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Plum Vs. Cherry

Added on by the ikebana shop.

Both the plum (ume) and cherry (sakura) blossoms feature prominently in Japanese fabric and print patterns.  Can you recognize which ones are the plum blossoms and which ones are the cherry blossoms? 


The plum blossom is much revered by the Japanese.  It blooms in February to early March; that is, around the time when winter is not quite over yet.  Only a strong flower can bloom in the bitter cold of winter and therefore, the plum blossom is seen as a symbol of strength and fortitude.  Together with pine and bamboo, the plum is one of the Three Friends of Winter (shochikubai 松竹梅)  It is also the true harbinger of spring.

The cherry blossom is probably the most loved flower in Japan.  It blooms in late March through April.  Once blooming, the flowers last for only about a week.  During this very special time of year, Japanese people come out and celebrate the blossoms with hanami (flower viewing) parties.  There is a carpe diem element to this, a celebration of impermanence in the Japanese psyche.

Plum blossom. By Kakidai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Plum blossom.
By Kakidai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Cherry blossom. By あおもりくま ( Aomorikuma ) - 青森市 合浦公園, GFDL,

Cherry blossom.
By あおもりくま ( Aomorikuma ) - 青森市 合浦公園, GFDL,

So now, back to our question: how does one distinguish between the plum and the cherry?  
The key is to observe the petals.  The plum has round petals.  The cherry has indented petals.  
Simple as that!

Plum blossoms on fabric.

Plum blossoms on greeting card.

Plum blossoms on chiyogami paper.

Cherry blossoms on fabric

Cherry blossoms on greeting card.

Cherry blossoms on chiyogami paper.

Now you know! 

Extra trivia....
Cherry blossoms are depicted in the 100-yen coin!


Japanese Calligraphy: To See A World...

Added on by the ikebana shop.

Original Japanese calligraphy by Yukari Haverstock. It's the Japanese translation of an excerpt from William Blake's "Auguries Of Innocence".

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

ひとつぶの砂に ひとつの世界を見 
一輪の野の花に ひとつの天国を見 


Destiny And The 5-Yen Coin

Added on by the ikebana shop.

Most Japanese people believe in destiny. The term "go-en" (ご縁) refers to those seemingly serendipitous encounters that result in long and meaningful relationships.   It would often mean a bond between people but it could also refer to connections with objects (like a house, a painting, or even a favourite teacup!) or a calling.  Ask people how their career started, how they met their partners or how they found that perfect piece of furniture.  Most answers would probably boil down to a mixture of perseverance and luck. Japanese people would say "Go-en ga arimashita." (ご縁がありました。)There was "go-en" involved in the outcome. It was meant to be!


The Japanese 5-yen coin is also called “go-en” 五円.  Because it sounds the same as the “go-en” of destiny, many Japanese people believe that having a 5-yen coin around helps them find what the Universe has in store for them. It could be a soul-mate, a dream job, the perfect house, etc. In shrines and temples, it is also the coin of choice when tossing a token offering into the collection box (賽銭箱 saisen-bako) whilst saying a prayer of thanks and/or a wish for something in the future (in that order). The 5-yen coin helps along the good luck and the serendipity that is actually meant to be!


Extra trivia: Using a 10-yen coin for your prayers and wishes is not advisable.  Another word for "10" is "toh" (十).  So, the 10-yen coin could be called "toh-en" (十円).  Now, another meaning for the word "toh" (遠) is "far" ...and putting them together as "toh-en", it can be written as "遠縁", which means "far destiny"!  So the 10-yen coin is something that keeps your destiny out-of-reach!


We made a few items to help keep your lucky 5-yen coin handy, always ready to to attract the good luck in!  All hand-made in-house with loving care. Available at the shop while supply lasts.

An origami pouch to keep your 5-yen coin in your wallet or purse.

An origami pouch to keep your 5-yen coin in your wallet or purse.

A crane ornament to display in your home or office.

A crane ornament to display in your home or office.

Introducing Sogetsu Textbook 5

Added on by the ikebana shop.

The Sogetsu School of Ikebana has recently introduced a new textbook, Textbook 5: Technique & Creation, to its curriculum.  Completion of Textbook 5 is now a prerequisite in order to obtain the Teacher's Diploma 4th Grade.  Iemoto Akane Teshigahara and other Sogetsu masters have been conducting seminars for Sogetsu teachers to update them regarding the instruction of Textbook 5.  It is important to note that only teaching members of the Sogetsu Teachers' Association (STA) who have successfully completed the Textbook 5 special training sessions are qualified to teach Textbook 5.

Unfortunately, there has been no opportunity yet for a Sogetsu master to visit Canada (let alone little ol' Halifax!) to conduct a training session.  So this summer, Miyako travelled to Tokyo to attend the Iemoto's seminar at the Sogetsu headquarters!  We are happy to announce that Miyako successfully completed the seminar so all of her students who have finished Textbook 4 may begin challenging Textbook 5!

