工欲善其事,必先利其器 – Sharp tools to make quality craft no.2 – Ikebana Shears 花鋏 Hanabasami

Japanese are famous for their sword making.  Though the demand for swords has greatly declined at late 19th century, the techniques have been transferred into the making of knives and scissors/ shears.  Most of the ikebana shears today (I will refer it as hasami from here) are still made in a similar way to their bigger counterpart- samurai swords.  Hand forged with most care by craftsmen. The blades give sharp precise cut with ergonomic handles that make a pleasant “click” as the ends meet.  They are work of art themselves; giving me much pleasure every time when I have a pair in hand.

No, it is NOT absolutely essential to use them in ikebana.  But they are extremely helpful in making the precise cuts for arrangements.  Splitting the ends of Shin and Soe for a basic nageire is so much easier with the hasami. I will explain here why they are very good tools.

 

Metal

The common pair of hasami is made of steel with black oxide handles and shiny polished blades. The steel used has a very high carbon content that makes the blades extra sharp.  Though the size of these blades are not big, they are capable to cut not only stems but also branches.

 

Types of Shapes

There are a 2 different kinds that are commonly used: The Ikenobou Style and Koryu Style

The Ikenobou (池坊) type is most likely the more common one.  With no “loops” at the handles, they are very slim and light to carry around, taking up very little space in the tool roll.  It is so easy to move around small spaces with their slim profile.  They range from 130mm to !80mm in length with 165mm being the most common size.  My 165mm hasami is only about 60mm wide which is almost the same size of the scissors I have on my desk!  They are precise enough to can cut thin leaves but also sharp enough for branches.  One pair will take you a long way (that is if you take care of them)!

img_4964I From L to R:  Plain black oxide finish, oxide finish with wire cutting notch, painted finish, stainless steel

The Koryu (古流) style is very similar to the ikenobou.  They have the same blades except the Koryo ones have the “butterfly” loop handles.  They are also commonly found with black oxide finish or stainless steel.

Both types are rivet joined in the middle with NO spring grip.  Beginners are often at loss with how to grip them, especially with the Ikenobou ones which has NO loop handles.  The rivet is usually pretty loose that the hasami will open as the bottom handle drops if only the top hand is held like this:

The is the magic of this type of hasami.  It works with gravity to open the blades and only requires effort when closing to cut.  Hold the top handle with the thumb and use the other fingers to close the bottom handle to cut.  It is just that simple with only a few components.

 

 

Caring

Unless you have a pair of stainless steel ones, the traditional pair with high carbon will need some care. The black oxide coating which is normally on 95% of the hasami is only good to prevent corrosion on the handles and the body.  The shiny blades will turn dull once in contact with water and it eventually turn into black patches if left uncleaned.  Some plants with saps will turn the black immediately upon contact as well. This is due to the hight carbon content in the metal and special care has to be taken to prevent further rusting.

While in use, wipe the blades frequently.  Have you seen sushi chefs frequently wiping their knives with a towel in between slicing? Do the same. Sushi knives are made in a similar way with the high carbon steel which the moisture of the food not only “rust” the blade but the rust can also leave an undesirable taste back on the food. Carry a dry cloth to do the same with the hasami- wipe it in between cuts.  At the end of the day, dry them thoroughly and coat it with oil before putting storing away.  However, despite vigilant wiping, a dull grey surface called “patina”, will eventually formed through the years.  Some think that the patina adds character to the tool; making it personal to the owner.

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If the hasami left uncleaned for a long time, black rust will form and a bit of effort will need to clean it out.

In the last decade, I have purchased 4 pairs of hasami because I did not know how to clean them until finally bought a stainless pair 6 years ago.  Recently, I found out ways to restore them. The methods are similar to cleaning high carbon sushi knives.  If you want more info, search the internet for “cleaning high carbon steel knives”. Here is what I have learnt:

 

 

Metal Cleaner

Use the metal cleaner to clean as much of it as possible.  They usually come in a form of cream in a tube or lotion. I found it effective to take most of the rust away.  Select one that is gentle enough so that it will not corrodes your blades.  You can find them at hardware stores.  Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and remember to wear gloves.

