By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior PhotographerFloral designers and practitioners of traditional Japanese flower arranging put their skills to the test in a “hanaike flower arranging battle” held in Ota Ward, Tokyo, in late May. The event had the distinct atmosphere of a sports match, with contestants competing to see who could create the best improvised piece in five minutes in front of a crowd of breathless spectators.
The venue was an auction room at Ota Market — part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Central Wholesale Market — that is usually filled with wholesalers and florists bidding on flowers.
Six competitors battled it out in a tournament-style contest featuring seven matches. About 450 spectators judged the participants based on inventiveness, expressiveness, speed and other criteria. After each match, spectators held up a card featuring the color of the participant they thought had won the match, and the participant with the most cards was declared the winner.
Edwin R. Molenaar, a 53-year-old floral designer living in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, won first prize at the event. Molenaar visited Japan from the Netherlands for the first time at 19 and has lived in Japan since he was 21 after becoming enamored with Japanese culture.
“This is my first time taking part in the event. The pressure of having to arrange flowers in five minutes and the head-to-head competition with opponents made it a lot of fun,” he said.
Shizuka Watanabe, 19, of Okegawa, Saitama Prefecture, a student at a vocational school, said: “It was my first time watching the contest, but I was on the edge of my seat the whole time and couldn’t contain my excitement. I want to keep coming back in the future.”
Ikebana flower arrangement, an art form said to be native to Japan, does not normally involve showcasing the actual arrangement process. The flower arranging contests first started in Tokyo in 2011, with about 40 events currently taking place across the nation each year, including ones for high school students. The Ota Market event was being held for the third time.
“By having floral designers and ikebana practitioners come together on the same stage regardless of their individual schools or styles, I hope it leads to more people becoming interested in flower arrangement,” said Yuichiro Hinata, an instructor at the Sogetsu school of flower arrangement and representative director of general incorporated foundation Hanaike Japan Project in Minato Ward, Tokyo. The organization plans, produces and operates the competitions.
“Japanese should be proud of the rich culture of flower arranging. I would like to convey that culture to future generations so that it doesn’t fade away,” he said.
(New Japan, Old Japan is a series exclusive to The Japan News)