Keeping ikebana one arrangement at a time

Age is really just a number for Akiko Bourland, who fell in love with ikebana, the ancient Japanese art of harmonious flower arrangement, while attending high school in Yokohama, Japan.

After decades of studying and teaching ikebana, the 92-year-old has a wall of awards and certificates in her charming Clairemont home, which she shares with her husband, Walt.

A certified Grand Master in ikebana since 1996, Bourland retired in June from teaching the weekly continuing education courses at Mesa College, after 50 consecutive years.

Until the pandemic ended, she was also an instructor at Balboa Park, under the auspices of the San Diego Wabi Chapter of the Ohara School of Ikebana. She founded the section in 1973 and was president for its first 35 years.

Bourland’s plans for the fall?

“I’m going to start teaching at Balboa Park again in September,” she said. “I will only do an advanced course, teaching the instructors.” I think twice a month. It would be too much to do it every week.

Even though she slows down a bit, Bourland was graceful, lively, and able to relate much of her colorful life in a recent interview that lasted 90 minutes.

She received a little help in her memories of her husband, Walt, who turns 92 on Veterans Day, November 11.

“When I first came here, I didn’t know much,” she laughs. “I said to my husband, ‘You are an important man because the country has holidays on your birthday.'”

The couple met while working at the US Navy exchange post in Yokohama, where it was stationed. They married in 1970, but living the nomadic life of a military wife did not deter Bourland from ikebana.

“She has a natural talent for it,” her husband said. ” She is very good. Some people study for decades and don’t do as well.

Harmony through flowers

Bourland’s accomplishments are notable both for his artistry and tireless efforts to spread the word. Distinct from floral design, she noted, ikebana is a cultural art.

“Natural beauty and poise – this combination is a very important consideration of ikebana,” said Bourland, who values ​​conciseness in art and language.

“When I first came (to the US) a lot of people didn’t know what ikebana means. So I opened them to ikebana.

Bourland’s self-published 2000 book, “Ikebana, Harmony Through Flowers,” was a labor of love for Bourland and her husband, Walt, who did most of the photography.

The aim of the project was to give detailed instructions to future students of Ohara ikebana. It fulfills this objective, both in English and in Japanese. But the 189-page publication could easily be called a tabletop book.

His arrangements are simple but striking at first, gradually becoming more complicated and amazing. All feature key ikebana materials – flowers, branches, and leaves – with most representing a different season of the year.

The concept for the book was born from Bourland’s highly successful 1996 one-woman show at the Handlery Hotel in Mission Valley. Entitled “21st Century Ikebana Concepts”, the three-day gallery-like event showcased more than 50 of his arrangements.

Photos from “21st Century Ikebana Concepts” are highlighted in the last section of the book.

“Akiko’s idea was that maybe more people would come to see ikebana, and maybe more people would join her class,” said Walt Bourland. “And they did! “

Cris Bugarin, who has worked with Bourland for 18 years, said: “I consider Akiko to be my best friend. She is very generous and kind to everyone. We can all see how much she enjoys her job. She makes these amazing arrangements. When we have demonstrations, Akiko takes these huge branches and bends them the way she wants them to look.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Generous, kind and strong

Laurinda Owen had been a student in Bourland’s continuing education classes since 2013. She vividly remembers the class saying goodbye to their retired teacher in June during a Zoom session.

“,“ I said during the pandemic, when there was negativity and bad news, it was so nice to have class. It gave us pleasure and brought us calm.

Cris Bugarin, who has worked with Bourland for 18 years, is herself a former leader of international and local ikebana organizations. She noted that unlike other types of ikebana, the Ohara school focuses on natural materials, geometric angles, and careful use of space.

“The materials are not easy to work with – you have to bend, shape and cut,” Bugarin, 76, said.

“I consider Akiko to be my best friend. She is very generous and kind to everyone. We can all see how much she enjoys her job. She makes these amazing arrangements. When we have demonstrations, Akiko takes these huge branches and bends them the way she wants them to look.

“You have to be very strong. And she is 92 years old!

Bourland’s family encouraged her to retire from her continuing education classes in June, which also meant a welcome retirement for her husband, who took care of administrative duties.

The couple have three children, Rose, Ron and Renee, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

“My family is concerned about my health,” said Bourland, who has led workshops and demonstrations in Boston, Philadelphia and other cities throughout his career.

“So I decided to stop teaching at school. But I still want to work a little more!

Akiko Bourland

Not: Appointed Akiko Hayashi in Gotemba City, Japan, May 8, 1929.

Education: Graduated from high school in Yokohama, Japan, in 1948; graduated as an instructor from the Sasebo chapter (Japan) of the Ohara school of Ikebana in 1968.

Achievements: Founded the San Diego chapter of the Ohara School of Ikebana in 1973 and served as its president for 35 years. For many years, Akiko Bourland has provided regular ikebana arrangements to the Japanese Consulate in San Diego and the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park, which hosted many of her demonstrations.

Acknowledgement: Obtained a teaching certificate from California Community College in 1975; honored by the House of San Diego of Japan for the promotion of Japanese culture in 1985; selected by International Ikebana at Tokyo headquarters for life membership in 1990; received a Grandmaster’s Certificate from the Ohara School of Ikebana in Japan in 1996; proclaimed “Founder Advisor” by the Ohara school in Japan, the only American to have received this title, in 2008; received the Phillips Community Award from the Japan Society of San Diego and Tijuana for improving cultural ties between the people of Japan, San Diego and Tijuana, in 2012; was awarded the San Diego Asian Heritage Award for Excellence in Art and Literature in 2012; was appointed conference chair for the 19th annual meeting of the Ohara National Teachers Association, which was canceled due to the pandemic.

Wood is a freelance writer.


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