In the part 1, Ms Okudaira told us about virtues that have shaped her. In this part 2, we asked her about her passion after she decided to pursue her career in Ikebana.
I feel like everything in my life is acknowledged when people tell me what I am doing is important.
- What are the times you feel most fulfilled?
I feel most fulfilled when customers at Okura stop by and talk to me. I was raised by Okura and its customers. Because of them, I can realize my own uniquenesses.
When I am arranging flowers, I cannot see customers who are on my back. Even so, customers from abroad talk to me right away, and some Japanese customers tell me that they have been wanting to talk to me so many times and finally got encouraged to do so. There are customers who have told me that "What you are doing is very valuable. Keep it up" and "I stay at this hotel to enjoy your flowers". I cannot describe how grateful it is.
- Are there any struggles while arranging flowers?
Although my career is Ikebana, there is a part of me thinking that art might not be necessary or some people might not even care. Nonetheless, knowing that customers at this top class hotel recognize my work as important makes me feel like not only my Ikebana style but my whole life in which I found Ikebana so fascinating are acknowledged. I am so thankful that customers who always communicate me with their subtle feelings while their stay at Okura.
Culture and art are supposed to be in our everyday life to enrich and encourage us, not to be behind glass cases.
- I heard you are performing outside of Japan as well. When did you get interested in abroad?
My father's job influenced me to grasp interests in arts when I was little. My father's family inherits antiquarian books store in Kanda, my uncle sells Japanese books and my father sells foreign books as the 7th generation. My father always used to call western countries and attend auctions abroad even before internet. I had a lot of opportunities to travel with him. My parents educated me to be able to do things by myself, so I always tried to memorize how to speak 1-10 and basic greetings in local languages.
- What did you find interesting living outside of Japan?
There are a lot of museums you can enter for free. I noticed that it has wide age groups and even permanent exhibitions are crowded, which we rarely see in Japan. I was very surprised that schools kids are sitting on the floor and sketching arts. I had an impression that museums are for adults because of the etiquette in Japanese museums. It was eye-opening that stances towards art and the relationship between art and lifestyle are different from that of Japan.
- How those experiences influence you now?
I was very lucky that I spent time in Okura where people and art are next to each other. Culture and art are supposed to be in our everyday life to enrich and encourage us, not to be behind glass cases. Art pieces are like mirrors that make us engage in conversations with ourselves, and how we feel and obtain change based on our ages and conditions.
Recently, there are news highlighting certain exhibitions are popular and people are lining up for hours. It might be fun to go to museums after lining up long time but I would suggest to enjoy more casually. Art pieces in Okura are not in glass cases, they are as they are. I want to continue to create art that gently live in the same space with us. There way of thinking might be influenced by my memories from foreign museums in my childhood.
The essence does not change, but how it looks and how to communicate should change over time.
- Do you want to promote Ikebana abroad? What are required to do so?
It is typical to Japanese that we do not recognize values until told by outsiders. I want to avoid the situations where Japanese people are asked questions about Japanese culture from foreigners at Olympics and reply "I do not know because I have never experienced" or "I have no idea". Now is the last timing we can pass down memories right after the war. I believe it is the last chance Japanese learn about Japan and redefine Japanese values.
In Ikebana, there are technical terms such that are difficult to understand even for Japanese kept unexplained and being black box. They have to be put into simple words and stories in context that can be understood by kids, and then to be translated in appropriate English.
- What kind of opportunities should we offer people around the world who are interested in / studying Japanese?
It is wonderful that there are people who choose Japanese culture among a lot of choices. I especially feel there are more people like that recently. The point if how to communicate with them from our end.
I think it is such a shame to let people experience culture that is just formality and without a context. We are in the world where everything is transitioning. Nevertheless, we cannot learn Japanese traditional culture in the same way as it was in the past. Therefore, it is the role for our generation, who are facing the huge transition, to reconstruct it. Fueki-Ryuko means that there is something that does not change in the end becomes bones and cores to be passed down after everything else has changed. I have to confront with myself and others just like I do with flowers in order to figure out what to be changed and what to remain the same.
any a- What can we do to introduce Japanese culture to people who are not yet interested in?
Recently I am challenging collaborating with completely different genres. For example, co-performing with violins and contrabasses, that never happened before, with a motto that it is important to make it happen first.
My mother co-created a stage with the general art directer at the National Center of Contemporary Dance in France and performed in Europe in 2012 right before my mother took over the headmaster of Sekiso school of Ikebana. The general art director got interested in Japanese culture while pursuing creativity, and reached to Ikebana in the end.
They went back and forth in Paris and Tokyo for about half a year and constructed the piece. Of course it was such a unique collaboration to begin with, they paid a lot of attention in arranging flowers as well. My mother and I were studying under Kozo Okada who established they core method of Ikenobo school (the oldest school of Ikebana), so we decided to show "Hanashomo" which showcases all the process of arranging flowers in the prestigious classical way from Muromachi period. Utensils and actions are very different from those of now.
With support from Hermes foundation, we started from Paris art festival, performance at Versailles, and performance in Spain. There are many Japanese people came to see us for the special occasion and audiences from any area acclaimed us that they have never seen such Ikebana before. We had such an amazing experience.
Furthermore, my twisted career pays a lot when collaborating with various genres. Some may think cultural sensibilities and knowledges are connected with talents that they are born with. However, creativity is necessary in any type of job, any stage of your life, and they emerge naturally. Originally, Ikebana was used by top leaders of warriors as a training method. It was useful to prototype team building and winning styles with the right person in the right place. Today, in the business context, people from various industries are enjoying interactive learning in order to reconsider the creation of innovation that is unique to Japanese.
Does my creation encourage others to try Ikebana?
- What is your most important value?
I want to keep my belief in the power of affirmation.
Receiving a word "thank you" and having someone back you up are pleasure and encouragement. Having you interviewing me today is a way of encouraging me and is a gift. Affirming myself as well as others is a power to find more strength and turn weaknesses into uniquenesses.
It does not have to be strong interests. I think feelings like "I might be able to do it", "I guess I will try it" originate in the self affirmation.
Ikebana is to face flowers that are very different from each other, finding uniquenesses, think ahead of time, and combine them to go even beyond customer's satisfaction. Continuing this process and cultivating emotional richness to coexist with nature that are special to Japanese might cause even more positive influence for people than merely feeling good to interact with culture. I wish to contribute to realizing that through the career in Ikebana.
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."
Interviewers: Yuki Kitamura, Kaoru
Interview series for young practitioners of Japanese cultural traditions.
- List -
01. [Dance] Nakamuraryu - Ume Nakamura (Part1)
01. [Dance] Nakamuraryu - Ume Nakamura (Part2)
02. [Sing] Itchu-bushi - Ryochu Miyako
03. [Sencha tea] My Sencha Salon - Iga Michiho
04. [Flower Arrangement] Sekiso school - Shoko Okudaira (Part1)
04. [Flower Arrangement] Sekiso school - Shoko Okudaira (Part2)