Most of the women in Hideko Rainey’s monthly ikebana flower arranging class didn’t practice the art in their native Japan, but the gatherings have become a way for them to feel closer to their homeland.
Ikebana is a minimalist style of flower arranging dating back to the seventh century that showcases a few individual blooms, in contrast to the more elaborate French and English styles of flower arrangement.
The art of ikebana is a very precise and serious process in Japan, but in Rainey’s class it is a more relaxed celebration of Japanese arts. Instead of using only traditional Japanese flowers, class members bring buckets of branches from trees and bushes in their yards. While many of the plants native to Augusta come from Japan, such as camellias and azaleas, some American plants are mixed into the arrangements.
“It’s a combination of U.S. and Japanese styles,” said Hiroko Ikuta, a member of the class who took ikebana for a short time as a young girl in Japan.
A friend of hers told her about Rainey’s class, and she said she has enjoyed picking up the art again. Even though she has lived in the U.S. for many years, maintaining her ties to Japanese culture is important to her. She raised her two daughters to speak both Japanese and English, and sent them to Japanese school on Saturdays.
“They grew up here, but I want them to be Japanese and to keep Japanese language and culture close,” Ikuta said.
Rainey has managed to turn the group of women into more than just an instructional class. It has grown into a close-knit bunch from different backgrounds, with just as many women in the class who are native to the area as there are Japanese. The Japanese members find a special solace in the group, Rainey said, since moving to America means leaving family and friends behind.
“No one has family here, so we become family for each other,” she said. “Where you were born, you should not be able to forget.”
Ikebana isn’t the only Japanese art practiced in Augusta. Meiko Seki hosts monthly get-togethers at her house for women who practice intricate Japanese beadwork, and she said it makes her feel closer to the country she left 13 years ago.
“It’s a way I refresh myself with friends who have the same culture,” she said. “We actually feel Japan nearby with the beading projects.”
Staying close to Japanese roots is important to Seki. She and her husband speak Japanese in their home to their children, and drive them to Japanese school in Columbia every Saturday. Culture should be something her children enjoy, she believes, and not just something their parents talk about. Japanese school is a place they can have fun with other Japanese children, creating a positive association with the culture.
“They can play in English easily, but they don’t have many opportunities to play in Japanese,” she said. “It’s something we think is important.”