So what's new with Textbook 5?
The greatest impact of the introduction of Textbook 5 is the standardization of the curriculum on the way to obtaining the Teacher's Diploma 4th Grade.  In the past, after finishing Textbook 4, students needed to take more preparatory lessons before applying for the Teacher's Diploma.  Those lessons fell into a kind of grey area where the content was based on the individual teacher's discretion.  The old system did work in the sense that the teacher was able to re-direct the student's attention to themes that needed reinforcement.  However, the system also resulted in differences in training experience, depending on what one's teacher decided to focus on.  Textbook 5 replaces that "grey area" and provides a standard and solid lesson plan for Teacher's Diploma preparation.

The content of Textbook 5 is described by four key words: "technique", "materials", "placement", and "creation".  Above all of that is the emphasis on self-knowledge.  Only with profound self-knowledge could one uniquely express oneself through ikebana and have the confidence to become another's teacher.

There are many, many things to look forward to in Textbook 5...from new techniques in securing an arrangement in a spherical tsubo vase (if you thought nageire was difficult, think again!) to creating an arrangement from behind.  Textbook 5 also shows us examples of arrangements in situ...i.e. in the the actual locations where the arrangements were meant to be placed.  It gives us fresh ideas on where ikebana can be incorporated in our living space. Indeed, ikebana arrangements are meant to be placed somewhere....not just at a photographer's studio!  Other samples of interesting challenges are the use of mizuhiki (paper cord) for celebratory arrangements and creating ikebana to complement an art work. We will stop here and let you explore Textbook 5 on your own!

Browse through Textbook 5 next time you are in the studio for your lessons and see what you can look forward to!  It is available to students who have completed Textbook 4.  (Please note: We do not sell Sogetsu textbooks to the general public.)

Caring For Your Ikebana Clippers

Added on by the ikebana shop.

For the serious ikebana practitioner, a pair of trusty ikebana clippers is an indispensable tool.  The clippers are an extension of one's hands.  And so, we must treat them like our hands.  If our hands are dirty, we wash them. If our hands are wet, we dry them.  So must we with our ikebana clippers!

Keep the clippers clean.
Stains from plants, sap from branches, etc... they will stick to your clippers. Accumulated dirt and stains will also hamper the functionality of your clippers.  

Clean your clippers after each use. We're not saying that we should emulate the consummate sushi chef who wipes his beloved knife after each slice of fish; but after finishing your arrangement, cleaning the clippers must be automatic.  (So is cleaning up your work area, wiping down the table, disposing of unwanted twigs and leaves, etc for that matter!)

Besides, clippers look prettier when clean!

Keep The Clippers Dry
Most ikebana clippers are made with high carbon steel.  They are tough and could cut thick branches.  But, they are also prone to rust.

After use, you can run some water over your clippers to wash them.  The important thing is to dry them afterwards.  Use a dry towel to wipe off water.  Do not immediately stow them in their case.  Make sure they are completely free of moisture before putting them away. 

If you are not planning to use your clippers in a while, put a sheen of oil over the blades.  Cover every bit of the blades and make sure to put a few drops on the joint and rivets too.  



A very short primer on rusting: water+oxygen on steel = rust! Water is the catalyst for the oxidation process that produces "hydrated iron oxide"...a.k.a. rust!  Oil and water do not mix. A protective coating of oil stops water from seeping through to the steel. It also protects your blades from the moisture found in the air.


You wouldn't this to happen to your clippers!

Don't Forget The Small Towel
When practicing ikebana, always have a small towel for your clippers on the table.  The obvious reason is so that you can wipe the blades clean any time you need to do so.  It also comes in handy to clean up water splashes.  But, there is another equally important reason to have the small towel around.  Every time you need to put your clippers down, place them gently on the towel...never directly on the table.

The towel muffles the sound when the clippers hit the table.  Imagine a roomful of ikebana students, all producing loud clattering noises as they put their clippers down.  It is very distracting and disruptive to the serenity of the class.  Using a towel to soften the noise is a sign of respect towards your teacher and fellow students.  As well, it protects the table from nicks and scratches!

Don't Wiggle!
Did you notice that ikebana clippers have a joint that is a bit looser than those of a pair of scissors or even floral clippers?  Ikebana clippers also do not have an embedded spring grip that limit how wide you can open it. This is because they are made to cut not only flower stems but also thicker branches.  Ikebana clippers are tough and strong.  However, there are limits and if the branch is too thick, then better use a bigger tool like a handsaw to cut it.  Do not twist the clippers left and right in an effort to sever the branch.  This action, done often enough, would loosen the joint too much and damage your clippers.  

