When I started practicing ikebana I could not stop. It becomes a habit, a lifestyle.Jessica El Hajj
Interview with Jessica El Hajj, Sogetsu Ikebana Teacher in Beirut, Lebanon.
How were you introduced to ikebana?
I started ikebana by coincidence when I was living in Shanghai. I was an adherent to the CFS “Cercle Francophone de Shanghai” and I was receiving regularly their newsletter that included a calendar with plenty of monthly activities, and ikebana was one of them. There was a beautiful photo of a simple zen arrangement with a bamboo and two tulips. I was so intrigued by this art which was totally new and mysterious for me. When I attended my first class and completed my first arrangement I was so proud and amazed by the beauty of ikebana and how magical it is though I used a pyrex as a container:) The professor who organized it was an Ichiyo instructor so I automatically started learning Ichiyo ikebana and there I completed my first level. It was a hobby for me kind of meditation/relaxation. After a while I crossed path with a friend who happened to be a Sogetsu student/instructor who introduced me to a new school of ikebana and invited me over, and it was definitely worthwhile to try Sogetsu and there I found myself…and became a teacher!
Why do you love ikebana?
I love ikebana because it is magical, it has its own charm. When I started practicing ikebana I could not stop. It becomes a habit, a lifestyle, never boring always learning always creating something new…I get inspired by things I never thought of like a tube or a straw especially that Sogetsu use alot of unconventional material. Also it makes me closer to nature. I’m always discovering new branches and new plants I love. Specifically sogetsu keeps surprising me with what I can create with one, a few or a lot of flower material fresh or dry etc. Sogetsu believes that ikebana can be done by anyone anywhere with anything ..I love Sogetsu’s philosophy and how it brings people together.
What’s the best advice you’ve received through your ikebana studies?
The best advice I got is that flowers are alive as well as objects around us like old wood etc. We should treat them carefully with respect: the way we hold them, place them and arrange them.
Are there any artists who you look up to or inspire you most?
I look up to all ikebana artists from different schools because everyone has its own style and I can learn something different from, but my role model is of course Akane Teshigihara Headmaster of Sogetsu school and my Senseis in Shanghai. Mark Tajima who taught me the ikebana techniques with lots of precision and when I say alot I mean “alot” 🙂 and Ms Qiang Jing who is so “generous” with her students whether with providing the stems generously or with her assistance to everyone and her dedication to
the school. I will never forget her help with everything I needed to introduce and practice ikebana in Lebanon. So she inspires me a lot with her positivity, her energy and her passion.
Where do you source your materials & containers?
I bought a lot of ikebana vases from my old school in Shanghai but vases are my weak point as most ikebanists so wherever I find one whether at florists or little shops that could inspire me I get tempted. Sometimes I receive them as gifts like the ones of the ceramists in Beirut (@Andrea.n.k. My last 2 vases I got are from Paris from the flower shop Debeaulieu and from Kenji Tsutsumi shop (ikenobo instructor) as for the stems most of the times I pick the branches myself and after I go to flowershops or wholesalers to match flowers with them.
How would you describe your style of ikebana?
I think my style is between classical and contemporary. Simple and alive.
Do you have a favourite material, or season?
My favorite season is spring. Every year I look forward for the blossomed trees of all colors, everything is blooming from peach to cherry to almond. My favorite flower is magnolia .
What is the advice you would give to someone who is studying or teaching ikebana?
Keep practicing and be opened to learn especially with the social media there is an opportunity to watch many demonstrations from different teachers. With ikebana you keep on learning you do not only learn techniques, but also nature secrets, Japanese culture, creativity and simplicity.
Do you have any good ikebana secrets / tips to share?
One tip is when you try to arrange for others try to choose dried material or material that will dry beautifully or that wil last longer than others (for example eucalyptus is easy to dry, anthuriums last Longer than other flowers etc…)
What is ahead in your ikebana future?
As soon as I finish my master studies I look forward to teach Sogetsu in Lebanon while continuing my own studies of ikebana and getting my 3rd grade teaching diploma. Also, I am looking up for collaborations with Japanese cultural associations and others to spread ikebana culture in Lebanon. Also learning ceramics is on my bucket list to be able to create my own ikebana vases.
Jessica El Hajj
Sogetsu Ikebana Teacher, 4th Grade Teacher
@ikebana.jessica (instagram) ikebanajessica (facebook)
If you’d like to be involved in an interview, or would like to share any ikebana news, please get in touch with Julia Rush, ikebana teacher in Tokyo and founder of this blog. Always happy to talk about Ikebana!