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Spreading the Greatness of Ikebana, As Long As I’m Alive: Reiko Kawamura

Mrs. Allen and Ikebana International

For Kawamura-san, whose mother was also an instructor of the Ohara style, the introduction to ikebana came while she was still just a little girl.

“After the war, my mother taught ikebana to Mrs. Allen, who was the wife of a lieutenant who worked under General Ridgeway, who had just replaced General MacArthur. My mother had studied abroad in the U.S. with my father before, so she was able to teach the wives of American military personnel in English. So back then, my mother’s students consisted of people from the American consulate and such… they were all foreigners.”

When she first came to the U.S. with her husband in 1964, it was already arranged for her to teach ikebana in Columbus, Ohio. Her mother’s student (from Japan), Mrs. Allen—Ellen Gordon-Allen—had contacted the Ohio division of Ikebana International about Kawamura-san’s arrival in advance. Ikebana International is an organization that Mrs. Allen began in 1956, and is now a global organization operated mainly of non-Japanese members who have mastered the art of ikebana in Japan.

Encouraged by her American students

“In actuality, I had no experience teaching ikebana to students while in Japan. Even then, just by being introduced as the daughter of Mrs. Allen’s teacher, I was lucky enough to meet several wonderful people, and I began my life in America, heavily involved with ikebana. At the time, I didn’t have much confidence, and would be very apprehensive when offered to do some demonstrations. But they would tell me, ‘we know you can do it! You should do it! Please!’ and so I was very encouraged by my students. So with the support from everybody, and as a result of my strong dedication to ikebana, students from as far away as Cleveland started to attend my classes. From Cleveland to Columbus—that’s about as far as Los Angeles to San Francisco.”

She was also involved in the operation of the Ohara Center in New York, established in 1965. When the Center first opened, even Kawamura-san’s mother came to help on a nine-month contract.

After that, while moving to places such as Brazil and Australia due to her husband’s work, Kawamura-san continued to teach the Ohara-style locally. “There’s a division of Ikebana International everywhere around the world. In several countries, in every destination, I’ve held demonstrations and workshops for the members there.” Kawamura-san, who first needed a gentle nudge in the back to hold her own demonstrations, was now showing confident leadership around the world. Even today, with Los Angeles as her base, she visits Ohara and Ikebana International divisions across the U.S. for workshops. “The other day to Washington, D.C., next up is Boston,” says Kawamura-san, actively enjoying her travels every day. With a small frame and quiet personality, it makes us wonder where Kawamura-san generates all of this energy from.

Expressing the ‘feelings’ of the seasons

I asked Kawamura-san what was most enchanting about the Ohara-style, and she said, “The Ohara-style is a type of ikebana that takes a careful look at the seasonal feeling. Take, for example, a single branch—depending on the season, its expression will be different. A bare branch, a branch with buds—taking the characteristics of each season, the Ohara-style expresses this ‘feeling.’ Also, there’s a well-known anecdote about the three major Iemotos who placed their fresh works on a windowsill of a bank in Kobe—a bank still standing in the aftermath of a firebomb attack—and healed the hearts of many who were distraught from the war.

Even today, with issues such as the degradation of the environment, wars in certain regions, and the unstable economy, we can hardly describe the times that we live in as “peaceful.” Perhaps ikebana is needed more than ever, especially during times like these.

Now, Ikebana International, founded by the student of Kawamura-san’s mother, Mrs. Allen, has reached its 50th anniversary and has grown across 60 countries, with 165 locations and 8,500 total members. Kawamura-san, who has aided in the development of Ikebana International, says that she intends to dedicate the rest of her life to spreading the greatness of ikebana to as many people in this world as possible.

Profile: Left Japan for the U.S. in 1964. Taught in America, Brazil, and Australia with the Ohara-style and through Ikebana International, which transcends different ikebana styles. Currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.

© 2008 Keiko Fukuda