Flower song of minimalism and simplicity

By Xu Junqian(Shanghai Star)
Updated: 2014-12-05 14:01:21

In bloom: Yoji Kobayashi's simple floral designs give much thought to the placement of each flower. Photos provided to Shanghai Star

He's a rock'n'roll-drummer-turned florist, and Japan's Yoji Kobayashi says the two have more in common than you may imagine. Xu Junqian reports.

As a rock-and-roll-drummer-turned floral designer, Yoji Kobayashi believes flowers and plants can chorus as drums and guitars can paint.

Twenty years ago, the Tokyo born and bred drummer turned his back on his decadelong career in rock'n'roll, and started working part-time at a local florist, "one of the few jobs that would tolerate my long hair and rock'n'roll look", he says.

Now, this self-taught florist is one of the most sought-after floral designers in Tokyo, whose clientele includes five-star hotels, luxury boutiques and private parties. And he believes his early musical career guides him in flower arrangement.

"Believe it or not, nature can sing. When the raindrops fall onto leaves, when the wind travels between mountains and blows the flowers open, there is a song," says the 51-year-old floral designer, clad head to toe in black.

Kobayashi was invited to Shanghai by the Park Hyatt hotel as one of the "masters" for its annual Master of Food and Wine event, giving classes and, ideally, demonstrating the lifestyle of floral design.

"The job of a floral designer is simply to get people to quiet down and get them to listen to the symphony of nature," Kobayashi says.

Master: Yoji Kobayashi is one of Japan's most celebrated floral designers. Photo provided to Shanghai Star

Although Japanese floral design has enjoyed a well-established reputation worldwide with its minimalism and simplicity, the art is believed to have originated in China, where during the fourth and fifth century Buddhism was growing in popularity and monks started to arrange flowers in vases around the altars, as homage for preserving life.

Flower arranging was introduced, together with Buddhism, to Japan in the sixth century. Flower arrangements were taken even more seriously in Japan than in China, becoming an essential part of training for even military leaders. It flourished into a specialized art form known as Ikebana, a combination of the Japanese word ikeru, meaning staying alive, and hana, meaning flower.

"The magic of floral design as an art form is that, different from paintings or compositions, it changes and evolves every day after the designer finishes his work, like a living art. Therefore, a good floral designer should take into consideration every face the flower may show," Kobayashi says.

At the Shanghai Master class, for example, Kobayashi asked the students to choose two pink lilies in bloom and two in bud for a plotted flower ball, the classwork of the day. It was perhaps the most well-off students one can find in the city, many toting Hermes' Birkin bags and all willing to pay 480 yuan for a two-hour session on a weekday morning.

"When the blossoming flowers are fading, the buds should bloom, like aging parents and maturing children. This is not only for the excellent visuals, but also to make the flower hemisphere less crowded," he explained.

For most of his more complicated and perhaps sophisticated works that he designs for clients, Kobayashi needs to take more things into account: the stems, the leaves, the fruit, and even the soil.

"The name floral design is very deceptive. In nature, flowers only account for a very small part, while other green plants are also key in (contributing to) the beauty of nature," Kobayashi says.

In bloom: Yoji Kobayashi's simple floral designs give much thought to the placement of each flower. Photos provided to Shanghai Star

In some of his works, the multi-colored or parti-colored flowers are completely absent, as they sometimes appear "too noisy", while various shades and shapes of green play a bigger role. Some books classify Japanese, or more broadly, oriental floral design, as "line arrangement", in contrast with Western-style flower arrangements, featuring mass use of colors and types of flowers.

At his home in Tokyo, he rarely displays flowers, keeping potted plants for decoration instead.

And as for the drums? "I usually play piano now," he says.

Advice from Kobayashi for floral design at home

Keep it simple when it comes to home décor.

Pick one favorite part of your house, say the color of the wall or the patterns of your curtain and develop your flower design from that.

Make it as natural as possible. Do not over-decorate.

Invest more on flowers and plants than on decorations.

Keep your flowers away from strong sunshine or air-conditioning.

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