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


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.

Yes, we are lucky to have a plastic kezen

Using unlikely materials in Ikebana


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

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

Web Gallery of Shoso Shimbo

Stressed of for the day?  Click and relax with the beautiful collections of works by Shoso Shimbo, the renowned Melbourne based Ikebana artist.  Not only your can fest you eyes on some wonderful floral artwork of his, you can relax your mind with the soothing music that accompany the web gallery.

Shoso Shimbo – Ikebana Artist – Melbourne.

Check often… Shoso is a very busy artist and he will updates his site!

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