T - Tsubaki

Today’s guest is Eriko, my flower fairy friend and an exceptional Ikebana artist (“Kado-ka”).

I’d like to guide you through to the grains of the terminologies and names that appear in this story to give you better insights of the origin and philosophy behind the beautiful colours and compositions I’m about to show you.

Firstly, Ikebana is known as the art of Japanese flower arrangement, which is the means to express philosophy of Kado (way of flowers). The artist or master of Kado is called Kado-ka. Ikebana literally means “to make flowers alive”, which is an existential concept that captures the infinite beauty of mortal life of nature.

The style of flower arrangement we are familiar with is based on additive aesthetics that occupy the space with positive compositions; whereas Ikebana is based on subtractive aesthetics to create negative volumes that extend into the space. The philosophy of Ikebana values the life and death of flowers and passing of each season.


Tsubaki (camellia) is chosen by Eriko as the motif for its modest and elegant presence. Tsubaki is native to Japan, China and parts of Southeastern Asia, and was introduced to Europe in the 18th century, known as the “rose of Japan”. Tsubaki is highly admired for its stout leaves, deep in green with pearly glow, and its perfect petals, brilliant in red, pink or white, to bloom in late winter to early spring. These two had just bloomed to welcome my visit to Eriko’s home.

Eriko greeted me in Kimono from the Showa period, capturing spring around the corner with the pastel palette. Note the subtle accent of the mint green Obi-jime and cream yellow Obi-age over the apricot orange Obi, all in complementary with the blush kimono. And her lips kissed by the Tsubaki blossom, her hair let down to flow with her movement.

A collection of unique vases are her tools. Sunlight and shadows are her stage. And the extension of her hands are the pair of scissors passed down from her grandfather, who used to nurture trees and flowers in his garden.

“Tsubaki’s leaves are often used in bouquets to create the background volume. But to arrange with less quantity, it takes one’s sense to draw out the one gesture in the branches. One must know which to keep, which to cut.” As Eriko explains to me during the Ikebana of Tsubaki. Ikebana is not about how much volume can be created, but about how much movement and dynamic balance can be achieved by how little material used.”

One’s appreciation of nature is channeled through the branches, the leaves, the petals, and to the space beyond.

I found on top of her dresser half-dried tulips and narcissus. I find them still beautiful, maybe even more beautiful that they’ve aged and transformed, with the petals more transparent and delicate in texture, passing sunlight through in various intensity. The yellowed tips of the narcissus leaves were exceptional, echoing the gradation of the flower itself.

Eriko showed me another arrangement starring these half-dried pieces that were left behind. As vivid and lively as fresh bloom at its peak, Eriko can make a flower shine at any stage of its life. A flower has different beauties as a bud, as a full blossom, and as form and texture that continue to transform over time. It’s a matter of how one reveals such transformation, and not masking it.

There may be strict rules to traditional Ikebana, but there is no limit or boundaries to Eriko’s creation. Here is Eriko composing Ikebana on herself. The light presents colours, and the shadow manifests textures.

Modest and elegant. It’s Eriko’s aesthetics as well as way of living, which is precisely the essence of Tsubaki portrayed in Japanese culture.


My visit with Eirko concluded with an excitement for so many other ways to “play” with flowers, as she words it. We will get together again spontaneously to play and appreciate flowers in any form they find us. Perhaps into the wild next time…!

Flowers supplied by Celsia Floral