“A single flower can change the entire space”
Born in 1960 in Tokyo, Akane Teshigahara is the granddaughter of Sōfū Teshigahara, who founded the Sōgetsu school of ikebana (Japanese traditional floral art). She is the second daughter of the 3rd Headmaster of Sōgetsu school, Hiroshi Teshigahara. The Sōgetsu school of ikebana values a free-form style of expression and individuality, unrestrained by conventions. Their creations are remarkable for their wide range, from friendly arrangements that can blend into daily life to bold, avant-garde works of art. Akane Teshigahara became the 4th Iemoto (Headmaster) of Sōgetsu school in 2001. We spoke to her about her creative practice as well as the philosophy and aesthetics of Sōgetsu school that have been passed down over generations.
The Importance of Expression
From a young age, Akane was trained in the art of ikebana by her aunt Kasumi, the 2nd Headmaster of Sōgetsu school. Since flowers were a constant presence in her life, she never felt that ikebana was anything extraordinary.
“Once a week, I attended the ‘Junior Class,’ an ikebana class for children at the Sōgetsu Kaikan. It was like playing to me, and I felt free to arrange flowers as I liked.”
Nowadays, Akane herself leads the “Akane Junior Class.” Before she formally joined the Sōgetsu Foundation, she used to work as a kindergarten teacher for four years. She learned an essential skill through that experience: to express herself and to convey ideas in a way that would reach small children. It comes in handy for teaching ikebana, too.
“At kindergarten, you’re trying to communicate with children. If they’re not interested, they won’t even listen. You need to find a way to express yourself effectively to catch their interest. It’s the same with teaching ikebana—style of delivery is important.”
“The trick to conveying ideas,” she says gently, “is not to expect everyone to understand with the same kind of teaching, and not to skip over trivial details expecting people to get them without your explanation. You should be aware of what kind of person your student is and adapt your method of teaching to suit each one.”
Twenty years have passed since Akane succeeded to the position of Headmaster. More than anything, she has placed great value on communicating with the people supporting Sōgetsu ikebana, from behind-the-scenes atelier staff who assist her floral creations to the teachers of Sōgetsu school. When she joined Sōgetsu Foundation, she started in the public relations department, and it was through her work there that she made an invaluable discovery.
“I was struck by the sheer depth and earnestness of the passion the teachers felt towards Sōgetsu ikebana whenever I went to meet them for interviews. I realised that what has kept Sōgetsu alive since my grandfather’s generation is the presence of these devoted people who love Sōgetsu ikebana.”
To commemorate the twentieth year of Akane’s term as a Headmaster, the solo exhibition titled “RELEASE” was held in the annex atelier of Sōgetsu Kaikan in November 2021, including large-scale installations and ikebana art. During the production process, the strong bond of mutual trust that she has been cultivating with the atelier staff flourished.
The central piece of the exhibition was a massive spherical installation using flora and iron. They dismantled an objet d’art made by the founder Sōfū and incorporated it into this new artwork. The reconstructed piece came to embody the beating heart of Sōgetsu, passed down from one generation to another in an unbroken line.
Interacting with Other Genres, Exploring New Possibilities for Ikebana
Akane is enthusiastic about collaborating with creators in other genres as well.
In the collaborative project with the creative company “NAKED Inc.” she created a fantastic scene of floral beauty lit up by projection mapping. She encountered a problem that she would never have experienced had she stayed within the confines of the ikebana world.
“Projection mapping illuminates objects with videos, so it has to be done in a dark environment. I wasn’t quite content with the level of darkness that made it difficult to see the floral art. We had many discussions over it, and eventually, we were able to present the work in a way that both sides were satisfied with.”
Such collaborations are a wonderful source of stimulation for her: to work together with artists to bring out the appeal of each side, instead of adhering to a fixed idea of their ways of expression.
“In that sense, Sōgetsu has always evolved through collaborating with creators of different genres.”
In ikebana, however, the most crucial part of the practice is to engage deeply with the flora.
“You accentuate the characteristics of each flower and plant, while adding a personal touch, the originality of the artist. That’s what’s intriguing about ikebana—the most exciting part.” As she speaks, this sense of joy flashes across her face: the thrill of coming upon an idea through engaging with the flora before her, which in turn animates her creative impulse towards expression.
Making the Beautiful Traditional Culture of Japan More Familiar in Everyday Life
As ever, Sōgetsu school continues to embody the fresh, ever-evolving world of ikebana. One question that Akane raises is the public’s impression of ikebana: how ikebana tends to be seen as something more special, more out of the ordinary than it really needs to be.
“People from outside Japan have no preconceptions about ikebana, so they simply take it as art,” she says. “Also, they tend to be more aware of flowers in their daily lives. It’s common for them to send flowers to people, or use them to decorate their homes when they invite people over. I wonder how close Japanese people feel towards ikebana nowadays, even though it’s a beautiful part of Japan’s traditional culture.”
She feels that “for busy people today, flowers are becoming more and more distant from their lives.”
“You don’t need knowledge or experience to do ikebana,” she says. “I’d like to invite you to pick a flower in a flower shop, set it in a vase, and think about where it would shine as a decoration in your home. A single flower can change the entire space into something more charming. For a start, I’d love it if people could experience that change for themselves.”
Ikebana tends to be considered as highbrow, something beyond the reach of ordinary people. Because of this, Akane urgently feels the need to create more opportunities for people to see and experience ikebana in person.
“I think it’s my duty to open up ikebana to a wider public, to create opportunities for people to become more familiar with it,” says Akane. As she continues to pursue beauty through moving works of art that speaks to the heart of many viewers, she strives to spread the appeal of ikebana to wider spheres.
"Release" ~ Akane Teshigahara
Solo Exhibition for 20th Anniversary
In November last year, a second exhibition to commemorate Akane’s twentieth year as the headmaster of Sōgetsu, titled “RELEASE” was held. In July of the same year, the first exhibition titled “CONNECT” was held at Sōgetsu WEST in Kyoto, their headquarters in Western Japan. The venue for “RELEASE” was the annex atelier of Sōgetsu Kaikan, a site of creation for generations of Sōgetsu headmasters. A place laden with the histories and the memories of the Sōgetsu school, the atelier housed an enormous spherical installation, the centrepiece, and numerous other grand artworks during the exhibition, of which the visitors were enamoured. The current atelier, built in April 1984, is scheduled to be demolished within the next few years, due to the development of the surrounding neighbourhood.