For Sunnyvale’s Chika Maxwell, Ikebana – the Japanese art of flower arranging – isn’t just a way to express herself but also a way to connect with her heritage.
“My grandmother was an Ikebana teacher,” said Maxwell. “She was teaching at the house, so I was growing up with [it]. I was always watching what she was doing. Sometimes I took a class with her, but I don’t remember so much because I was little…Ikebana is very difficult for kids, so I didn’t understand the beauty.”
In her 20’s, Maxwell learned the art of Western-style floral arrangements. She worked for a florist for more than 15 years before she decided it was time to learn the art of Ikebana.
Maxwell practices Sogetsu Ikebana, which is freer flowing than other forms of the art.
“Ikenobo [Ikebana] is very traditional. They have 500 years of history. They have strict rules and they have a stricter style,” said Maxwell. “Sogetsu [Ikebana] is like 100 years [old]. The founder was born in an Ikebana family, but he disliked the structure, so he founded his own style.”
Maxwell completed her training in 2019 and decided to share her knowledge. She created the Instagram account Kiso Ikebana and began to share pictures from her Sunnyvale home.
“I started the Instagram during the pandemic because lots of people, they couldn’t go out and they didn’t have enjoyment,” said Maxwell. “I started doing it anonymously to share. If I could make other people happy…I got so many Ikebana friends on Instagram and communicating and get to inspire each other.”
She recently launched the company Kiso Ikebana through which she teaches anyone who wants to learn the Sogetsu style of Ikebana.
“We usually start with the basic style…we need to follow the directions and all these angles,” said Maxwell. “They learn how to express the beauty of the nature and they learn of the nature of the materials step by step until they start to make the freestyle arrangement.”
Maxwell holds classes in her home in Sunnyvale. She hopes to soon add classes at the local community center and this past spring, she shared her knowledge at the Nikkei Matsuri festival in San Jose’s Japantown.
Though not on purpose, most of Maxwell’s students are busy moms who tend to juggle family and work life. They come to Maxwell’s classes to relax.
“Chika-san’s lesson is kind of my meditation time,” said Akiko, one of Maxwell’s students. “Usually, I’m messed up by everything from family and work, but only this time I can focus on one thing.
“I always wanted [to learn] since I was a kid. Ikebana, I thought it was really fun, but I never got a chance,” said Kaori, another of Maxwell’s students. “I have an eight-year-old son, everything is so loud around him. When we do Ikebana flower arrangement it’s nice. Calm.”
Kaori also uses the classes as an opportunity to spend quality time with her older daughter, Leah.
For more details on the Sunnyvale business Kiso Ikebana, find Maxwell on Instagram @kiso_ikebana or email email@example.com.