Her grandfather, the Rev. Shozen Naito, was a minister at the Buddhist Temple of Alameda before World War II; her grandmother taught Sogetsu ikebana in the 1970s and Japanese language at the same temple. Her father, Kiyoshi Naito, served as the temple’s board president for three different terms.
Following two generations of family leadership at the temple, Jane “Suiei” Naito is not only involved in the temple’s board as the vice president/president elect, but she also teaches Sogetsu ikebana, just as her grandmother, the late Teruko Naito, did before her.
Naito, a Sansei/Yonsei to Kibei parents who were born in the U.S. but educated in Japan, has been studying Sogetsu ikebana for more than 15 years. Although she was not able to learn the art directly from her grandmother, Naito said “she definitely influenced me.”
“I remember, when I was young, having to haul her flowers and materials to flower shows where she was exhibiting or demonstrating, often to the same places where I now exhibit and demonstrate,” she said. Her grandmother lived with her and her family and would always have an ikebana arrangement displayed in the house.
In addition to teaching classes in San Francisco and Moraga, Calif., and twice a year at Filoli in Woodside, Calif., Naito teaches ikebana at the Buddhist Temple of Alameda and often sees her grandmother’s former students enjoying Naito’s students’ flower shows held each year during the temple’s Obon festival.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to be teaching in the same space as she once taught,” she said.
Naito, along with a few of her students who are also temple members, also arranges the butsu ka (altar flowers) for the Buddhist Temple of Alameda’s Sunday services.
“I thank the Buddha for the opportunity each and every time that I’m able to arrange the flowers,” she said. “It’s a very humbling experience and I’m honored to do it.”
Naito continues to take lessons from Sogetsu instructor Joan Suzuki, who has been teaching since 1953, in addition to taking classes at the Sogetsu headquarters in Japan.
The Sogetsu School began in 1927 by Sōfu Teshigahara and is most known for allowing the use of unconventional materials in arrangements. In addition, Sogetsu ikebana can be enjoyed “anytime, anywhere, using any material,” as said by Teshigahara.
Naito enjoys these aspects of the Sogetsu style.
“I recently used old colorful telephone wires, copper tubing and foam pipe installations for a demonstration I did at Davis,” she said. “I’ve been known to stop and pick up pieces of what some people may call junk from the side of the road and use it in an arrangement.”
Ikebana student Ash Anik said she likes practicing ikebana because it is “soothing and meditative.” Anik, who has been studying for four years, said she has been familiar with the art because she has relatives who studied it. She likes the “classic beauty and deceptively simple design” of Sogetsu school style.
Naito said that she hadn’t originally planned to teach. It wasn’t until several teachers from varying ikebana schools encouraged her, saying it would improve her skills. “They were so right,” she said. She began teaching her own classes in 2014.
For example, Naito said that buying different materials for her classes gives her the opportunity to test not only its use, but also its life span in an arrangement.
“Plus, since my students ask me questions, it keeps me on my toes and requires me to study even more,” she added.
Ikebana student Betty Yee said she looks forward to the “unique and interesting” materials Naito brings to each lesson, which makes it fun.
“She is such an energetic person and teacher that it is contagious; she is so much fun to learn from,” said Yee, who has been studying the art for two years with Naito. “I look at the amazing pieces she created at shows and it makes me want to learn more.”
Jackie Ito-Woo, a Sansei, said that practicing ikebana allows her to push the boundaries of her comfort zone and exercise the creative side of her brain that, she says, has been “dormant” for many years.
“I tend to shy away from hobbies and projects that require artistic talent, but (Naito) creates a very positive and supportive environment for learning ikebana. Her critiques are constructive and done in an encouraging manner,” said Ito-Woo, who has been studying for four years.
Naito said she enjoys teaching because it gives her an opportunity to share her passion with her students.
“Ikebana has expanded my appreciation of beauty in art and nature,” she said. “It has opened my eyes in so many ways. I see things differently now and will forever more. I hope it does the same for my students.”
For students like Yee, studying ikebana has changed the way she looks at nature.
“Now, I appreciate the way a branch would arch (and) the use of flowers in combination with certain branches or leaves,” Yee said.
Naito said she thinks ikebana is making a “revival” and is reassured by the inquires she receives each week that the art form will remain strong in the Bay Area.
One of the most common questions she receives is “Are there a lot of rules?” Naito compares learning ikebana to learning how to cook:
“At first you need to follow a recipe to learn about proportion, then you can start to add seasonings to match your own taste. In ikebana, you first need to learn the rules of proportions, lines, mass and then as grow as an ikebana artist, you can begin to expand your arrangement to add your own style.”
To learn more about Naito and the ikebana classes she offers, visit her Facebook page for Ikebana Now.