 

 

Rust Eraser

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They are like mini grinding stone.  Volcanic rocks are plentiful in Japan and they are good as whetstone.  However, these stones works better when used with water and same with this Japanese rust eraser.  First, wet your eraser. Observe how the grain on your blade runs and rub the eraser in the same direction.  Very quickly, you will see the black rust fading away.  The eraser basically grind away the rust and will definitely leave markings on the surface, therefore it is important to work along the grains already on the blade.

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My hasami is 8 years old and so patine has already formed on it that made the blade slightly dull even after rubbing with the eraser.  I have no problem with that and just as happy that the rust has gone and now the hasami operates smoothly.  Like sandpaper, the eraser comes in different grades.  I bought a medium one.

Some hasami has movable bolts on the rivet so that the blades can be take apart for cleaning.

I think the best way is to prevent rusting by wiping the hasami constantly when in use. I found that the easiest way to carry a wiping cloth with my hasami is to make a hasami case with one so that I can use the case to “wipe” the tool and I shall always have a cloth close by. I have found a tenugui (Japanese cotton towel) wallet folding/wrapping instructions which can be easily modified to fold into a case for the hasami. And when the tenugui needs a wash, it can be unfolded, washed and refolded again.

I will share the instructions next time.

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工欲善其事,必先利其器 – sharp tools to make quality craft

“工欲善其事,必先利其器” is a Chinese idoiom from the Analects of Confucius. Its direct translation can be
‘To make quality craft, first start with sharp tools “.
I was told since very little that this is the bases for all art. To play music, start with an instrument that is in tune. To write good calligraphy, start with brushes that are well conditioned. While the skills of the craftsman play a big part, the tools chosen are essential for success as well.

The same principle applies to ikebana. You need the right tools (and sharp ones literally) to make arrangements. During the past years in training, numerous times I felt lost regarding the use and the maintenance of these tools. Here in Australia, many new ikebana students are overwhelmed by these unfamiliar objects which otherwise are pretty common things in Japan. I found that there is a lack of English sources about them. And this is my motivation to write a series of articles about ikebana tools. I have not made In-depth research nor with profound knowledge of them, but these articles are merely my own experiences. I hope they will help anyone new to the art to gain some quick understanding on the tools we use.

Let me kick start the series with something “sharp” – the ikebana shears – はさみ、鋏み. The kind of shears that most people use for ikebana are quite “iconic”; very different from the western garden shears in form and operation. Many are still hand forged in a similar way to how samurai swords are made. We will discuss more about these “samurai swords” that fit in a palm next time.

It’s ikebana- It’s for all ages

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Ok, may be not for babies who might easily try to eat the materials than arranging them. Trust me, I know, speaking from experience. For the rest of us, who wants to take a piece of nature and transform it into art of our own here we have ikebana for all ages. The photo above are two arrangements little Miss Terrible Two has done this afternoon using some left overs from my ikebana class and branches from our garden. There were days we did not have florals and she was equally happy to just arrange leaves and branches. Overall, ikebana is NOT Japanese floral arrangement. In fact, many famous ikebana artists are NOT famous of their “floral” work. In the Sogetsu textbook, there is a chapter on arranging fruits and vegetables only!

Many find ikebana relaxing, meditative, calming. It takes you away from the huss and buss of this busy world and asks you to focus on the amazing miracle of nature- especially the piece that is in your hand that you are about to cut! It helps you to “stop and pause” in this non-stop world. It can stimulate the mind in a different way than the internet or the TV can.

What are you waiting for? Or do you know someone who can make use of some relaxing time? Regardless of age, let us gather some materials, whether is from your backyard or from the road side (I do have friends who live in a flat and she picks material from the road side!) and do some ikebana.

