I was lucky enough to spend 15 years of my life in Tokyo, the largest city in the world (over 35 million people), which was great fun but at the best, hectic. The six letter word ?stress? that people use more frequently now then ever before, is something that you would quite correctly associate with Tokyo.
Luckily the Japanese cater for everything offering endless ways of finding inner peace and calm, which is important to survive healthily in today?s world. I chose the art of ikebana.
What is ikebana? Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It is more than simply putting flowers in a container. It is a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is a living thing in which nature and humanity are brought together. It is steeped in the philosophy of developing closeness with nature.
Ikebana has been one of the traditional arts of Japan for over 600 years. It developed from the Buddhist ritual of offering flowers to the spirits of the dead. By the middle of the 15th century with the emergence of the first classical styles, Ikebana achieved the status of an art form independent of its religious origins. The first teachers and students were priests and members of the nobility. As time passed, many different schools arose, styles changed and Ikebana came to be practiced at all levels of Japanese society and now around the world.
As is true of all other arts, Ikebana is creative expression within certain rules of construction. Its materials are living branches, leaves, grasses and blossoms. Its heart is the beauty resulting from colour combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines and the meaning latent in the total form of the arrangement. Though rules have changed over the years, they are still based on the original ? materials had to be combined in a specific way. A tall upright central stem had to be accompanied by two shorter stems; the three main stems represent heaven, man and earth.
Everyone loves nature but in Japan the appreciation amounts almost to a religion. The Japanese have always felt a strong bond of intimacy with their natural surroundings and even in today?s high built concrete cities, they display a strong desire to have a bit of nature near them. Foreign visitors have often remarked on their taxi driver hanging a small vase with a flower or two at the edge of his windscreen. A Japanese house that does not contain some sort of floral arrangement is rare.
Nature is always changing. Plants grow, new shoots are born, flowers bloom, berries appear and leaves change colour; this happens regularly and repeatedly throughout the seasons. Nature has its own rhythm and order. The awareness of this is the first step in involving oneself in Ikebana.
Ikebana aims not at bringing a piece of nature into the house but rather at suggesting the whole of nature by creating a link between the indoors and the outdoors. What distinguishes Ikebana from other approaches is its asymmetrical form and the use of empty space as an essential feature of the composition. A sense of harmony among the materials, the container, and the setting is also crucial. These are characteristics of aesthetics that Ikebana shares with traditional Japanese paintings, gardens, architecture and design.
There are more than two thousand schools of Ikebana registered with the Japanese Ministry of Education today, but there are three that dominate ? Ikenobo, Ohara and Sogetsu.
I studied Sogetsu for thirteen years and am now a qualified teacher, second grade ?Jonin Sanyo?. Like with everything that you learn, there are rules and regulations, but once you have mastered these, you are allowed to use your own imagination. Ikebana has taught me to look at everything in nature differently, the combination of colours; the lines of each branch or twig on trees and bushes; seeing shapes that I had not realised existed before. They had always been there, I just did not take the time or allowed my blinkered imagination to run riot with nature.
I hear you asking, what has this to do with alpacas. Alpacas are also a form of living a healthy stress-free lifestyle, though I agree at times, you do start to question this? Their looks, their quiet inquisitive manner; their gentle communication sounds all come together to induce a sense of calm. You need to allow yourself time to go out into the field with your animals, turn off the 21st century, and sit quietly with them ? you will feel a calm come over you. It is a wonderful experience and one that is highly recommended.