Hotel Okura is located in Akasaka, Tokyo. It is touted as a large hotel in Japan, and is a representative of Japanese hotels that "hospitate the world" by welcoming state guests and VIPs. Shoko Okudaira was born as the daughter of Seiho Okudaira, the current headmaster of the Sekiso school. This school has been involved in all the flowers in Hotel Okura since it first opened, and is now taking care of flowers in Aman Tokyo hotels as well as demonstrating and performing flower arrangements at domestic and international events.
There are two parts in this interview, we asked her about her values in the first part, and her visions in the second part.
Heir to Sekiso school (Ikebana flower arrangement) / Add-on value design consultant / part-time lecturer at Japan Agricultural Management University.
Graduated from Keio University, Faculty of Policy Management and majored in social marketing. Upon graduation, she was in charge of basic design for the total digital system of newspaper companies at NEC Corporation. Received the NEC President's Award for activities to propose the world standard format. While working as a free planner at Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living, she started to be engaged in interior flowers at Hotel Okura Tokyo. After experiencing high-end marketing in the LVMH group, she joined Japan Agricultural Management University as a part-time lecturer in 2013.
What is Sekiso school?
Sekiso school is a flower arrangement school that takes care of all Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) at Hotel Okura, as known as "60,000㎡ of art", was built as the entrance of Japan to welcome international customers.
The founder and first Iemoto is Seido Iwata. She was one of the design committees who worked on the interior, furniture, amenities, and other details of the opening of Hotel Okura in 1962.
The characteristic of this school is that they do not apply flowers to the rules and patterns, but it presents the beauty of flowers and branches and copy just like they are seen in the nature based on ancient Japanese customs. Yasunari Kawabata, the Nobel prize novelist, also praised "I wonder if there is a flower that exudes the heart of nature in Japan as much as Iwata's flower."
Music and flowers do not result as they were planned in the first place. There is no correct answer.
- What does your typical day look like?
The main activity is to arrange flowers in the entire Hotel Okura building. There is no concrete schedule for the day, but we change the flowers seasonally and monthly, and care for the flowers that change over time. Also, I am involved in the planning stage of other hotels such as Aman Tokyo as a member of the design committee and think about what kind of flowers and vessels would look best in the space. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to go beyond the field of flower arrangement and step into the area of architecture and hospitality, and search for the best solutions together.
In addition, I support the current headmaster's lessons. Sekiso style does not have a pyramid structure that goes up in the order disciple-master-headmaster(家元). Therefore, even the youngest 10-year-old girl is learning in the same way as an adult. You can get injured if you do not know how to use proper tools, so we let her use scissors made by a swordsmith and Bizen or White porcelain pots just like other students.
I also make use of my experience in business careers that I had gained before entering the world of Ikebana. I get opportunities to talk about innovation at some companies.
- How do you work in relation with Hotel Okura?
Hotel Okura Tokyo is described as a gateway to Japan to welcome clients from over the world. Seido Iwata, the first headmaster of Sekiso school, was one of the design committee when it was built. Since then, Sekiso school takes care of the decoration of the hotel with flowers.
Seido Iwata founded Sekiso school when she was 60 over and continued to be active until the age of 98 in order to express the combination of static and dynamic, the contrast of yin and yang, and the harmony of nature. It is inspired by her experience of being healed by the lush grass in the blue stone valley when she evacuated to Nagatoro of Chichibu when she was little.
We have been given the opportunity to arrange flowers for Okura that match each season. Our client is Okura, but the end user is the customer who stays in Okura. There are people of all ages, nationalities, and lengths of stay in Okura, so we try to anticipate the growth of flowers and trees and plant them to enjoy the changes.
When the performers from Blue Note, a historic jazz club affiliated with Okura, stay here, they often watch me arrange flowers and said, "It's the same as our music." In jazz, I think there are rhythms and melodies that come out only on the spot at that time, but so is Ikebana. If the type and condition of the flowers differ depending on the season and climate, I arrange them in anticipation of growth and changes.
Both music and Ikebana continue to change with time and environment, and are the art of process creating with others.
- When was your first encounter with Ikebana?
