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Shizuka Ryokan is hosting Leanne from Kimono House in 2020

Boro at Shizuka Ryokan

Sunday 9th February 2020

Shizuka Ryokan will celebrate Japanese textiles in February when Leanne O’Sullivan returns to teach a one-day boro workshop. Boro is a type of Japanese mending.

Spend a relaxed day with Leanne learning how to hand-stitch, mend & quilt layers of recycled cloth to give them new life in the traditional Japanese way.

Be inspired by Leanne’s personal collection of vintage Japanese boro textiles and discover how boro is being stitched by artisans in Tokyo today. All materials will be provided including vintage kimono cloth with Japanese threads, needles and thimble – everything you need to create your own textile treasures to wear or have in you home.

About the teacher

Leanne first visited Japan in the 1980s, where she lived and worked for 5 years. It was during this time that she became interested in Japanese textiles, and the kimono in particular.

“Whilst living in Japan I was constantly inspired by the extreme contrasts around me—everywhere I looked there seemed to be a mix of traditional and contemporary co-existing beautifully.”

This contrast is evident in Leanne’s pieces, which combine new and vintage fabric, and traditional and contemporary design. These days, Leanne runs Kimono House Japanese Textiles & Craft —where she trades Japanese textiles and craft kits, teaches workshops and exhibits her collection of Japanese textiles.

To learn more about boro you can read the blog post on Shizuka Ryokan’s Japanese culture blog.

Shizuka Ryokan's in-house ikebana practitioner, Trish Ward.

Ikebana : Japanese traditions

I’m at Shizuka Ryokan watching Trish Ward arrange plants in a Japanese ceramic vase destined for the coffee table. It is a Wednesday. Shizuka, closed for the day, is a hive of activity—there are deliveries for the kitchen, a Japanese yoga teacher meeting with the owner to plan a future workshop, a bearded artist up a ladder painting, a gardener, Cleo the dog, Hugo the horse, even a kookaburra on the deck. But despite the mayhem, Trish is calm and focused. She has entered the flow state.

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging. It dates back to 7th century Japan, when floral tributes were made at Buddhist altars. Later ikebana was displayed in the home. Guests at Shizuka Ryokan are often delighted to discover an ikebana floral arrangement in the tokonoma—alcove—of their room.

Trish is Shizuka Ryokan’s in-house ikebana practitioner and the mother of Shizuka owner Catherine Defina. Trish has been creating ikebana arrangements for over 20 years. She is a member of the modern Sogetsu school, founded in 1927 by Teshigahara Sofu and based in Tokyo.  

Buddhist priests were the early ikebana masters and the art form was heavily influenced by tea masters. Trish says, ‘Samurai warriors used to do ikebana before and after battle to calm themselves. Women were not allowed to do it. It was a men-only thing.’

Plants play an important role in Trish’s life. Her home garden includes plenty of interesting flowers and foliage, ‘That is common among ikebana people. Whatever they grow, they think “ikebana”. The idea is to be able to go into your garden and just pick flowers and arrange them. It is as simple as that.’

Ikebana ties in beautifully with the awareness and appreciation of the seasons that underpins much of Japanese culture.

Norman Sparnon brought ikebana to Australia in the 1960s. Sparnon was born in Melbourne and as a youth became interested in Japanese culture. During World War II, he served in Japan under General Douglas Macarthur. After the war, he stayed in Japan for twelve years, studying ikebana under Kobayashi Sensei of the Einghin School and later with Sofu Teshigahara, founder of the Sogetsu School.

Sparnon returned to Australia, and dedicated the rest of his life to cultivating a cultural exchange between Australia and Japan. He lived in Sydney but would travel down to teach ikebana in Hawthorn Town Hall once a month.

Trish spent some time living in Indonesia, where she would see ikebana demonstrations at the American Embassy. ‘I quite liked it but with children I didn’t have time for such things.’ Years passed. Back in Australia, a friend took Trish to the American Embassy in Canberra for an ikebana demonstration and she was enchanted. Trish finally learned ikebana from a teacher called Teresa Feile in the Dandenong Ranges. Feile was a former student of Sparnon.

Today, there are over 1000 different schools of ikebana around the world and five schools of ikebana in Melbourne, under the umbrella of Ikebana International.

Trish is arranging a West Australian native as we speak. Trish has to select plants suited to the ryokan environment. ‘With the warmth in the guestrooms here, you need things to last.’ She points to a plant, ‘This is the Xanthorrhoea, the Grass Tree, commonly called Kangaroo Tail.’

Australian natives are a recent addition to the ikebana world, previously reliant upon European flowers. ‘There is a change in the whole culture. I think the Japanese use a lot of our natives so that has probably filtered through. But,’ Trish motions to the Grass Tree, ‘they are more difficult to use. There is lots of foliage on them. You’ve really got to thin it out because, in ikebana, less is more.’

Watching Trish thin out Australian native plants in a traditional Japanese way captures Shizuka Ryokan perfectly—a brilliant synergy of the Australian bush and Japanese tradition.

‘I just get lost in it. You fiddle around. And the next thing, an hour is gone. You gradually get an eye for it.’

