Expert in Japanese tea and flower arranging traditions demonstrates in WNC

ASHEVILLE – Devotees of Japanese culture are in for a treat next week when a renowned expert in Japanese art forms — including tea ceremony and ikebana, or flower arranging — shares her knowledge at a meeting of the Asheville chapter of Ikebana International.

Emiko Nishiwaki, cultural liaison from Japan to Western North Carolina, and Choy Falvey, owner of Choy's Flowers and Ikebana in Hendersonville, will present a traditional tea ceremony and a program on kimonos at 10 a.m. Feb. 24 at the Folk Art Center. The public is welcome.
Nishiwaki, who comes from the small town of Agui, Japan, is a master of ikebana in Kyoto, Japan, and a master in the art of tea ceremony, which represents the essence of Japanese culture.

Since August 2007, she has been the Japanese Outreach Program coordinator at Western Carolina University, bringing the Japanese cultural spirit to students in kindergarten through high school, as well as civic organizations, through ikebana, tea ceremony and other aspects of Japanese culture. The program is supported by the Japan Foundation, an affiliate association of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

One of the most easily shared cultural exchanges comes through flowers — the key component of ikebana.

This ancient and disciplined art form brings creative expression through plant materials by applying certain rules of construction. Line, color, space, contrast, texture and other design teachings bring humanity and nature in harmony to create both beauty and a sense of calm to those who create ikebana.

The need for a sense of harmony is universal, Nishiwaki said in an interview.
“Japan is very fast now, very busy,” she said. “But once a week, I can listen to water sounds, listen to the winds … people in modern life need meditation, and I need it too.”

Nishiwaki said she was raised with Western ways and wasn't particularly interested in the centuries-old rituals of her ancestors. But when she traveled in Europe as a teenager and found many Westerners eager to learn more about her heritage, she decided to explore her history and its art forms.

Today, she is excited to share her knowledge with anyone who is interested, and particularly enjoys being in school classrooms in Western North Carolina teaching children about origami, Japanese folk dance and tea ceremony — a ritual that, in Japan, can last as long as five hours, she said.

“This is a great opportunity for me to be here, to see this grassroots exchange of culture,” Nishiwaki said. “I am also learning about American culture, and Asheville is a very nice place to study because it's such an artistic place.”

Sally Robinson, president of the Asheville chapter of Ikebana International, who is hosting Nishiwaki through July in her Montreat home, said she became enchanted with Japanese culture when her husband's job took them to Tokyo for seven years in the 1970s.

“Everyone is really looking forward to the program on the 24{+t}{+h}, and I hope a lot of people will come,” Robinson said. “I think the world needs what Emiko is talking about … quiet times and appreciation of simple beauty. I believe that's important for all of us.”