Kadō – Flowers Kept Alive

I recently joined a local Kadō Club. Kadō is also known as Ikebana, and is usually translated into English as Flower Arrangement. The kanji for Kadō, however, means “flowers kept alive”, and refers to the purpose of arranging the flowers to appear as though they are existing naturally, in the same vibrant beauty as they might have been had you stumbled upon them growing along a forest path.

I attended my first Kadō class yesterday, and had a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, due to my poor Japanese, I understood very little of what the sensei was saying. She helped me the entire time though, and I learned through her actions and sketches on the board.

The flowers are arranged by fitting the cut stems into a weighted, spiked disc called a kenzan. The kenzan rests in a shallow dish filled with water.

Tateru Katachi (the rising form of Kadō) is comprised of three primary units. The shushi is the single tallest flower, which centers the piece and stands straight. The kyakushi is a single flower which is half the length of the shushi and is placed at a 45 degree angle from the shushi, resting in the direction of the viewer. The chu kanshi comprise the rest of the arrangement and have more freedom in their placement. There can be few or many, and they can be placed at any angle or in any direction as long as they fall within an imaginary arc created by taking half the length of the sushi and using it as a perimeter for the base of the piece, and connecting that perimeter to the apex of the arrangement. A diagram would be very helpful to you at this point, I’m sure.

For this class, we were provided with three Togarashi (ornamental peppers), two Bara (roses), and one Renzafan (fern). We used one of the Togarashi as the shushi, one of the Bara for the kyakushi, and a combination of the Renzafan and the leftover Bara and Togarashi for the chu kanshi.

After creating an arrangement with the teacher in class, I took everything apart, packed up the flowers, the dish and the kenzan, and took it all home to practice again. But the magic was gone! Without the sensei there I felt a little lost and ended up placing the flowers a bit carelessly. You can be the judge.

I’m excited to know that as I acquire more Japanese, the meaning of Kadō will deepen, and I’ll actually understand what the sensei is telling me to do!

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