The ikebana on display at Shizuka is free-style. Aside from Australian natives, Trish also incorporates fruit or vegetables. The spa treatment room at Shizuka is sometimes perfumed by a citrus fruit called a Buddha’s hand, or enlivened by the bright orange of a persimmon. (The weirdest thing that Trish has used in ikebana is the head gasket of an old car.)

Ikebana is very different to western floral art but like other traditional art forms, it is only after you have mastered the basics that you can let your creativity run wild. The old adage ‘You’ve got to know the rules to break them’ applies here. Trish did strict formal arrangements for the first five years. ‘Even though you are doing free-style, you’re still going back to the basics—the shin-soe-hikae.’

Shin-soe-hikae are the three elements of an ikebana arrangement. Shin tends to be the longest branch, soe is medium length and hikae is the shortest and closest to the base.

 We are very lucky to have Trish here at Shizuka Ryokan. She loves ikebana, ‘The colour, the shape, everything. It sort of all goes together.’

Ikebana International hosts annual exhibitions. The Sogetsu School exhibits at the Hawthorn Town Hall every year. You can also see Trish’s work every week at Seasons Restaurant at Cloudehill Gardens and every year at the Royal Melbourne Flower and Garden Show.

Shizuka Ryokan is hosting a boro workshop in 2020

Boro: Japanese traditions

Boro are a type of Japanese textiles that have been mended or patched. The name comes from boroboro—meaning something tattered or repaired. Boro encapsulates the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. The hemp fabric reflects the beauty of daily wear-and-tear.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), hemp was more available in Japan than cotton. (Fabrics made from silk and cotton were reserved for the upper classes.) Boro came to mean clothing worn by the peasant farming classes, who mended their clothing out of necessity.

Boro clothing was handed down from generation to generation, and over time would resemble  patchwork due to the many mended layers. The boro hemp was often dyed using the plant Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctorium). Most boro pieces are a rich deep blue colour.

After the Meiji period (1868-1912), living standards in Japan increased, and most boro were discarded. Many of the boro artifacts that remain are thanks to the foresight of Chuzaburo Tanaka, who collected over 20,000 pieces.

These days, as interest in sustainability and slow fashion grows, people are rediscovering the art of boro repair.

SAORI weaving on a loom at Shizuka Ryokan

SAORI: Japanese traditions

At Shizuka Ryokan, we host retreats and workshops with a focus on Japanese tradition. One such retreat is the SAORI weaving workshop. Several times each year, Prue Simmons arrives fresh from her llama farm and dyeing studio, to teach people the art of SAORI weaving.

In Japanese the word SAORI comes from sai–individuality, and ori–weaving.

The philosophy of SAORI is an interesting one. In traditional hand weaving an irregular thread is considered a mistake. In SAORI things are very different; the weaver is encouraged to make mistakes. 

SAORI weavers follow four slogans:
1) Consider the differences between a machine and a human being
2) Be bold and adventurous
3) Let’s look out through eyes that shine
4) Inspire one another, and everyone in the group

Japan is renowned for the wabi-sabi philosophy, loosely defined as a world view centered on the acceptance of imperfection. The wabi-sabi aesthetic is in evidence at Shizuka Ryokan. For example, upon arrival guests receive green tea in an irregularly shaped Japanese cup. The style of the Japanese pottery is called hagi ware; the cup is rustic and simple looking, with unrefined textures and is beautiful because it is flawed. The philosophy of SAORI weaving is the same. SAORI weavers celebrate accidents, unexpected colours and textures.

Misao Jo invented SAORI in the late sixties. She was weaving an obi, a Japanese belt, and found that one of the threads was missing. Looking at the belt she realised that the mistake was pleasing to behold. She showed it to a person running a weaving factory who dismissed it as flawed and worthless but this did not deter Misao who had an inherent sense of the value of the handmade object. She deliberately made a belt with many flaws and showed it to the owner on an obi shop in Osaka who thought it was wonderful.

Misao thought that the aesthetic quality of the flawed obi must be the result of something hidden within herself. She realised that the obi’s beauty was a result of escaping conventional thinking in order to express herself. The philosophy of SAORI was born.

To learn more about the SAORI workshop, or other workshops on offer at Shizuka Ryokan, please visit out Retreats and Workshops page.

Macrobiotic salad of pomegranate, radish and carrot prepared by Lars Skalman

Macrobiotics: Japanese traditions

At Shizuka Ryokan, we host many retreats and workshops throughout the year. One that we are very excited about is the 2019 Seasonal Summer Yoga Retreat. Over three days in November, Cate Peterson and Lars Skalman will be at Shizuka Ryokan teaching Japanese yoga and macrobiotic cooking. (The beautiful photograph accompanying this post is from a collection of macrobiotic recipes by Lars Skalman.)

Many people are familiar with yoga (learn more about Japanese yoga here), but they may not know what macrobiotics is. Here is a brief introduction.

George Oshawa, is seen as the father of macrobiotics. Ohsawa recovered from tuberculosis in 1911 using a seasonal wholefoods diet recommended to him by Dr Ishizuka. Dr Ishizuka had a theory that good health was the result of the correct balance of potassium, sodium, acid and alkaline in the diet.

