Ikebana, back to basics (or: A Paltry Attempt at What is Known as Journalism)

I have never written an article before, so this ought to be good.

On October 2 (Monday), I attended the opening of the Ikebana, back to basics exhibition by the Ikebana International Singapore Chapter 135, hosted at the Japan Creative Centre.¹

The place is essentially a private mini gallery.

The atmosphere is somewhat unnerving, from the average age being twice of mine, to the fact that a doorman opens the door and greets you personally.² Part of it is also perhaps just the minimalistic elegance of the rooms, which are small and uncluttered. An ikebana and introductory placard can be seen before the doorless chamber, no bigger than a typical classroom.

What strikes me most is the natural, yet haphazard, curls of the branches.

Bathed in gentle, warm lighting, the white walls were lined with various flower arrangements at apt intervals. Upon closer inspection, placards could be seen beside each ikebana, inscribed with the name and school of the creator. An overwhelming majority were of Sogetsu, with a few from the other 5 schools being displayed.

The chamber was adorned by white chairs, barely enough to seat 20 people, with an aisle in the middle. I quickly settled in the barren back row. My awkwardness was masked by my act as an enraptured audience member (or, at least, I hoped it was). A long table adorned by a sea green cloth remained empty, though the corner was occupied by a bamboo structure which jutted out at various angles.

Originally without the leaf.

⁴ The event began with the opening speeches of two distinguished speakers: Mrs. Yuko Shinoda, the wife of the Japanese ambassador to Singapore, and Ms. Angela Kek, the President of the Chapter. They spoke of the progress of the Chapter since its founding in 1969, where educational platforms to bring ikebana to Singapore have flourished⁵. Furthermore, the Japanese art of ikebana still remains rooted in traditional forms, despite having adapted to modernity. This was the inspiration behind the theme of “basic”, in returning to basic rules and concepts.

Some other important figures were also introduced, such as Ms. Akiko Sugita, the Director of the Japan Creative Centre, and various members of what, presumably, is their exclusive inner circle.⁶

A live exhibition ensued, showcasing the working process of Mr. Peter Chin, a committee member of the Floral Designers Society (Singapore). A floral designer who has been in the business for 43 years, he created 3 ikebana within approximately 15 minutes each, colouring his working process with live commentary. All 3 ikebana used different bases, and thus, presented various techniques.

Throughout the demonstration, he gave numerous tips involving plant freshness, maintenance, and colour coordination. For example, that bamboo could be rejuvenated through soaking, and that rotting flowers could be saved by trimming. In light of autumn, he chose orange flowers, offset by yellows and pinks to evoke the earlier parts of the season.

Black bamboo. To show the season, he also added mid-autumn lanterns.

As an avid user, he also provided many details on bamboo. Different varieties of bamboo have different qualities, such as with the hardier black bamboo. In addition, bamboo can grow up to half a metre per day, as a versatile grass (yes, bamboo is a grass!). It also stores water easily, and is often so expansive that they cross each other at haphazard angles. He fondly recounted a tale of a guard attempting to accuse him of cutting bamboo in the forest. The punchline, of course, being that said guard could not tell where exactly the cutting had occurred.

Chin also commented extensively on the use of plants to suggest direction. “These are just basically finishing touches to give it more flow,” he explained, as he clipped branches with a resounding twang. “The main feature which is the flowers, then the rest flowing along the sides to give it more movement… to make the arrangement more lively,” he continued, framing the golden chrysanthemums with yet another wispy fern.

For the benefit of everyone, I have summarised the more inferential points mentioned in his soliloquies below:

  1. Local procurement

Noting that many people believe ikebana to require exotic, foreign materials, he specifically worked with local flora, such as ixora, and nameless branches he randomly found along the way. The explanation given was that local materials can still provide beautiful forms to work with.

2. Curating materials

Often, one may find a branch plenty beautiful in its natural state, or end up trimming it far too much. The key, he said, was to focus on what you want from it. If you wanted to focus on the curve of the branch, you could even strip its leaves entirely, as he demonstrated for us. “Don’t feel uncomfortable with plucking off or cutting off!” he exclaimed, as he ripped leaves off a branch. He then proceeded to curl it.

3. Natural joining

Save for certain situations, he attached the materials with no additional assistance from fixatives like glue or rope. Branches were placed vertically, by sectioning the stem into 4 at the bottom to form a solid base; stems were twisted, to counter turning momentum; flowers were slotted into cavities, where they fit snugly.

