Emiko Suzuki, certified Japanese cultural ambassador, brought authentic oriental practices to UT's campus Sunday afternoon with a demonstration of ikebana flower arranging and a Japanese tea ceremony.
The presentation, which took place in the McClung Museum, happened in collaboration with the museum's "Zen Buddhism and the Arts of Japan" exhibit. Suzuki, who travelled to Knoxville from Asheville, N.C., where she lives and works as a professor of ikebana, began the demonstration by arranging five floral arrangements for her audience.
"The object of ikebana, which means 'the way of the flower,' is to try to understand nature," she explained. "It's like being a painter — when creating, you don't have any goals."
One aspect of Japanese flower arranging that differs greatly from the Western outlook on the art form, Suzuki said, is the importance placed on scarcity and negative space.
"We are creating space, not making a big bouquet of flowers," she informed onlookers. "If you have too many flowers, you cannot emphasize their individual beauty. We also leave a space for butterflies so they can suck the honey out of the flowers."
The lines created by the flowers is of utmost importance, as is the simplicity of the overall display. Deceptively small details of the arrangement also carry significant spiritual and symbolic weight.
"We do not use even numbers in our arrangements," she explained, snipping a fourth bud off a stem. "In our language, 'four' is the same pronunciation as 'death.' Also we do not include berries in the arrangements we make for our guests because berries are (for) the end of their life. Instead we use fresh, unopened buds, so that may be good luck for the guests."
Suzuki's arrangements, which incorporated many local elements such as lichen branches, an apparently rare commodity in Japan, and dogwood branches, were well received.
"I thought it was wonderful," said Abby Naunheimer, recent UT graduate and Weekend Program Coordinator at the museum. "In the last few weeks with the exhibit, I've learned a lot about Japanese culture and seeing this live is just really fascinating. She was very engaging and made the art accessible while still showcasing the complexity of her work."
Georgia Fisher, one of UT's first ornamental horticulture and landscape design majors in 1977 and professional florist, was also an admirer.
"I like the simplicity and the focus on the flower," she said. "You don't need a mass of flowers for it to be beautiful. These are gorgeous pieces with an incorporation of natural, local plants that we often take for granted here."
Both the floral displays, which are typically made to be placed within a guest's room, and the tea ceremony place a cultural emphasis on hospitality.
"The main focus of the tea ceremony is helping the guest by offering the best time of drinking green tea," said Suzuki. "It's very simple and not like a tea party in western culture. The hosts are representing their appreciation to the guest for coming."
Suzuki, who has been studying both arts for more than 25 years and still considers herself a student, began versing herself in traditional Japanese culture after a trip to Holland as a teenager.
"My father let me go to Holland as an exchange student when I was 18," she said. "They looked at me as a Japanese culture ambassador and, even though I was born and raised in Japan, I realized I didn't know a thing about my own heritage. After I came back from Holland, I started learning about ikebana and the Japanese tea ceremony so that I could learn more about my own roots and also identify myself."
Now a second level ikebana professor and Japanese cultural ambassador, Suzuki voiced her esteemed admiration for the museum's Zen art exhibit.
"I was so impressed, it was perfect," she enthused. "Not one millimeter was wrong. I've been to the Zen exhibit at the Met in New York and their tools were wrong, but here it was perfect."
"Zen Buddhism and the Arts of Japan," which includes ink paintings and calligraphies by prominent Zen figures as well as a rock garden, will remain in the museum until Dec. 31.