Living harmony: Sogetsu Vancouver celebrates half a century of teaching ikebana to Canadians

Mrs. Boycott with one of her ikebana students | Photo by Meighan Makarchuk

Mrs. Boycott with one of her ikebana students | Photo by Meighan Makarchuk

This September, the Sogetsu School of Ikebana celebrates 50 years of bringing the ancient Japanese art of flower arrangement to Vancouver. Sogetsu (the name translates as ‘grass moon’) was founded in Japan in 1927 by Sofu Teshigahara who believed ikebana can be done anywhere, by anyone, with any kind of materials. Such a decidedly modern sensibility has allowed the school to gain a growing international following.

Paving the way

Sogetsu owes its long history in Vancouver to its founding teacher (sensei), Kiyoko Boycott, whose devotion to initiating and expanding the school’s local branch will be honoured at the 50th anniversary celebration.

Boycott began teaching in Vancouver in 1963, and is a founding member of the Vancouver Ikebana Association, an umbrella organization for Vancouver’s five practising ikebana schools. Decades of dedication later, Boycott ended up training enough teachers to open a Sogetsu Ikebana branch in Vancouver in 1985.

Hollis Ho is one of Boycott’s students, and a Sogetsu Vancouver teacher herself. She credits her sensei with inspiring her own passion for this creative and meditative art form.

Ho began studying ikebana 23 years ago, and has been teaching it for eight years. Though she is half Japanese, she finds ikebana allows her to connect with new aspects of her own culture, as well as to share it with her students.

“That’s one of the thrilling things for me as a teacher, that I am able to introduce the students to my culture, and to this ancient art form,” she says.

Sogetsu celebrates half a century of bringing the art of ikebana to Vancouverites. | Photo courtesy of Sogetsu Vancouver

Sogetsu celebrates half a century of bringing the art of ikebana to Vancouverites. | Photo courtesy of Sogetsu Vancouver

Living ikebana

Ikebana is not just an activity for Ho, but a way of life that emphasizes profound reverence for nature, and inspires focus and calm.

“It is a way for people to get inside of themselves, and to develop a really meaningful relationship with nature,” says Ho.

She believes that part of Sogetsu’s international appeal is that it encourages individual expression through the study of ikebana, and allows for the use of non-traditional materials such as metal, plastics, and paper.

Ho’s own classes are comprised of both men and women who hail from countries as diverse as Slovakia and Brazil, and also include students from Japan who wish to continue their ikebana practice in Vancouver.

She believes her role as a teacher is to develop her students’ creativity within the framework of Sogetsu principles, and to build their understanding of line and space in a manner that invites thoughtful reflection.

“Generally, a Japanese flower arrangement will invite contemplation, and will exude some kind of feeling,” she explains.

Lifelong learning

Ho emphasizes that Sogetsu is a developing journey which promotes continuous learning. Students can take two 10-class sessions per year, one in fall, and the other in spring. Taking both sessions covers one out of four books in the Sogetsu ikebana curriculum.

Once done with all four books, the learning continues through practice and mentorship. Instructors have to train for five to seven years before beginning to teach, and even then, they never cease to be students themselves.

Ho continues to take classes from her sensei Boycott. The poignant teacher-student relationship between the two is exemplified by their professional names. In Sogetsu tradition, all teachers receive a flower name that contains a piece of their sensei’s name.

So, Boycott’s flower name is Hakusei, and as her student, Ho’s professional name is Sei Chiku, with the first word passed down from her teacher’s name.

Along with a relaxed and social class atmosphere, it is this kind of connection and continuity that inspires Sogetsu students to adopt ikebana as an integral and long-term part of their lives.

And with a thriving membership, Sogetsu Vancouver has much to celebrate during its exciting 50th year celebration. The two-day event will feature a banquet honouring Kiyoko Boycott, as well as an ikebana demonstration and workshops conducted by an esteemed guest, visiting Master Teacher Kika Shibata.

To buy ikebana demonstration tickets for Sogetsu Vancouver’s 50th year celebration on September 28th & 29th, and to find out more about the organization and their classes, visit