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Ikebana Brings "Friendship through Flowers"

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 2000-06-02

In 1957 the first brick of a long bridge was set. The bridge began as a project to link two very different cultures that shared the same space on a small island. Nearly 44 years later, the bridge has grown as Keiko Robbins, Master Instructor, has taught many American women and men the art of Ikebana along with the beauty of friendship.

Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, is considered to be one of the traditional arts of Japan. Dating back to the sixth century, this art was introduced under Buddhism as part of the worship ritual of offering flowers on the altar to honor Buddha. At first, only priests and members of the nobility practiced Ikebana. However, by the 15th century, ordinary people were practicing the art as well and it soon became a part of major Japanese festivals and culture.

Ikebana, is an art form that requires the artist to understand the unique harmony of all things in nature. Coupled with its philosophical and religious roots, Ikebana is as important to Japanese culture as the delicate sakura. Shape, line and color are very important to the art, much like they are to painting on a canvas. One of the most famous forms of Ikebana is that of a tall stem accompanied by two shorter stems. the three stems are meant to represent heaven, man, and earth.

"The flower is a wonderful thing because no one can be angry at a flower. Ikebana is a stress-free art form that can connect people," says Keiko.

Keiko, originally from Sapporo, has taught Ikebana at the Kadena USO since 1960 and has made connections all over the world. Teaching allows her to do what she loves best; exchanging culture and making new friends. Ikebana has also led her to travel around the world; France, England, and the United States. She has also demonstrated at the State Department in Washington D.C. and the United Nations in New York.

"When I went to the United Nations in 1985, I had brought a large Okinawan pot to make the flower arrangement with. When I arrived, the pot had broken into several pieces and I had no time to have another sent. I patched the pot up with tape and I wrapped it in paper. Upon presenting it to the United Nations, I compared the broken pot and its new patchwork to the work that the UN does for other countries…they sometimes patch things up to make peace," Keiko said remembering one of her most favored trips.

The love for Ikebana is not unique to Japan; it has spread to the rest of the world. Evidence of this love was the establishment of Ikebana International, a world-wide organization with 275 chapters that unites Ikebana teachers and students. Okinawa has its own chapter, established by Keiko and three other women in 1958. "We have a saying that we often use to describe our purpose. It is friendship through flowers," says Keiko.

When observing her teach a class is is evident that friendship is very much a part of her classes. Keiko not only teaches the rules and forms of Ikebana but also the importance of cultural exchange and friendship. Her classes are often a cultural mix of both American and Japanese women and men and the language difference is no barrier. And neither is the learning curve. She teaches all levels of Ikebana - beginner to advanced. Usually, the beginner will start with a flat vase, learning important basic forms. As the student progresses, he or she will move on to different shaped vases and different forms. Eventually, the student will be able to do his or her own free style.

Of course, there are no strict rules in her classes; the most important thing is for the student to enjoy, relax and hopefully, form new friendships. "I started teaching on base to be a bridge between the two local cultures and to introduce people to each other. I have made a lot of friends along the way and I have learned something from everyone," Keiko told Japan Update.

Keiko Robbins teaches at the Kadena USO every Monday, Thursday and Saturday from 9:30 to 11:30 AM.

She also teaches at the Lester USO every Tuesday from 4-6 and the Courtney USO in the fall.

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