Beauty. Joy. Peace.

Flower arrangements often engender those experiences.

But what about these? Balance. Harmony. Spirituality. Energy.

Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, strives to bring all of these to people who make the arrangement and to those who view it.

Sangetsu ikebana, one of an estimated 3,000 schools of ikebana, follows its own philosophies of harmony and energy-inducing spirituality.

North American instructors and students of the art form have gathered in Tucson this weekend to hone their skills. The results will be on display at a public exhibition this afternoon.

Among the conference instructors is Tucson resident Henry Ajiki a sangetsu ikebana master who's practiced the art for about 24 years.


The Japanese-born 84-year-old explains that the technique is meant to bring out the beauty and harmony of opposites, often characterized as yin and yang.

He holds up a long-stemmed white rose tinged with red to illustrate.

"Only this flower part is beautiful, but it is less than half," he explains as he touches the petals. The leafy green stem also is only half. Together they make a beautiful expression of nature.

"Great nature has created this," he says in heavily-accented English, "makes great harmony and balance."

This balance of color and texture is carried throughout the arrangement: neutral tones with vibrant colors; fresh flowers with deadwood; short, straight stems with long, arching twigs and branches.

When placed in a room, the harmony and balance of the arrangement provide a life force that humans respond to, Ajiki says.

"We are receiving the vibration from the harmony of the flower itself," he says. "Joy, beauty, harmony come to our spirit and come to our mind."

A sangetsu ikebana assistant professor likens the effect to that of feng shui, the Chinese art of creating an environment that enhances health, romance, fortune and other life aspects.

"Sangetsu ... is creating the beautiful environment, like feng shui," says Tucson native Marta Vergara, "but starting with using the arrangement to give the room an ambience of healing."

"That beauty imbues the environment and raises the vibration of the environment," adds Vergara, an acupuncturist.


Sangetsu ikebana is well-suited for Southwestern decor because it encourages the use of local material within its minimalist style.

In a demonstration, Ajiki creates an arrangement of roses and juniper in a vessel. He places beside it mesquite deadwood he found in his yard. The pattern of the dried material leads the eye up to the flowers.

In a different arrangement, his wife, Michiko, uses Arizona rosewood sprigs from outside the Johrei Fellowship Tucson Center where the school is headquartered. The greenery is dominant in an arrangement in a vase, allowing the small store-bought flowers to pop in contrast.

Vergara, who has studied with Henry Ajiki since 1990, uses a number of plants, including lantana, salvia, mesquite, fan palms and Texas ranger.

Other landscape plants that appear in arrangements include aloe, cholla and saguaro skeletons, ocotillo, bottle brush and twisted myrtle.

Accessible Arranging

As part of a spiritual lifestyle known as Johrei, Sangetsu ikebana principles encourage arrangers to spend time appreciating nature as they gather material for arrangements. They should study the plant to ponder its most beautiful side before placing it in an arrangement.

The actual arranging is done quickly. This helps to preserve the plants' life energy as much as possible after it's been cut, says Henry Ajiki.

Quick execution also encourages the arranger to allow each plant material to express itself by resisting an urge to bend them into an unnatural shape.

The style allows for plenty of artistic freedom. Given the same material, a group of people will each have a different interpretation, says Vergara, "It's very user friendly."

representational art

Sangetsu ikebana master Henry Ajiki assembles a simple ikebana arrangement.

Each arrangement represents the universe as sun, moon and earth, sometimes interpreted as father, mother and child. Sometimes the flowers serve as these symbols, other times the foliage does.


Work in the area where you will place the arrangement to best determine how to position its elements.


• 1 Low vessel

• 1 kenzan or frog

• shears

• water

• 3 long-stem roses or other flowers

• embellishments such as leaves, twigs, sprays and deadwood.

1. Choose a flower and snip the end.

2. Determine the most beautiful side of the flower and place it upright on the frog with that side facing toward those who would view the arrangement. This is the sun.

3. Choose a second flower and clip the stem to about two-thirds the length of the first flower.

4. Repeat placement in the vessel, putting it close to the second flower. This is the moon.

5. Snip the last flower to about half the length of the sun flower.

6. Find its best viewing side and place it near the other two at an angle away from them. This is the earth.

7. Add greenery within the vessel that strikes you as balancing with the flowers.

8. Add water to the vessel.

9. Add deadwood or other foliage on the table as it balances with the arrangement in the vessel.

If you go

Sangetsu Exhibition

• What: Display of sangetsu ikebana arrangements and sculptures by practitioners attending a conference. The event also includes demonstrations, opportunities to register for classes and arrangements and supplies for sale.

• When: Today, 1-5 p.m.

• Where: Johrei Fellowship Tucson Center, 3919 E. River Road.

• Details: Donations will be collected to aid victims of the recent earthquake, tsunami and radioactive fallout in Japan.

• Information: 299-5670,

Contact local freelance writer Elena Acoba at