Long Island Japanese Cultural Center teaches Ikebana flower arranging

In a small storefront in Roslyn Heights, behind a screen of living bamboo, ancient art is kept alive. Ikebana, sometimes called Koda (the way of the flower), is both flower art and a way to raise awareness and uplift the spirit, says Toyomi Sobue, a small, soft-spoken but confident woman who teaches art at the Long Island Japanese Culture Center, which she founded 12 years ago and directs today.


An art form practiced since the 7th century, ikebana flower arrangements are more than just decorations. Designed to be living sculptures, the lines, shape and character of a plant take precedence over clusters of perfect flowers. A yellowed leaf can be the centerpiece in fall, while unopened buds are often picked out in spring. Impermanence and imperfection are part of presentation. Everything is in the journey, from the bud to the leaf to the bare branch. Sobue, who has been practicing the art for over 40 years, proudly displays one of his students’ living sculptures.

“Usually a Western arrangement is one hundred percent flowers,” she says. “But here there are a lot of spaces.” A layout usually has sparse elements placed at different heights and angles. The upper branches, says Sobue, represent the sky. “Then there are trees and branches, and the ground is us and the animals, and the water is the sea or the ground. So we want ikebana to show the whole world. “

Alma Davis-Carlin of Williston Park creates professional flower arrangements. She studied for several years at the center and notes that ikebana flowers are usually not types placed together.

On this day, each student has three flowers, a goldenrod, a few prickly thistles, and a few delicate branches covered in tiny flowers.

“It’s always a challenge to make it as beautiful as possible so that all the energy of the flowers comes out,” says Davis-Carlin. “And each of us may have the same material and the same lesson, but each arrangement is going to be different. It’s like our character, our personality comes out.”


A narrow celadon vase topped with swirling leaves and tall branches is anchored by yellow chrysanthemums in Patricia Lin’s arrangement. Lin, the newest member of the group, studied for about a year. She says ikebana goes beyond the classroom.

Ikebana instructor Toyomi Sobue, right, assists Alma Davis-Carlin in her flower arranging class at the Japanese Cultural Center in Roslyn Heights. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

“Sometimes you drive down the road, even in winter, and you start looking at a branch. You look at how it grows in nature, which direction it goes, the reflection of the light. You see the beauty through that. even when there’s no flower. I love that part,” she says.

Ten years of ikebana practice have sharpened the eyes of the Hiya Fellows of Roslyn Harbor. In a single lesson, she took apart her first arrangement and created two more. While she reveres the art form, she also adapts it to the real world. With kids and a cat at home, she’ll take her flowers home and make a special arrangement — up on a shelf. She often includes branches and flowers from her garden or that of her neighbour. “Even the little flowers I appreciate,” Fellows says. “I say thank you.”


Sobue established the Japanese Cultural Center with ikebana and calligraphy classes. It has grown into a comprehensive program with over 20 teachers showcasing cooking, yoga, karate, Japanese culture, language, tea ceremony, traditional dance, music lessons on koto and shamisen, and a “mom and me” lessons with music and songs for mothers and children from 1 1/2 to 5 years old. The center is open to everyone, with a few free classes to try out before signing up. You can also find the center at the annual Stony Brook Cherry Blossom Festival and the North Hempstead Asian-American Festival in May.

Sobue, who teaches and runs the center, says ikebana offers respite from busy lives, a way to slow down. “It gives a healing energy to be close to nature,” she says. “Everything has a spirit. In ikebana we just help to show it a bit.”

Long Island Japanese Cultural Center

55 Mineola Ave., Roslyn Heights and 2 Haven Ave. #223 Port Washington

NEWS 516-801-6555, lijcc.org

Rosalie M. Dehner