Wafu Ikebana Flower Show: Spring Awakening Wafu School of Ikebana celebrates its 48th anniversary

By Helen Chao, Jennie Chen and Priya Reddy

The doors of the Cupertino Quinlan Community Center opened to reveal a world of natural beauty free of charge — rows and rows of flower arrangements made by students of all ages at the Wafu School of Ikebana’s 48th anniversary showcase on March 3 and March 4. The school hosts classes in Cupertino, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto.

Visitors enjoyed seeing ikebana in a variety of ways: low, shallow vases (“moribana”), upright vases (“nageire”), suspended or hung from the wall and on the floor. Demonstrations were held three times during both days by various ikebana teachers, who constructed flower arrangements right in front of the audience members.

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. While other styles of japanese arrangement can include modern and man-made objects like silk flowers, Wafu ikebana only uses natural materials such as flowers, branches and fruits. These materials are typically inserted into a pin frog or kenzan, which holds up the entire arrangement.

Before the event started, speeches were made by President of the California Chapter of the Wafu School of Ikebana Fusako Hoyrup, Vice Consul Hiroyuki Nomura, Mayor Darcy Paul and Superintendent of Schools Polly Bove welcoming visitors to eventually step inside and enjoy the beauty and craftsmanship showcased by the artists and their arrangements.

Vice Consul Hiroyuki Nomura gives his opening remarks before the ribbon cutting. Nomura is a representative from the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco. Photo by Priya Reddy.

President of the California Chapter of the Wafu School of Ikebana, Sensei Fusako Hoyrup, laughs as she makes her opening remarks at the start of the flower show. This flower show marks the 48th anniversary of the Wafu School of Ikebana. Photo by Priya Reddy.

FUHSD Superintendent Polly Bove gives her congratulations to the Wafu School before the show begins. This flower show was in co-sponsored by the Fremont Union High School District, the City of Cupertino and the Wafu Ikebana Society. Photo by Priya Reddy.

Cupertino Mayor Darcy Paul presents Sensei Fusako Hoyrup with a proclamation from the city of Cupertino celebrating the 48th anniversary of the Wafu School of Ikebana. Photo by Priya Reddy.

Vice Consul Hiroyuki Nomura, Cupertino Mayor Darcy Paul, Sensei Fusako Hoyrup and FUHSD Superintendent Polly Bove cut a ribbon in front of the doors to the flower show. The ribbon cutting marked the start of the flower show. Photo by Priya Reddy.

View the photo gallery of the arrangements and features on individuals essential to showcasing the beauty of ikebana.

Darcy Paul: Museum of tranquility

Cupertino Mayor Darcy Paul poses next to some of the flower arrangements made by children enrolled in the Wafu School. In addition to a showroom for the older students, there was a separate showroom with arrangements made by children aged six to thirteen. Photo by Priya Reddy.

After saying his opening speech presenting Sensei Fusako Hoyrup with a proclamation honoring the 48th anniversary of her school and helping with the ribbon cutting event, Cupertino Mayor Darcy Paul was finally able to walk around the showroom. He admired the different ikebana displays made by both adult and children artists. For Paul, who spends a lot of time in the Quinlan Community Center, seeing the center rearranged to accommodate the variety of ikebana is fascinating and something he describes as a “museum of flowers and tranquility.”

Paul has attended Wafu Ikebana showcases in the past, but this year, he’s able to memorialize his official tour in a different way.

"I actually have one of the new iPhones, and they have this portrait mode and ever since I realized it was there, I thought 'Wow, the flower show would be perfect for this,’” Paul said. "So I've been waiting for that ever since I got the phone."

Though the displays based on people’s individual aesthetics pop out a bit more to him, Paul finds something to appreciate about each and every display — from learning about botany, the arrangement to the general philosophy of peace and tranquility.

On a larger scale, Paul sees the showcase as an event that is well appreciated by the community. Both in his role as mayor and as a community member Paul appreciates the time and effort the members of the Wafu School of Ikebana have put into setting up the display and can appreciate the amount of passion that comes from the artists both in creating the flower arrangements but also in volunteering for the event.

“It's precisely the kind of thing that you want to promote as a community member,” Paul said.

As for the event he had to attend after the showcase, Paul may continue to find use for his new iPhone’s portrait mode.

“I actually would've brought my family except my older daughter has her birthday today,” Paul said. “I'm going to go and help prepare for that.”

Calvin Wong: Engineering a passion

Calvin Wong stands next to one of the arrangements he made during his 30 minute demonstration. Wong has been doing ikebana for 20 years. Photo by Priya Reddy.

Calvin Wong has been doing ikebana for a long time, 20 years to be exact. An engineer by trade, Wong started to make flower arrangements instead of buying ready-made ones as a way to save a little bit of money. He then spent a year learning a Western style of flower arrangement until he got to the point where he was able to make arrangements similar to those in grocery stores. Looking for a way to advance his skills, Wong stumbled upon ikebana classes.