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Yes, we are lucky to have a plastic kezen

Using unlikely materials in Ikebana

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The wonderful thing about Ikebana is the boundless of materials we can use.  However, it has often been misunderstood with it being labeled as “Japanese Floral Art”.  Many ikebana works have NO flowers at all.  Like those by the great Ikebana Master – Tetsunori Kawana. His huge installations of bamboo outdoor sculptures are made entirely with just bamboo!   This is the beauty of ikebana.  We are not bounded by just flowers.  But all natural materials (and sometimes with unnatural ones as well) can be used.

I made this display with broccoli, tomatoes and the stems of some wilted Spanish Iris I collected when I was pruning in the garden.  The broccoli works well as a kenzan.  And surprising the stems of the Spanish Iris are strong like thin branches. You might ask, “What? You use broccoli and tomatoes and wilted flowers stems for a display?” Yes, and it was a challenge but the process was fun.  There is a lot of “things” in our fridge we can use- mainly the fruits and vegetables.  Capsicums are great as small containers with dramatic colours while peas (whole before pealed) can be wired to add into a bouquet!  Fruits like apples, oranges and lemons are great too.  And don’t just limit yourself to flowers/ foliage that purchased from shops. Look around your garden and at your park?  The fallen piece of braches along the footpath might have very interesting bends and shapes!

Here you go, you don’t need flowers to make ikebana- just look around, especially in your fridge!

Shoso Shimbo at the Toyota Sculpture Exhibition 2012

Shoso Shimbo Sculpture at the Toyota Exhibition (photo by Shoso Shimbo)

Shoso Shimbo Sculpture at the Toyota Exhibition (photo by Shoso Shimbo)

 

Shoso Shimbo has a new ikebana display at the Toyota Sculpture Exhibition.  It is exciting to see ikebana artist getting involved and recognised in the sculpture art sector.  Pop in to the gallery and see the work yourself. You will be amazed!

Shoso Ikebana Blog: ikebanaonline.org: Toyota Sculpture Exhibition 2012: Column by Shoso.

ASAP Ikebana

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Very often ikebana is misunderstood as an art that is too hard. We often see the elaborate and huge work of the masters and put ikebana in the “too hard” box not realising that ikebana can range from the garden size installation to the “1 flower 1 leave” tea cup arrangement. While a 8 metres installation might takes weeks to plan and days to construct, a tea-cup sized arrangement can be a result of hours of meditation too. But still there is always a challenge to make the what I call the  “ASAP ikebana”- quick arrangement to brighten up your day or a short meditation time for you to take your crowded mind away from busy life. All you need is a few leaves/ branches/ flower(s). I made this after running around to finish the laundry, the pile of dishes in the sink….! And those 5-10min was great – helping me to regenerate! No planning, no sketching- just making use what I’ve picked from my garden. And I must admit I’m lucky to have a pretty good garden to give me at least three different kinds of Japanese maples to start with.

So… What have you got in your garden? What can you make in 5 min? May be your three-days-old vase need rearranging? Or may be you can pick up a mixed bunch from the local fruit shop on your way home after a long day work. Take the challenge and have your mind refreshed….Ah….

川崎景太 オフィシャルウェブサイト

川崎景太 オフィシャルウェブサイト.

What a beautiful site of Japanese ikebana art in the contempory conte doesn’t matter whether you can red Japanese or not; ikebana, like all arts, has an universal language that brings people together.

Kawasaki has also appeared on Japanese TV many times demonstrating ikebana and teaching you how simple it can be though it is a very sophisticated ancient art itself. He has incorporated everyday items like kitchen utensils and even the humble plastic straws to make out standing ikebana that anyone can try at home- making ikebana accessible to everyone.

Look up clips on YouTube now and get inspired today!

Kawasaki 10min ikebana challenge

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