4. Plant coordination

Even plants which may not seem to work together may come together surprisingly. He recommended keeping a stock of plants which one might wish to use and experimenting accordingly, than making assumptions based on prior knowledge. He also recommended picking colours in relation to each other and the season, as with the black of the bamboo offset by green, and hints of yellow and pink.

Lying abandoned in a side corridor, a vase of additional flowers he had prepared.

After his demonstration ended, there was a food reception and free tea from Premiers. The audience quickly dispersed to either grab the free food, or take photos of his completed works. I was the latter, before I decided that it made more sense to come back later once the crowd lost interest, heading over the tea section instead. A quick look at the menu revealed a nice variation of few teas, from classical Darjeeling to exotic Assam, quirky Chocolate to floral Chamomile.⁸ There was also a bizarre cold tea named Celebration, (which I never got to try due to limited stock, sadly), and the display was rather elegant.

It took a while to realise that the tea counter was to be visited AFTER the food, and thus I headed to the queue for food. Kueh of different colours were displayed, from the beloved rainbow to purples and greens, followed by typical catering trays filled with typical Chinese things like bee hoon and fishcakes. During this time, Ikebana A was also presented to Mrs. Shinoda.

Further exploration revealed that there was, in fact, another room displaying even more ikebanas from various people. Compiled are photos of almost all displayed ikebanas, both in that room and out of.

Even more wandering around revealed an eLibrary, though it was, unfortunately, off limits to the public. Also an office, but that’s not as interesting. With nothing much left to do, I absconded with about 7 different brochures and magazines (and sachets of tea).

In all fairness, it DID say it was free.

All in all, I’d say that I likely interpreted everything differently from the masses, who were more likely there to observe another’s techniques and adapt accordingly (I still have no idea what I was doing there, really). It was vaguely enlightening, nevertheless, to see the different techniques and forms which arose depending on the base and types of plants used. From stiff and tall to soft and wide, from those meant to be viewed only from the front to those which were 3-dimensional, complex coordination was done to bring out something as simple as prettiness.¹⁰

If my failure of an article has somehow spurred you to take a look, the exhibition is open to public and still ongoing until 5 October, from 10am to 6pm! You can find more details here. If it hasn’t, well, at least you kind of know what happened, right?

Personal comments which seemed inappropriate are here, labelled by numbers.

¹ I was mostly assuming there would be another NTU student there, but quickly came to the realisation that I had been abandoned by everyone else who had said they wanted to go. I was easily the youngest person there, even including J.W., so fair warning: you might feel awkward and out of place if you go alone.

² My relief knew no bounds when they avoided calling me “ma’am” like they did the others.

³ I would soon regret this, considering the average height of the people in the room versus mine.

Here, I will take the liberty of admitting that I did not listen particularly thoroughly so I’m not too sure on if they WERE the speakers and who said what.

haha geddit

I personally think the Chapter sounds like a secret society name.

It SOUNDED like vanilla, but I’m quite sure it wasn’t. So I have no idea. Maybe just water.

Personally, the bee hoon was subpar, but the fishcake(?) was superb. I will never reject free tea, but I was vaguely disappointed that there wasn’t Earl Grey, which is easily my favourite black tea. This was resolved by the gift bag they gave at the exit, though.

There were definitely some which were better than the others to me, though, but that’s likely just my personal taste. I particularly enjoyed those which involved wild careening to the left/right, than those which were more rigid with straight, vertical lines. Those which used artificial plants also fell into my general disregard, because of the waxy appearance and lack of natural blemishes which makes everything so much more interesting in my opinion.


I realised I forgot to ever publish the posts, ha..ha… So here I am! As usual, initial models are here, and the final model was based on Model 1.

Before beginning, I took a look at my hoard of mostly-useless trivia in exploring Autumn:

  • Associated with red, orange, yellow (warm colours), e.g. maple leaves, ginko leaves, and just dead leaves in general
  • Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節 zhōng qiū jié), where a lady ascends to the moon
  • Rabbits, because they’re said to pound moon cakes on the moon
  • Typically a harvest festival, hence the association with the “harvest moon” and stalks of wheat
  • Tsuki (moon) = suki (love), giving rise to “月は綺麗 (tsuki wa kirei; the moon is beautiful)” = I love you
  • Moon is associated with the sea and its tides
  • Some Bloodborne Blood Moon
  • And about ten different songs involving the moon in various ways

Other things I learnt by Google:

  • Mochi is associated with the moon because it’s round and white, and also because rabbits are thought to pound it on the moon
  • Sweet potatoes are offered because it’s the harvest season
  • Soumen is occasionally eaten because the strands represents the Milky Way
  • 秋の七草 (aki no nanakusa) is a common saying to refer to 7 wild plants found in Autumn, as opposed to the 7 herbs of Spring
  • 菊 Crysanthemums are an Autumn flower! (Only knew they represented the Imperial Throne, but not… this)

Firstly, I opted to go for Model 1 simply because I already had another idea in mind for Model 2 which wouldn’t fit well, and I couldn’t see myself changing what I felt Model 2 should become. Also, Model 3 was just not interesting to me. So Model 1 it was!

