YOUNG LEARNER: Sogetsu instructor Kika Shibata’s ikebana interest started early


FLORAL ART — Sogetsu School of Ikebana instructor Kika Shibata poses with the arrangement she demonstrated at the Floral Artistry ikebana show. photo by Heather Ito/ Nichi Bei Weekly

After a few busy weeks of work, 13-year Sogetsu ikebana practitioner Yasmin Spiegel arrived at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center in Sacramento, Calif. with a creativity block and little inspiration to create her pieces for that weekend’s ikebana show. While mentally listing the many things that needed to be done to prepare for the show, Spiegel saw a pile of fallen leaves in the center’s patio area. Naturally, she thought that the leaves would have to be swept up by the end of the night.

Spiegel began working on her arrangements and slowly, while drawing inspiration from her classmates and their pieces, she started to relax and enjoy herself.

Outside in the patio, someone was taking care of the leaves, though not in the way Spiegel had planned.

FLORAL ART — Sogetsu School of Ikebana instructor Kika Shibata poses with the arrangement she demonstrated at the Floral Artistry ikebana show. photo by Heather Ito/ Nichi Bei Weekly
FLORAL ART — Sogetsu School of Ikebana instructor Kika Shibata poses with the arrangement she demonstrated at the Floral Artistry ikebana show. photo by
Heather Ito/
Nichi Bei Weekly

Spiegel’s teacher and Sogetsu San Jose-South Bay Branch Director Kimi “Kika” Shibata had swept the leaves and added them to an outdoor ikebana arrangement she was working on. Spiegel was not surprised.

“I thought, ‘Well of course!’ Even a pile of leaves to her is a thing of beauty that is to be made into a work of art, and it’s a natural work of art because the leaves fell there,” she said.

Shibata, who celebrated 50 years of teaching ikebana in 2014, was exposed to the Japanese art of flower arrangement as an infant while her mother, Shoka Narimatsu, was studying Sogetsu ikebana. During Narimatsu’s classes, she would give Shibata a small kenzan (needle point holder) and the cut flower pieces that she didn’t need anymore and Shibata would stick the pieces into the kenzan. When Shibata was about 4 years old, she asked her mother about taking her first lessons and began learning not only from Narimatsu, but from Narimatsu’s teacher as well.

At 5 years old, Shibata was featured in a newspaper from the Kumamoto Prefecture, where they lived in Japan, as the “Little Sogetsu Artist.” Shibata said it was a big article because she was the youngest Sogetsu artist at the time.

“I know I was very proud to be (featured), but I really didn’t know that it was gonna be in a newspaper or something,” she said.

Shibata said she learned ikebana the “reverse” way because she was too young to understand how to use different angled measurements in her arrangements. So, she began learning with freestyle arrangements first and learned basic styles when she got older.

After her family moved to the United States, Shibata returned to Japan for a few months every summer to take lessons from Kasumi Teshigahara, Sogetsu School’s second headmaster, someone Shibata said she is heavily influenced by.

Shibata earned her Sogetsu School teacher’s certificate in 1966. In March of 1989, she was awarded the Riji title, the highest degree offered by the Sogetsu School. As someone in her 30s, she was the youngest to receive the Riji title at the time.

After more than 50 years of teaching Sogetsu ikebana, Shibata said she feels happy, satisfied and thankful to her mother for introducing her to the Sogetsu School.

“My life is so rich and fulfilled,” she said. “I met so many wonderful people so I feel very lucky for the 50 years.”

Spiegel, who is a first-level teacher (book four), said that Shibata’s personality is one of the things that make learning from her so captivating.

“She’s funny, she’s flirtatious, she’s very, very heart-filled, very loving, very appreciative and so creative; it’s just remarkable,” she said.

Shibata carries these qualities through her class. Helen Tashima, a second-level teacher (book three) who introduced Spiegel to Shibata’s Sacramento class in 2003, said Shibata often uses materials in an unexpected way.

“She’ll take a particular material and I’ll think it’s gonna go a certain way, but then she emphasizes it in a different way, so that you see it as having more possibilities then what you originally thought,” said Tashima, who began learning Sogetsu ikebana in 1991.

Tashima helps Shibata coordinate the Sacramento classes, which started in December 2001 after Tashima’s previous Sogetsu teacher retired. Tashima said that attendance has increased over the years. About 20 to 25 students come to each class, and Shibata always makes sure to give each student individual guidance.

“She allows us to do what we want, but at the same time, helps us to see things in a different way than maybe we had … seen earlier so that it becomes more creative and striking,” she said.

Tashima said at least eight of the Sacramento students travel more than 50 miles to attend class.

“It’s really a tribute to her that people are willing to travel a distance just to come to her class,” she said.

Ron Brown, Sogetsu San Francisco Bay Area Branch director and president of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of Ikebana International, said he travels 280 miles roundtrip from his home to the once-a-month class. A 37-year Sogetsu ikebana practitioner, Brown began taking lessons from Shibata in 2007 and said she is not only gifted and talented, but also a firm yet gentle teacher.

“She instinctively knows how to get the best from her students and she works to make sure that you do your best,” he said.

Brown earned the Komon title in May 2015, the second-highest degree offered by Sogetsu School, and teaches 40 students in three different classes.

Shibata said that the future of Sogetsu ikebana in the U.S. is to have more teachers everywhere. As Sogetsu West Coast Regional Coordinator of North America, Shibata travels to many different cities conducting workshops and demonstrations at ikebana and other garden-related events. She said she hopes to “raise” as many teachers as possible so that interested people don’t have to travel as far to learn ikebana.

Kika Shibata teaches Sogetsu ikebana in San Jose, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Menlo Park, Campbell, Sacramento and San Diego. For more information about her classes, visit

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