Also, avoid using the clippers to cut other things other than plant material.  Unless your clippers have a wire-cutting notch, snipping floral wires is not recommended.

Let The Pros Do It
As with any blade, ikebana clippers will lose their edge in due course. Ikebana clippers have an asymmetrical bevel.  Burr may have to be removed on the other side but actual sharpening should be done only on one side.  Incorrect sharpening will change the original grind and will affect the functionality of your clippers.  If you are not sure how to do it, then just let a professional blade sharpener do it.  And if you need to find one in Halifax, click here!

Cover Up!
We all know that serious ikebana practitioners always have their clippers handy.  A simple clipper cover is convenient and easy to use. It will protect you from injury and your bag's contents from damage.


A good pair of ikebana clippers will last a long time.  Through years of constant use, they will lose their lustre in parts. They might even gain a few hard-to-remove stains.  That means those clippers are slowly getting their unique character and soon they will become like an old friend and trusty companion.  So let's make sure we show our clippers tender and loving care!

Why Get An Ikebana Certificate?

Added on by the ikebana shop.

Most major schools of ikebana (Sogetsu, Ohara, Ikenobo, etc.) will have a certification programme in order to rank their practitioners according to skill and maturity.  

From here on, we will talk about the Sogetsu School because that is where we belong.  

Getting a certificate is not mandatory.  You can still continue with your ikebana studies without them.  So you might be wondering: Is it worth getting a certificate?  

1. Becoming A Teacher
If you plan on becoming an ikebana teacher some time in the future, then you definitely need to get certification...all the way up to getting your Teacher's Diploma 4th grade, which is the minimum rank required in order to teach. Certificates are issued only out of the Sogetsu Headquarters in Tokyo.  When you get your certificate, that means that you are duly registered with Sogetsu Headquarters and they can keep track of your progress.  When the time comes for you to become a teacher, the headquarters will be able to accredit you based on your officially attained levels.

2. Recognition By Others
The teaching curriculum of the Sogetsu School is centralized and governed by the Sogetsu Headquarters in Tokyo.  All Sogetsu teachers use the same textbooks.  In this way, standards are upheld and the skill-set for each rank, whether attained in Tokyo, Toronto or Rome, is kept uniform.  Any Sogetsu teacher will understand what you have been through just by simply knowing your rank.  

This can be especially useful if you have to move and change teachers.  Say you received your First Certificate in Sogetsu (like the one pictured above) here in Halifax.  Then you move to Vancouver but still want to continue your studies. When you find your new Sogetsu teacher and show her the certificate, she will more or less know your skill level. She may ask who your previous teacher was and maybe contact her in order to better understand your training. She may also ask you to create a few test arrangements appropriate to your level.  BUT, you will not have to start from scratch and most probably will simply continue from where you have left off with your previous teacher.

If you want to work as a florist or floral designer and would like your prospective employer to know that you know ikebana, then the certificate would definitely help!  In Japan, people in the floral industry will certainly appreciate the kind of sweat and tears needed to get such certificates!  Outside of Japan, we cannot really say... But compared to the person who claims to know ikebana just because he attended a few workshops, you will surely have better credibility with an official certificate!

3. A Sense of Achievement And Belonging
A certificate tells you that your school recognizes your accomplishment. It also puts you in the company of all the other persons around the world who have gone through the same training.  Even if you do not intend to use the certificate in a practical way, the sense of achievement and belonging it brings could be worth it!

Other points to keep in mind (for Sogetsu School)....

  • Only your teacher can apply for your certification.  You cannot apply for certification by yourself.  Your teacher will decide if you are ready to move up to the next level.
  • Your teacher must be a duly registered member of the Sogetsu Teachers Association (STA) in a teaching capacity.  Every member of the STA will have this ID (see picture above) that displays the member no., name, gagoh and rank. It will also indicate if the member is "teaching" (or "non-teaching"). Membership must be renewed every year.
  • There is an application fee for certification. This fee is decided by Sogetsu Headquarters and not by your teacher.  Your teacher does not get a "commission" from this fee. It is paid to Sogetsu Headquarters in full.  The cost of certification varies according to rank.

One last thought...

Just like learning music, painting, karate or any other art, the practice of ikebana is a life-long process. There is always something new to learn and discover.  The certificates are there to provide milestones in the journey. They may also provide encouragement to strive to become better.  The certificate, in itself, should not be the final objective in the study of ikebana.

We wish you the best in your ikebana studies.  Gambatte kudasai!

Proverb: Too Much Or Too Little?

Added on by the ikebana shop.

We came across this Japanese proverb...


Sugitara wa nao oyobazaru ga gotoshi

"Too much is just the same as too little."

Very applicable to well as most anything else in life!  Balance is key.

A Visit To A Tea Farm In Uji, Kyoto

Added on by the ikebana shop.

