Stephen Coler has been living in Hanamaki, Japan, since the summer of 1998.
He works at the elementary school level teaching English and also teaches
ikebana classes all over Iwate Prefecture. In the fall of 2000, Stephen
started to learn ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. He now
holds the title of 1st Term Associate Master of the Ohara School of Ikebana.
My ikebana journey
My ikebana journey began in the fall of 2000. I met my ikebana teacher
at a cultural exchange event and told her I would like to learn ikebana.
She was a teacher of the Ohara School of Ikebana and had been doing and
teaching ikebana for years. At the time, I couldn’t speak Japanese well,
and she could speak English; so, I thought it was the perfect opportunity
for me. Learning ikebana would give me a chance to learn more about the
Japanese culture, give me a chance to have more contact with the people
in my community, and give me the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of flowers.
In high school, I was the flower delivery person at a local flower shop
and had enjoyed arranging the wildflowers and flowers and bushes that my
great-grandmother had planted when she first moved to Northwest Arkansas.
I was looking forward to being able to play with flowers on a weekly basis.
In the beginning, it was more about having fun with the other students in the class and was a way for me to relieve some stress and relax during the week. But as time passed and I continued to take lessons, I grew to love it more and more. Not only was I having fun and learning about Japanese culture, I was learning an art form that was hundreds of years old. Through the centuries, the art form of ikebana had evolved into something that anyone could practice, and with continued study, could produce a beautiful piece of art with living materials.
|During lessons, I would zone out into my own world, thinking about the
materials and how best to use them to show the beauty of each individual
stem. When I was finished, I had an original piece of art and felt relaxed
and rejuvenated. I think being in contact with the flowers helped to relax
me and show the beauty of nature that we sometimes forget to appreciate
in our busy lives. It gave me a couple of hours a week where I had to slow
down and think about the beauty that I was creating in front of me. After
the lesson, I would take my materials home and make the arrangement in
my apartment. The fresh flowers added color to my room and also created
a welcoming feel to the space. I was becoming hooked.
I began to take lessons twice a week because I enjoyed it so much. I had
also started to go to the monthly kenkyukai, a monthly test where I had
to do an arrangement and was graded on it by professors of the Ohara School
of Ikebana. The monthly tests were nerve wracking at first, not knowing
what to expect or how I was going to do the arrangement in the allotted
time. But as time passed, I learned to relax and look at the flowers and
materials carefully to best showcase their beauty and make a balanced arrangement.
At that time, the contract that I had for teaching at the local junior high schools was coming to an end. I began to think about returning back home, what I would do, where I would live. But, it just didn’t feel right. I loved living in Japan and the experiences I had on a daily basis. And more than that, I loved my weekly ikebana lessons. I decided to try to find another job here in Japan so I could continue my study of ikebana. I was lucky enough to find another job in the city I had been living in and could continue to teach English and continue to study ikebana.
Since then, I have continued to take weekly lessons, although now I only take a lesson once a week because of my busy schedule. I have also continued to go to the monthly kenkyukai to test my knowledge of the different materials, styles, and forms. The decision to stay was a big decision, but it was the right decision, because I still love living in Japan. And of course, I still love ikebana.
Along with my study, I have participated in local and prefectural ikebana exhibits yearly for over ten years. I look forward to these because I can share my love of ikebana with others. Hopefully, after going to an exhibit and looking at the living art before them, other people will be inspired to try ikebana and experience the joy of it.
In June of 2010, I held an ikebana exhibit with some of my ikebana teacher’s students to celebrate my ten year anniversary of learning the art. I made ten arrangements for the exhibition with each of the other participants making an arrangement. Over the two day period, over 800 people came to enjoy the ikebana arrangements.
||Then, in the fall of that year, I began to teach my own ikebana classes. I started out with three students, and am currently teaching over twenty students with classes throughout the week. I teach mostly women, but there are also men who enjoy this art. I love being able to show others the beauty and wonder of ikebana. Each week is filled with flowers and the beauty and relaxation they naturally employ.
In January of 2013, I held my first solo exhibition entitled “ikebana –
living flowers, living art” at the Bentonville Public Library in Bentonville,
Arkansas, while I was home for the holidays. I prepared twelve different
ikebana arrangements showcasing the different styles and forms I had learned
over the past twelve years. The arrangements included simple basic forms
that made use of everyday flowers and harmonized with the contemporary
spaces of today, and there were other arrangements using complex styles
that expressed the beauty of the natural landscape around us. I also made
two different zoukei arrangements, which are sculptural arrangements that
can use any material. Over the two day event, over 400 people came to experience
a small part of Japan and the beauty of ikebana. The exhibit was a new
and challenging experience for me. I was glad I could share my love of
ikebana with the people of my hometown.
Over the past couple of years, I have held ikebana workshops while home in Bentonville, AR, during my winter break. The participants have loved the experience, and look forward to the next workshop the following year. Getting to learn about a new culture and also create a beautiful piece of art is something unique to these workshops. I love being able to share the art of ikebana with the people of my hometown.
Currently, I hold the title of 1st Term Associate Master of the Ohara School of Ikebana. I have found my passion and hope to spread the ancient art of ikebana to people all over the world. It is an art form that anyone can do. It can be enjoyed not only for its beauty, but also for its meditative qualities. Only a few materials are needed, and it can be done anywhere. Like any art, ikebana is an art form that has no cultural boundaries. Language is not needed to understand the beauty of the work – only an open mind and an open heart.