My mother and grandmother both learned flower arrangement, tea ceremony, and chanting of poems as woman's education, so those culture were always part of my daily life. So not because I was told to do it, but because I wanted to do the same thing that my mother was crazy about.
My earliest memory is the day I helped water flowers in Okura when I was four years old. I walked with a watering can, and I remember being told to put a towel on the pouring mouth to prevent from spilling on the floor. I also remember that I was happy many guests talked to me and nervous entering into the usual world kids do not encounter on a daily basis.
- Did you know you would be working in the Ikebana world since you were little?
Actually, I did not decide to join the Ikebana world until I finished high school. I thought that flower arrangement was something that my mother and other “wives” would do.
However, looking at my mother who continues to work hard at Okura, I wanted to know if I could preserve Ikebana from a business perspective and think about how to combine supply and demand well. What is necessary for Ikebana is to be a part of "function" of the society as it used be. In university, I studied social marketing and relationship marketing in order to understand those perspectives. It was after I graduated from university that I joined Sekiso school, and it was much later than that I started to make a living on Ikebana.
Making invisible visible.
- Could you tell us about your career?
I joined a major manufacturer as an SIer (system integrator) in 2001 and worked for about 5 years. Partly due to the year 2000 problem at that time, the requirements for digital systemization were high in every company, and I was mainly in charge of newspaper companies. It was my job to create the requirements for a series of article-handling systems. I created a format for the TV section when exchanging articles within the company and between companies, and at the industry's global standard council held in Paris. After the presentation, the format was blessed with the opportunity to be adopted as a global standard format. I received the President's Award and a letter of appreciation from the Newspaper Association. It was a very challenging and interesting job.
After that, I worked for a think tank of a major advertising agency for three years. I was involved in considering how to share the analysis results of the ideas of creators and copywriters who are constantly making hits internally, and exploring external proposal methods of thinking tools working with consumers from the product development stage, and I made predictions about economic fluctuations and consumer behavior in the 10-year cycle. I learned a lot from various projects.
After three years in a think tank, I decided to fully enter the world of Ikebana.
- What are your various do you have in common in your career?
I think I was trying to make the personal black box of work and skill visible, easy to use, patterned, and shared as open source for everyone.
The trajectory of improvement is not linear, and there should be a timing when you can overcome the wall by continuing desperately, but it is very important to recognize again what is actually happening at that time. I think that there is often no reproducibility because I have not been able to accumulate my own experience and knowledge up to that point because of the joy of overcoming the wall.
I think it's similar to sports, but by visualizing and patterning the process of success and failure, you can do your job well, you can proceed with the project smoothly as a team, and the quality of what you make itself improves.
All the experience I gained through my career is connected to the present. It is often said that Ikebana has a lot to do with your natural taste, and it is often thought that it cannot be easily imitated, but I do not think so. Even in Ikebana, I made a lot of mistakes and regrets, and while hitting a wall where I couldn't get out of my hands or legs, I made many patterns such as "I think I should do this in this case" and "This is the one to match this kind". We will create and build our own know-how while learning from past cases. In fact, it is inevitable from the way flower arrangement is formed that there is a commonality between the pattern formation in the creation of Ikebana and the way of doing and winning in business.
- Why did you decide to enter into the world of Ikebana?
When I was hospitalized for acute gastroenteritis, the only cure was fasting, I had nothing to do. I used to put the flowers I picked outside in a plastic bottle and displayed them. It triggered conversation with other patients and when I gave it as a gift, it made my lonely hospitalized life so much happier. I realized that "flowers are a great medium!" I knew the possibility of the mediation of flowers, which can transform people's feelings more than words.
As it is now, overwork is a problem in the world at that time, I was always thinking about whare are the ways to make me feel at ease and make time to regain myself. However, from my own experience at the hospital, I thought that this might be the entrance to the world that can be created in flower arrangement.
"Way (Dou)" such as Ikebana are one of the interfaces you can choose to live happily, understand the wisdom and experience of our predecessors, and reach them.
I decided to take this path myself and work to share with many people how to live happily.
Interviewers: Yuki Kitamura, Kaoru
Interview series for young practitioners of Japanese cultural traditions.