The city of Uji, Kyoto is known to be the birth place of Japanese tea.  This small clump of trees is an area called “Oh-Fuku-Dani 大福谷” where the first tea leaves were successfully planted way back in 1271.  Tea farmers have since moved tea-planting to other areas so now it has cedar trees.

This is the birth place of Nagatani So-en (1680-1778), the man who revolutionized (back in 1738!) Japanese green tea processing into how it is now. 

Tea culture runs deep here, as evidenced even by the mailbox, which is shaped like a tea urn!

The city is surrounded by lush, green hills and the Uji River runs through it, making it a perfect setting to grow tea.

This is a field for sencha, tea, grown in full daylight.

Here is how gyokuro and tencha (the leaves used to make matcha) are grown, shaded for about a month before harvest.

Most tea leaves are already machine-picked.  However, the highest grade teas are still hand-picked.  After picking, the tea leaves are rolled/kneaded, steamed and then dried. They end up in boxes like this.

Here is the lady who vacuum packs our tea for us! Thank you for your hard work! :-)

Tea-tasting and a refresher course in the proper way of preparing matcha!

I also tried a hand in making matcha!  The stone mill is cranked counter-clockwise, one revolution per 3 seconds.  Too fast and the tea is not milled properly, resulting in a bitter tea; too slow and the powder gets stuck in the grooves of the mill. It takes about 30 minutes to grind enough matcha for one bowl.  Modern farms still use the same stone mill with machines doing the turning.

The taste of freshly ground matcha is in a league of its own! 

We hope you continue to enjoy Japanese green tea!

Zen Saying: Kou-Un Ryuu-Sui

Added on by the ikebana shop.

行雲流水 (pronounce: "koh oon ryu sui") is a Zen saying that literally translates as "Clouds move. Water flows."

Herring Cove, NS, Canada.

Clouds do not stay in the same place.  Water flows from somewhere to somewhere.  If something blocks their way, they just move around it.  They follow their natural course despite the obstacles. They also do not cling to any permanent shape.

In our lives, things happen, for better or for worse. There is no need to dwell on certain events. There is no use to cling to certain episodes.  We must let life keep flowing and follow its natural course.  As the Beatles said, "Let it be!"  ...and life goes on.

  Original calligraphy by Yukari Haverstock.

Ganmodoki Recipe

Added on by the ikebana shop.

"Ganmodoki" can be loosely translated as "that which resembles goose".  Not a very appetizing name eh?  But it is quite yummy.  Ganmodoki is one kind of "shoujin-ryori" (精進料理), the food that Zen monks eat.  They do not eat meat and so they have this kind of food made from tofu and other non-meat ingredients.

Portuguese filhós.  (Click to see source.)

Portuguese filhós. (Click to see source.)

n the Kansai region, this dish is also called "Hiryouzu" (飛龍頭)...literally translated as "flying dragon head"...but really, it is just the Japanese phonetic equivalent for the Portuguese snack called "filhós" -- a kind of fritter made from flour, eggs and, oftentimes, pumpkin.  In Portugal, they are a traditional Christmas dessert. 

They do look similar!

Our version of this dish uses ingredients readily available in Halifax (and North America, in general) whilst hopefully still preserving its Japanese-ness.  It brings together simple yet savoury ingredients including shrimp, bacon, green onions and mushroom, all in a tofu base. The tofu's neutral flavour helps tone down the intensities of each filling, while allowing their distinct flavours to come out and be appreciated. These patties are also highly versatile; you can customize your ganmodoki with the ingredients of your choice.  Once you master the base, make it your own and experiment with different ingredients. The possibilities are endless! 

Ingredients (makes about 10-12 fritters):

The Fillings (finely chopped):
   fresh green onion
   fresh shiitake mushroom
   shrimp (pre-cook)
   bacon (pre-cook to crunchy!)
   fresh coriander leaves

Cooking oil for deep frying

The Base:
   1 block [450g] tofu (firm) 
   1 egg
   2 tablespoons corn starch
   1 teaspoon sesame oil
   1 teaspoon soy sauce
   pinch or two of salt

The Dipping Sauce:
   soy sauce


  1. Take tofu out of the pack and leave out for at least 30 minutes.  Excess water will come out.  Discard the excess water.
  2. Beat the egg.
  3. In a mixing bowl, mash the tofu with a whisk or with your hands (recommended).  
  4. Add the other Base ingredients: egg, corn starch, sesame oil, soy sauce, and salt... plus, your preferred Fillings.  Continue mixing.  If it seems watery, you can add more corn starch.
  5. Form into mini-fishcake-like patties.
  6. Deep fry until light brown.  Careful not to over-fry or else the outer layer becomes tough.
  7. Make the sauce by grating a bit of ginger and mixing it with soy sauce in a sauce dish.