Ohara grandmaster’s lifetime of teaching

Hisako “Shofu” Shohara photo by Jane Shohara Matsumoto

Hisako “Shofu” Shohara
photo by Jane Shohara Matsumoto

After first being encouraged to take lessons from her aunt in Japan, Hisako “Shofu” Shohara embarked on a lifelong appreciation of nature through the art of ikebana. Jane Matsumoto, her eldest daughter, said her mother, at 94-years-old, still has a sharp mind as she continues to exhibit and teach for the Ohara School of Ikebana.

“Since COVID, she hasn’t formally restarted weekly classes, but she still takes students on, case by case,” Matsumoto told the Nichi Bei News in a phone interview. “So I would say she probably has like four active students — master students.”

Born March 28, 1929 in Kobe, Japan, Shohara came to the United States after marrying a Nisei service member and moving to America in 1957. Once in America, she began teaching ikebana to Nisei housewives who were interested in the Los Angeles area.

“Many Nisei women at the time were interested in the traditional arts of Japan, such as ikebana, and my mother was eager to help spread the love of ikebana by teaching at private homes,” Matsumoto said.

Shohara’s daughter said her mother was “essentially a homemaker,” but she devoted herself to teaching and sharing the art. Matsumoto added that Shohara is the first grandmaster of Ohara-ryu Ikebana in Los Angeles. She helped found the Los Angeles chapter of the Ohara School of Ikebana in 1966, and led it as president from 1980 to 2005, according to the chapter’s records.

“The Chapter grew stronger under the leadership of Shofu Shohara, who led the Chapter for 25 years,” the chapter’s history reads.

She also taught hundreds of students throughout her life in both private and through adult education programs.

“She taught in many different places,” Matsumoto said. “She’s taught at Harbor City (Community) College, she taught at Beverly Hills night school. … She’s gone as far as Arizona to teach, and do demonstrations to other parts of the country.”

Among her classes, the North American Ohara Teachers Association reported that Shohara taught for more than 40 years out of the Los Angeles Community College and served in various capacities, such as president of the Los Angeles Ikebana Teachers Guild for 10 years, starting in 1996. She also helped found and serve as the inaugural president of the Ikebana Teachers Association of Southern California in 2015.

Matsumoto said her mother particularly enjoys creating moribana-style arrangements, a low-bowl landscape arrangement that contrasts the more vertical arrangements in older traditions such as Ikenobo that descend from flower arrangements used in tea ceremonies. She said the Ohara-style arrangements emphasize trying to “bring nature into flower arranging,” and is also inspired by rinpa-style classical Japanese art.

“Not to say that she doesn’t like the heika-style, either, the vertical style, but I think nature is what calls to her. Her backyard is like a secret garden,” Matsumoto said.

To aid in her flower arrangements, Matsumoto said her mother’s garden has a variety of trees and plants that she’s used in her arrangements throughout the years.

“She has a very mature plum tree, she has a cherry blossom. She has … pomegranate, a kaki tree … She used to have a pond so that she could grow water materials, like reeds and water lilies,” she said. “Japanese art and Japanese culture is seasonally based, right? So not only do they have four main seasons, as everybody is aware and knows about, but Japanese have broken their calendar into 72-micro seasons. And so, flower arrangements are selected with sensitivity and appreciation of those passing transitory seasons, micro-seasons, of the year.”

The care and knowledge Shohara has shown toward her floral arrangements have earned her a number of prestigious opportunities. She has arranged flowers for visiting dignitaries, including the crown prince of Japan and Pope John Paul II, but Matsumoto said she was most proud of seeing her students flourish and for the art of ikebana to spread in the United States. Most recently in 2019, she was given the Order of the Rising Sun, Silver Rays to recognize her contributions to sharing the art of ikebana in the United States.

“Her proudest moments are when she sees her students’ exhibits and arrangements,” Matsumoto said. “She is so happy and proud of them, and beams that they have continued their studies and have truly embraced this art as part of their personal life’s journeys.”

Shohara said in an e-mail, “Ikebana has been a way to spread goodwill and friendship through flowers. It has given me joy to see many students continue this practice into the future!”

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