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Dhaka Tribune

50 years of Ikebana in Bangladesh: How it shapes Dhaka-Tokyo ties

Initially, it was an effort of a few individuals, but now it stands ready to serve as a ‘key pillar’ of Bangladesh-Japan strategic partnership

Update : 17 Jun 2023, 11:26 AM

It was an amazing experience for Tasnim Ara. "You will never know the feeling if you don't learn it. How wonderfully you can decorate with a few flowers, stems and leaves. And when I do it, I feel relaxed, connected to nature”—this is how Tasnim Ara, a real-estate owner, was sharing her feelings with Dhaka Tribune about Ikebana, a Japanese art of flower arrangement.

She learnt it in 2019 from the Bangladesh Ikebana Association (BIA) which is set to celebrate its 50 years of journey in the country on June 19 in a ceremony in Dhaka.

Initially, it was an effort of a few individuals led by Dr AKM Moazzem Hussain, a professor of Buet who returned from Japan after 10 years of studying in September 1971; now the Ikebana Association stands ready to serve as a “key pillar” of strategic partnership between the countries.

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement which dates back to the 7th century when floral offerings were made at altars. This art reached its first zenith in the 16th century under the influence of Buddhist teamsters/monks and has grown over the centuries, with over 1,000 different schools in Japan and abroad, according to the BIA.

Dr Hussain and a group of Bangladeshis, who had studied and/or taken training in Japan, established an Ikebana School in October 1973 on the premises of the Embassy of Japan at Shantinagar in Dhaka.

Preeminent painter late Shilpacharjya Joynul Abedin and Ambassador Takeshi Oyamada of Japan handed over certificates to the 28 graduates of the first batch in March 1974.

Sheikh Rehana, the younger daughter of Father of Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was also a student of the first batch that started class in 1973.

Bangabandhu's younger daughter Sheikh Rehana (third from left, front row) was a student of the first batch of Bangladesh's first Ikebana school, set up on the premises of the Embassy of Japan at Shantinagar in Dhaka. Preeminent painter late Shilpacharjya Joynul Abedin and Japanese Ambassador Takeshi Oyamada handed over certificates to the 28 graduates of the first batch in March 1974 BIA

“There have been some small organisations then on Ikebana in Dhaka. Those who studied in Japan formed such associations. We formed the present Ikebana Association by uniting all those small organisations. This would not have been possible without the cooperation of the Japanese Embassy in Dhaka," Dr Hussain told Dhaka Tribune.

Japan recognised Bangladesh as an independent country in February 1972 and the first Ambassador of Japan to Bangladesh Takeshi Oyamada arrived in Dhaka a few months later.

Prof Hussain had the opportunity to welcome Ambassador Oyamada at the Dhaka Airport along with others.

Within a few months, the Ambassador inspired them to start some cultural activities to foster friendship between Bangladesh and Japan, Masud Karim, an Honorary CEO and Life Patron of the BIA, told Dhaka Tribune.

“Recently we have got formal registration with the Social Welfare Department of the government of Bangladesh as a recognition of our fifty years' journey in Bangladesh. Japanese Ambassador Kiminori Iwama and his Embassy have kindly agreed to jointly celebrate our fifty years' journey which is also supported by the National Museum, JUAAB (Japan alumni association) and the Department of Japanese Studies of the Dhaka University on June 19,” he said.

The ambassador congratulated them on the 50th anniversary.

“Ikebana is an art of expressing appreciation for nature. The aesthetic sense of Japanese people is most beautifully demonstrated through this art of flower arrangement. Therefore, Ikebana is one of the best cultural practices to influence Japan to the outside world,” he said in a message.

“Ikebana is very popular all over the world nowadays. It has reached the people of Bangladesh through BIA. They have organised exhibitions, demonstrations, and training programmes to spread this art. I hope that BIA will play a more prominent role in promoting cultural exchange between Japan and Bangladesh in the near future.”

Chairman of the Department of Japanese Studies Prof Abdullah Al Mamun told Dhaka Tribune that associations like the BIA would play a key role in shaping the future of Japan-Bangladesh relations.

Guests and visitors during an exhibition at Alliance Française Dhaka on June 24, 2022 BIA

“The bilateral relations have been elevated to a strategic level recently. The guiding principle of the strategic partnership is a free and open Indo-Pacific. One of the important components of that free and open Indo-Pacific is connectivity. The present Kishida administration in Japan is emphasising people-to-people connectivity along with traditional connectivity like infrastructure development. The most important pillar is people-to-people connectivity. The Ikebana association since its establishment is doing that successfully in Bangladesh. Now as a strategic partner and seeing this partnership of Bangladesh and Japan from the free and open Indo-Pacific point of view, their role would be even bigger in the coming days,” he said.

“Ikebana brings humanity and nature together. It gives you a spiritual feeling when you practice this,” Shahinoor Baby, President of the BIA, told Dhaka Tribune.

She said Ikebana is a way of arranging flowers according to ancient principles in which branches and flowers are placed at specific angles to represent heaven, earth and man.

Tools needed for ikebana include sharp scissors to trim stems, containers from cylindrical vases to shallow dishes and a pin holder which is called “kenzan” in the Japanese language. That holder is a heavy lead pincushion to fix stems to it.

“Ikebana is gaining popularity in our country by the day. We (BIA) now have 100 registered members. We offer three-month-long courses,” she said.

“We are totally committed to going ahead, on a self-reliance basis, through the next fifty years with the kind moral support of the Embassy of Japan along with a host of our well-wishers to further promote the strong bond of friendship between Bangladesh and Japan through Ikebana activities.”

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