“And at that point I didn't know what ikebana was. So I said ‘Ok, it's flower arranging, I'll see what I can learn there,’” Wong said, “And after that, I got hooked on, and the rest is history.”

It took Wong around six years of classes, once a week, to advance to a teaching level, and he now teaches classes during the week and also helps with demonstrations during exhibitions. Wong hopes to continue as long as he is physically able. For him, the classes serve a dual purpose. The day of his class he is forced to leave work early so that he can make it to classon time, in that way it helps force a better work life balance. Once the class has begun, and Wong begins creating his arrangement, the class helps him relax and destress. There needs to be a certain amount of focus to create a flower display that distracts him from thoughts of work or deadlines.

While creating his arrangements, Wong is particularly aware of the color combinations he chooses. One of Wong’s sons is red-green colorblind, and combinations of the two colors are washed out to him, appearing as shades of brown. This awareness also extends past flower arrangements to Wong’s work with web designs.

Wong’s first ikebana arrangement created during the demonstration. As Wong made his arrangement he explained that by using dark and rather muted colors here, he is able to show audience members roughly what his red-green colorblind son sees when he looks at the arrangement. Photo by Jennie Chen.

At the showcase Wong served alongside Mayshine Hwang as a demonstrator, teaching a crowd of more than a hundred people, all packed into a repurposed dance room, how to do ikebana. Placing twisted kiwi branches as the foundation in his first arrangement, Wong laughed as host and fellow teacher Thanh Nguyen shared an anecdote.

“We normally say that the tall, medium and short [foundations] — one, two and three — [are] man, heaven and earth,” Nguyen said. “I have some children in my class. And when I explained to them, a six year old girl said, ‘What happened to women?’ So now we can’t call it heaven, man, and earth. [We use] human, little human.”

Wong’s second ikebana arrangement during his demonstration. Before starting, Wong showed the audience how to properly cut the flowers and stems underwater to help them last longer. Photo by Jennie Chen.

Mayshine Hwang: The souls of plants

Mayshine Hwang presents the third and last of the ikebana she created during her arrangement demonstration. She has learned ikebana for 24 years and earned a Somu degree of teaching. Photo by Priya Reddy.

For ikebana teacher Mayshine Hwang, flowers are much more than simply decorations to gaze at, rather there is something more profound to them. In fact, she likens plants to people: some are easy-going and require low maintenance, while others may require a little more nurturing and attention. Regardless, both people and plants possess souls of their own. As the life of a plant comes to a close, its seeds are blown by wind, taking root in another location and reincarnated as another form of life.

“So just like people,” Hwang said, “when they die, they cremate and become dust. But when we die, we don’t know. There’s reincarnation [that] goes to another life. But on this life, like today, I [happened to] meet you. So we cherish this moment right? [But] the next life? I don’t know you anymore.”

Laughing, Hwang mentions that she often tells her children they should cherish one another, because in the next life, they will be different people in different locations and may never encounter one another again. She relates this appreciation back to her ikebana roots: one must make sure the their garden of family and friends grows strong and healthy.

Ikebana is a kind of stress reliever for Mayshine and her arrangements often reflect her current mood. If she is happy, her designs are characterized by bright colors and shiny flowers, while the occasion of a marriage calls for a more romantic flair.

Hwang’s first ikebana arrangement during the demonstration. Before using the palms and branches, she had made sure to use a hose to wash all the mud off and to shape them by cutting around the leaves with scissors. Photo by Jennie Chen.

“You look at your vase and then [how you’re] going to do the arrangement, what style,” Hwang said. “It's your idea. And then branch, flower, material, you pick all of this and then just do it.”

Hwang first started flower arranging as a teenager in Taiwan, her home country, but it wasn’t until she immigrated to America that she learned the ikebana style of arrangement from Fusako Hoyrup, her sensei and the President of Wafu School of Ikebana California Chapter. Hwang considers her a strict and excellent teacher.

In order for an artist to earn their teaching degree, they must first earn their sensei’s recommendation. Afterwards, the according paperwork is sent to Tokyo, Japan, the headquarters of Wafu Ikebana. The headmaster in Japan then presents the ikebana artist with their flower name, and the artist must be compliant with whatever name they are given. Hwang’s flower name is “Musei,” which signifies that she has achieved the level of an ikebana teacher.

After her 24 years at the school, Hwang achieved her “Somu” degree in 2012, the third-highest teaching degree one can receive and something that could be considered equivalent to that amount of work needed for a PhD.

And each round of claps after her finished demonstrations is certainly a testament to her skill.

Hwang’s second ikebana arrangement during the demonstration. Ikebana arrangements can have horizontal or vertical branches. Photo by Jennie Chen.

Thomas Arakawa: Foundations of the flowers

Potter Thoma Arakawa poses with one of his creations. Arakawa has been creating pottery for the last 8 years and works closely with each client to determine how to create pieces that work for them. Photo by Priya Reddy.