I decided to focus on o-tsukimi (お月見), the Japanese Mid-Autumn Festival, so that I could bring in food as opposed to just plant material. Overall, though, I wanted it to look like some sort of lantern/moon/boat thing, with a nice curve arching over and enclosing a rounded, glimmery circle.

Also, supplementary material as to the kind of feelings I wanted to imbue. I meant the choral version, but I can’t find any videos!

SPHERE: Mochi and Mochi Mochi (I still think it’s funny).

I wanted a giant mochi, but quickly realised there was no way that was happening. To compromise, I initially intended to have some sort of structure  around the mochi to suggest some kind of extrapolation.

Like this thing.

As it went on, though, I realised a pun even more glorious than that of the yakimochi. mochi = to hold, mochi = rice cake, so it could be just be something to hold mochi, a mochi mochi. And thus, I did so.

CONE: Sweet potato

I just couldn’t really think of any autumn foods which were naturally conical which wouldn’t look completely out of place, so I opted to just cut the sweet potato to shape. This took a little bit of cooking sense, because I forgot that it’s not really possible to cut raw sweet potatoes. I also had to cut it from 3 different sweet potatoes because sweet potatos just don’t grow big enough to have a single piece.

I then used toothpicks and satay sticks to help attach the pieces together and form the hole for the soumen piercing.


As aforementioned, soumen represents the Milky Way, important in stories with the moon. I’m mostly sure that’s just soba, though. In my defense, actual white noodles was kind of glaring in all the wrong ways, so I consciously decided to go with the duller but more natural-coloured soba.

$2 Daiso noodles


For the base, I was already envisioning a shallow, basin like, long and slim tray. Preferably with that one bunny-wheat-moon-mochi design.

I actually bought one, but the shape was… Unsatisfactory.

I just got a normal Japanese plate in the end.


I wanted to bend it into the arch! I really did! I borrowed my roommate’s hairdryer and everything!

In the end, I decided that if I couldn’t bend it, I could only join branches together to give me the shape I needed. I’m not in possession of a hot glue gun or anything useful like that (and I wasn’t sure if it would make the structure look undesirably unnatural), so I opted to go with a more… Traditional method. (It’s fortunate that I spent 4 years learning this as a cadet.)

I used (very low-quality) coir, which is coconut fiber rope. I personally like coir more than cotton because of the colour and texture, and it worked better just because it blends in better. (That’s a diagonal lashing, by the way.)

I then used a whipping knot to lash the branch to the plate.


As you can see above, it doesn’t look very nice, so I decided to just add a carpet of fallen leaves/flowers/etc to conceal it. Also because autumn is a lot about wilting plants all over the ground (crunching through leaves, perhaps?).

Aki no nanakusa clearly suggests something about autumn, which is that of a lack of flamboyant and prominent plants as opposed to wild weeds, so I went and did exactly that: I plucked fairly inconspicuous plants/fruits/flowers around Hall 2 and the SRC. I went for reds, oranges, browns, obviously. Also, some of those weeds which look vaguely like stalks of wheat.

Then I also just picked up a lot of dead leaves lying around.

When interlacing with the model, I didn’t use anything but natural forces such as gravity, and just wedging plants into cavities to hold them in place.

I considered folding paper crysanthemums, but decided against it since it didn’t really fit the idea of wild and minor plants.


Also partially for the pun. kami = paper, kami = god, and therefore paper rabbits are mystically, holy, god.

To make the sphere look like it’s somewhat floating, I used fishing line. Also, the masking tape cordons off the re-appropriated public space, because my room didn’t have space.

To end things off, here’s a picture from while I was working outside my room.

Visit and donate to the CMN to help support our school cats

Ikebana Processing

Here’s the final post.

I mostly thought of trying to vary the types of cylinders and cones I had (spheres… can’t really be varied, can they?), so I worked on trying to join different kinds, and also changing up the dominant. Also, I discovered that the inside of my cupboard works decently as a background (although the reflectiveness is a little difficult).

Model 1

Dominant: Sphere

Subdominant: Cone (short and broad)

Subordinate: Cylinder (thin and long)

The main idea was the sphere being a huge dominant, so everything else just came in naturally. Initially I was thinking of the cylinder as the subdominant, but Cheryl suggested that it would be better to have a thinner and longer cone if I wanted it as the SO. And I kind of wanted to have the “mountain” cone to fit into the narrative I had in mind, so I upgraded it and downgraded the cylinder!

