the importance of using materials that are only available locally during the particular season.

Exercise 18 is, 'A composition expressing movement'. Mrs Ishikawa chose to represent the word 'explosion' with this energetic arrangement of 'spear grass' xanthorrhoea arborea, (I think) and 'pincushion flower' leucospermum cordifolium.

Exercise 8 is 'Arranging in a suiban without a kenzan'. This is a more difficult example of the exercise as the palm fronds provide fewer opportunities for fixing the stems together.

Exercise 4, new to the curriculum, is an arrangement using 'Green Plant Materials' only. This causes the ikebanist to pay attention to the varieties of green as well as texture.

Mrs Ishikawa chose long needle pine, Pinus palustris, a double white oriental lily and yellow kangaroo paw, Angiozanthos, for her 'Arrangement for a Celebration'. She added gold painted washi paper and red sticks to create an extra feeling of occasion.

Exercise 2 is an arrangement using a 'Vertical fixture'. In this example Mrs Ishikawa used tortuous willow and peonies in an irregularly shaped tall vase.

On the second day, the participants got down to work for two very focused workshops. The first exercise was 'Composing with Branches - A two step approach'. Each participant was provided with a bunch of dried branches which had to be wired into a self supporting three dimensional sculptural form. 

I had five straight branches with fairly solid stems and multiple, smaller, side branches that had obviously been reaching upward. I was able to make a three legged base to which I added two further inverted branches joining them by the small side branches only. It tended to sway a little but stayed upright. 

The second step in the exercise was to use this structure in a different way in a vase with some fresh flowers. I placed the branches horizontally across a stemmed ceramic vase (I had wanted to float them above the vase but could not achieve the effect I desired). I then added two stems of white snapdragons that gave a soft fresh feeling.

This is a close up of the flowers.

Mrs Ishikawa commented on the different appearance of the branches when placed horizontally. In the critique, her suggestion was that I should add a small leaf, peeping at the back of the of the vase. It certainly made a positive improvement to the arrangement.

The afternoon exercise was to re-use the morning materials to make a celebratory arrangement. We were required to add a branch of camellia leaves and some mizuhiki (Japanese paper strings) or other decorative man-made material. I re-used my branch structure, this time placing it vertically, then added a single branch of the camellia stripped of all but five of its leaves and placed it vertically. The stripped branch had a very similar form to the dried branches and blended in well. The mizuhiki was looped and hung on the left-hand side. The colours and tall shape suggested to me the shape of a Christmas tree made from driftwood.

Finally, I must express my gratitude to Mrs Ishikawa for two days of inspiration, and to the New South Wales Branch for their hospitality and all their hard work in presenting the workshops.

Greetings from Christopher
26th November 2017

Lara Telford has a new post on her blog from Tokyo where she is the latest recipient of the Norman and Mary Sparnon Endowment scholarship.

Also my colleague Emily Karanikolopoulos has a blog post about the Book 5 workshops in Sydney.


  1. Just wanted to thank you for your continued postings. I live in Reno, Nevada and have very little access to teaching so I teach myself. Your posts and your links are a joy.

  2. Christopher, Appreciate your sharing your workshop with us. I am going to Boston this week for a book 5 workshop also with Kawana Sensei. Looking forward to it. Best, Michael