Although not always in the spotlight, pottery manufacturer Thomas Arakawa’s creations are an indispensable part of ikebana arrangements at the showcase.

“The vessel shouldn't look too glamorous because the flower is main [sic], and we keep it down on the design element but still make it look interesting, and that's always a challenge,” Arakawa said. "Usually artist likes to make their piece to come out [sic] in front but we're in the background to make the main look good.”

Although Arakawa initially worked as an accountant, he began attending pottery class on Saturdays, and has now been manufacturing pottery for eight years and making vases for six. Arakawa and his wife Cathy Lee Arakawa make everything from dinnerware to succulent pots, and work with around four different ikebana schools.

However, it wasn’t always easy for Arakawa — when he first started making vases for ikebana schools, most of them were rejects. The challenge to making flower vases, Arakawa says, is the functionality. The vessel has to brace the flower, requiring certain shapes and rules to make it work. In addition, Arakawa has to account for the different styles of every flower arrangement school in his creations. To do this, Arakawa interviews each customer.

“[Some don’t] just [say] ‘This is not good.’ They'll say why and what color is good and the height and specifications,” Arakawa said. “They spend a lot of time and especially Fusako sensei had a biggest arrangement. She spent days talking to us about what could be [sic].”

However, the constructive criticism is much appreciated. According to Arakawa, the people of the Wafu School of Ikebana have truly invested their time in him and his pottery, a driving reason for his dedication to this specific school.

“We're making [a] living just doing this,” Arakawa said. “Just because of this community.”

Student Arrangements from the Showcase

Erdina Hadziosmanovic: Zen zone

Erdina Hadziosmanovic stands next to her ikebana flower arrangement. She used aralia leaf, kiwi branch, lembon branch with fruit, euonymus and pincushion protea for her design. Photo by Priya Reddy.

Student Erdina Hadziosmanovic believes that there are some people who simply see a flower as a flower, but she herself finds relaxation from flowers while taking care of them and incorporating them into her ikebana designs.

A nurse at Stanford hospital, Hadziosmanovic describes flower arranging as her “zen zone.” Though her work at the hospital is very fast-paced and stressful, Hadziosmanovic still makes time to come to class every Wednesday night from 6:30 to 9:30.

“No matter how tired I am, I have to go on Wednesday class to just relax. You enjoy, you see flower different [sic],” Hadziosmanovic said. “It’s just really, really nice. [Some people] like yoga, I like this. This is my relaxation.”

Even during summer or winter break, when there are no classes held, Hadziosmanovic simply buys a little bouquet from Trader Joe’s, deconstructs it and has her own makeshift ikebana class at home.

Currently at the advanced level, after passing the beginner and intermediate levels, Hadziosmanovic has attended ikebana classes for six years and has also attended and showcased work at a variety of showcases. At Wafu, in order to move up levels, Hadziosmanovic’s sensei must decide that she is ready before Hadziosmanovic receives a Japanese certificate commemorating her achievement.

Through her six years of classes, Hadziosmanovic has learned little tips and tricks to keep the flowers in pristine condition. Alcohol, Sprite or 7 Up are all liquids that she has learned to add to the water to help the plant stay fresh longer. Hadziosmanovic also suggests wiping water or oil on a paper towel and wiping it across the leaves to give them a glossy shine, a trick that she used for her arrangement in the show.

Photo by Priya Reddy.

Sajma Sehic: A lasting appreciation

Sajma Sehic stands next to her flower arrangement. She used sed boxwood, sago plam leaf, king protea, leucodendron and solidago. Photo by Priya Reddy.

Every since she was a little girl, Sajma Sehic has loved flowers. She would grow the flowers her dad planted for her in her backyard back in Bosnia, and when Sehic came to America, her interest in her friend’s flower arrangement quickly led her to the Wafu School of Ikebana.

Sehic has been a student now for five years, and continues to enjoy the art.

“When I back home from my work, I'm always very tired and my husband always says 'Oh my god, how you can do [sic] and going class now? You are tired,’” Sehic said. "I said when I'm going my class, and sit on the table, I'm rest and enjoy [sic]. I'm not tired anymore, it's totally relaxing.”

When making ikebana arrangements, Sehic likes to take her time, meticulously pairing each aspect of the arrangement with another. This way, she is able to enjoy the process in its entirety, from starting with the fresh flowers Sensei Fusako Hoyrup brings for the students in class, to eventually taking her ikebana arrangement home.

[Sensei] said it’s about us, how we make and how we use, and we do [that] in class every week,” Sehic said. "It’s beautiful."

Sehic’s home is always full of fresh flowers and, like flowers of her childhood, her arrangements continue to bring her peace and joy.

Update 10/20/18: A previous version of this story incorrectly called a pin frog a frog pin and incorrectly stated that Wong learned a Russian style of flower arranging before becoming interested in Ikebana, he learned a Western style of flower arranging.

Created By
Priya Reddy, Jennie Chen, and Helen Chao


Photos by Priya Reddy, Jennie Chen and Helen Chao

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