Ikebana is the Japanese art of floral design and there are many schools of Ikebana including Ikenobo, the oldest and largest school founded in the 15th century. For many years the term ikebana meant following the strict established forms of the Ikenobo school.

In 1927 Sofu Teshigahara broke from the traditional forms and established ikebana as a creative art using any material for any space and founded the Sogetsu School. Avant-garde arranging is encouraged and text books were available in English. Seven years ago I had the great privilege of beginning a course of study with Soho Sakai, of the Sogetsu School of ikebana floral design.

Soho greets six of us in her studio on our first day of class. Flowers from the San Francisco flower market and Soho’s amazing garden made us very excited to work with all of the beautiful materials.

When I began my study in 2012 there were four books. 1, 2, 3 and 4.  Book 1 focuses on the characteristics of various kinds of plants forms and techniques for composing the branches and flowers into shapes.  Three main stems, shin, soe, and hakae are placed in proportions of thirds and spaced to create height, width and depth.  There are two main types of containers. Suiban is a low bowl which uses a kenzan or pin holder to support stems in what is called moribana design.  A tsutsu or tall vase uses branch supports to create nageire designs.

The low container is a suiban and the tall container is a tustu.


Moribana designs in low vases are supported by a kenzan or pinholder placed in the bottom of the vase. They come in all shapes and sizes



In Books 1 and 2 each lesson comes with a diagram for branch and flower placement. Notice the lower picture that shows how far each stem should project from the edge of the vase. This took me a while to learn.

Arrangements in tall containers are called nageire.

Diagrams for each arrangement are given in detail.  The tallest stem is the shin, the second tallest is soe, and third the hakae.  The length of the three main stems are proportioned in thirds and placed at angles to create depth.  In European design we have similar suggestions for proportion based on the Fibonacci sequence.

Soegi-dome fixture is used to support upright stems in nageire.

Jumonji-dome is a crossbar fixture that is used for slanting stems.

Learning to work with bamboo using fresh materials from the San Francisco flower market was a favorite. In ikbana design is the practice of cutting each stem under water, mizugire, is required. A small bowl with fresh water sits on our tables with our shears which are called hasami.

Book 4 – Lesson 6. Using vines. Later lessons include working with one kind of material. Here passion vine winds over one of Soho’s contemporary vases.

Free style arranging is included in Sogetsu lessons and encourages students to look at materials and containers creatively and use the knowledge and skills they have learned.  The contrast of large monstera leaves and bittersweet vine (both from the garden!) inspired me to hide a large dahlia under the leaf. Another of Soho’s fabulous vases held the design with the crossbar technique to support stems.  Without the opening, the vase would have been too heavy for the flowers.


Last year three in our group completed the course of study for Books 1-4. Above is my certificate for teacher certification. After over 200 hours of study I have achieved a Beginners Mind for Sogetsu study.