At first I had thought of having the sphere and cone supported by a long and slender cylinder, but after downgrading I figure it might not be good to give the SO too much power, so now the sphere is kind-of-but-not-really floating (this was a serendipitous discovery because I had no idea how to use the metal wire properly to secure everything, and ended up having extra lengths which became the “floating” region).

ALSO, I am proud to say that I consciously took actions to prevent similar lengths. You will find that the radius of the sphere and the base of the cone are NOT equal (because I trimmed the cone), nor the length of the cylinder and the radius of the sphere (because I extended it with masking tape). And that made 2 semicircles into 1 sphere to replace that 1 sphere which was stolen from me.

Main problem: In terms of hierarchy and visibility, not much. Maybe the sphere could be bigger since the SD is somewhat competitive, but that was the best I could have done with the available foam, honestly… Perhaps from one side the SO may or may not be seen, but it’s an acceptable tradeoff (in my opinion) to maintain the rule of third and hierarchy.

Material thoughts:

  • Sphere: A giant yakimochi!! Pun to show negative feelings
  • Cone: Mount Fuji-shaped taiyaki. A weird spinoff of the Carp Leaping Over Dragon’s Gate myth (Bream Leaping Over Mount Fuji?), representing hope :3 It used to be SO to bring across the idea of giant negativity vs minuscule positivity.
  • Cylinder: I have no idea…


Model 2

Dominant: Cylinder (fat and chunky)

Subdominant: Cone (decent sized)

Subordinate: Sphere

I just wanted to try having a chunky cylinder, so the rest kind of fell into place naturally. Also, the idea of the dominant kind of being supported by the SD seemed fun, especially if the SD wasn’t even on its secure base, so I just… Tried it out? The SO positioning was mostly just gut feeling as to where I felt it looked good, but I looked at it only from 1 side so it wasn’t consistently effective from all angles in the end.

For this the cylinder actually reminded me of a book I read, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. (This was before the seasons and Japanese and everything happened.) I was thinking along the lines of key types of food in the book (I wont go into detail to prevent spoilers).

Material thoughts:

  • Cylinder: The titular cake which changes everything. Bittersweet, hollow, begins the book
  • Cone: Junk food. Literally supports the protagonist in the middle of the book.
  • Sphere: Dupont’s cooking. Simple, pure. The salvation at the end of the book.

This was incredibly difficult to secure T_T I stuck the metal wire Cheryl gave us through the cone vertically (not the best material. it’s a little TOO malleable), then through half of the cylinder. As shown, the cylinder was formed by joining 2 cylinders, so I made a hook shape and hooked the wire through the upper half, and back through. Also, 2 wires supporting and maintaining the angle of the cone’s lean; same for the cylinder.

(Just for fun I also tried to use an arch for the base because ROMAN ART, but realised quickly that there was no point because the point of the arch is that it can support weight well, and therefore has nothing to do with maintaining the model.)

Main problem: … Actually, not much. Hierarchy remains constant, and elements remain visible from all angles. Perhaps it would be nice if there was less flat planes (caused by the gigantic cylinder, especially from top view).

Model 3

Dominant: Cone (thin and tall)

Subdominant: Cylinder (Thin and wide)

Subordinate: Sphere

The main idea was just wanting a cone as the dominant; again, the rest fell into place then. I’m not a big fan of this model because it looks very… Normal, somehow. Like the feeling of “yeah, there’s the sense of imbalance and skewed lines, but it’s very contained”.

This was also easiest in terms of construction and support, I just used 1 metal wire through the vertical length of the cone (but it was already relatively stable).

Main problem: Consistency in angles. The tapering nature of the cone causes the hierarchy to shift (from top view); the broadness of the cylinder surface causes the SO to be concealed (from bottom view).


(EXTRA) After the Sept 15 class, discussing with my sister. It’s not really relevant, but I just wanted to show some of the early musings before the sudden mess of having to include branches, seasons, foods, flowers, etc. Most of the mentioned foods are 和菓子 wagashi, traditional Japanese confectioneries.

Unfortunately, my hamartia is lack of dexterity. I’m the kind of person who failed that one compulsory secondary school D&T module, and can’t come up with ways to actualise ideas, so… Knowing me, trying to make a giant toasted mochi will probably lead to either me losing a lot of money wasted on ingredients, an oven damaged beyond repair and/or a week’s worth of kitchen cleaning chores.