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Mind Openers: Flower Power


By Janet Eastman

Published Jan 1, 2009 8:00 AM

Photo Courtesy of Kyoko Kassarjian.

Kyoko Kassarjian surveys her classroom and sees high achievers taking a detour from their hard-driving lives. Instead of navigating L.A. asphalt, her students are considering the lines, color and shapes of branches, buds and vases. Such is the strength of this soft-spoken teacher and her passion for ikebana, the Japanese art of asymmetrical flower arrangement, which celebrates the antithesis of a material culture.

Kassarjian will demonstrate the Sogetsu School style of ikebana with her students at Ackerman Union on March 5. The demonstration is a highlight of the UCLA Center for Japanese Studies' event calendar for 2009.

"Our motto is anyone, anywhere, with anything can create graceful arrangements," she says.

Arranging flowers to please the gods and one's self has been an activity since ancient times. But from the 15th century on, Japanese priests and teachers have defined exact principles in plant selection, placement and composition to showcase natural beauty and to symbolize, in miniature form, heaven, earth, waterfalls and other natural wonders.

Although Kassarjian teaches structured patterns, she tells her students at UCLA Extension and the San Fernando Valley Branch of the Sogetsu School of Japan, "After the basic training, you have free expression."

During the daylong free event Kassarjian and her students will create up to 40 arrangements — in upright, slanting or cascading styles — some in as fast as 10 minutes. All will be on display throughout the day and a narrator will explain the art's principles and history.

Students will use whatever is available, perhaps lilies, cherry blossoms, bamboo shoots and palm fronds, as well as stone, iron, plastic and even steel.

But they won't overdo the arrangements. Kassarjian instructs her students to pay attention to the space left between the petals, twigs and container. Unlike European-style flower arrangements that feature abundance, ikebana follows simplicity of line and form. "It's very modern 
in that way," says Kassarjian.

And, perhaps, an antidote to the modern world.

Ikebana, the Japanese Art of Flower Arranging. Thursday, March 5, 12:30-1 p.m., 2-2:30 p.m. Ackerman Union, 2nd Floor lounge. For information, call (310) 825-8681 or visit



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