The macrobiotic diet was popularised by Oshawa in the 1930s. Ohsawa trained students, including Michio and Aveline Kushi, who spread the ideas of macrobiotics throughout the West.

In the late 1970s, there was an explosion of interest in traditional medicine around the world (perhaps helped along by the handsome Bruce Lee). Westerners studied traditional eastern philosophies and practices such as shiatsu, martial arts, nine-ki astrology, reiki, meditation, the I Ching, Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, ta’i chi and macrobiotics.

Macrobiotics is based on the idea that each of us is responsible for our own health. A macrobiotic diet is a pescatarian (or sometimes vegetarian or vegan) diet. It is based upon Zen Buddhist concepts about food. The macrobiotic diet attempts to balance the yin and yang elements of food and cookware.

The macrobiotic diet aims to reduce animal products, eat locally grown foods which are in season, and eat in moderation. Macrobiotics favours locally grown wholegrain cereals, pulses, vegetables, seaweeds, fermented soy products and fruit. For example, soba noodles (buckwheat flour), umeboshi plum and bancha tea are recommended.

Members of the nightshade family such as tomatoes, capsicums, potatoes and eggplant are used sparingly as they are considered to be extremely yin. Cooking utensils should be made from wood or glass, non-stick coating and plastics are avoided.

If you are keen to learn more about macrobiotics, and to see it is a modern-day context, why not come along to the Summer Seasonal Yoga Retreat. You’ll learn from the experts how to prepare seasonal macrobiotic dishes such as beetroot and arame pickles, salt and pepper tofu with black bean sauce, sweet rice pudding and vegetable pakoras. YUM!

About Us – Seasonal Yoga Treats

Shizuka Ryokan has many cherry blossoms

Flower walks through Tokyo

Spring is just around the corner at Shizuka Ryokan, the blossoms are budding, and excitement is building.

Japanese tradition honours the seasons and the natural world. In the book A Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo, Sumiko Enbutsu explores fifteen iconic flowering plants. Enbutsu writes, ‘Of all the natural phenomena, nothing marks the seasons more than flowers.’

The author explains the historical and cultural background of each species, and outlines walking routes of Japan’s capital that take in the best spots and seasons to enjoy the blooms.

A Flower Lover’s Guide opens with the sakura—the cherry blossom, revered in Japan for its beauty and transience. Hanami is the Japanese tradition of admiring the blossoms in spring—usually cherry, and sometimes plum.

If you can’t make it to Japan in spring 2020 don’t despair—of the fifteen flowers in A Flower Lover’s Guide, eleven are growing at Shizuka Ryokan: cherry blossom, azalea, tree peony, wisteria, iris, morning glory, maple, pine, narcissus, plum blossom and camellia.

ryokan Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lorenzoviolone/

Shizuka Ryokan newsletter

As well as a Japanese culture blog, Shizuka Ryokan publishes a newsletter four times per year. The latest newsletter was published on winter solstice, an auspicious day in Japan. On the shortest day of the year people in Japan take yuzu baths and eat pumpkin for good luck. You can read the latest newsletter here. And if you like what you see, please subscribe. The Spring Equinox is just around the corner!

SAORI weaving on a loom at Shizuka Ryokan

SAORI retreat at Shizuka Ryokan

Thursday 24th – Sunday 27th October 2019 SOLD OUT
Thursday 20th – Sunday 23rd February 2020 Tickets available

Shizuka Ryokan will be rife with creativity and sustainability this October when Prue Simmons returns to teach a three-day SAORI workshop. SAORI is a type of Japanese weaving.

Prue Simmons is the founder of the Dyeing to Weave Studio, and is one of just three SAORI teachers in Australia. She was taught traditional Japanese weaving and natural dye techniques by Toyomi Harada in the mountains on Honshu, Japan.

Prue is interested in sustainability, natural dyes, up-cycling and environmentally friendly textiles. Prue and her partner run White Stone Farm in Central Victoria. On the farm they raise llamas and use their fleece to weave beautiful pieces.

To learn more about SAORI you can read the blog post on Shizuka Ryokan’s Japanese culture blog.


Please note: The October 2019 SAORI workshop has SOLD OUT. Please contact Shizuka Ryokan if you are interested in attending the next SAORI workshop: Thursday 20th February  – Sunday 23rd February 2020

Woodcut by Hiroshige depcting maple leaves

Maple Viewing: Japanese traditions

Momijigari–maple viewing–is the tradition of visiting areas where the maple trees have turned red.  The Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) at Shizuka Ryokan are exploding with colour this month. There are a variety of maple species growing at Shizuka Ryokan, in a range of colours—from blood red through to subtle bronze.

At Shizuka, we have come to realise that the Japanese maple tree is a wonder across all seasons. In winter, the trees have no leaves and the branches are framed against the Hepburn sky. In spring, new growth, flowers and colours appear. In summer, the leaves provide shade for guests (and birds) and in autumn, the fall of the leaves marks the ephemeral nature of existence.

Shizuka Ryokan’s gardens are a place to reflect. Shizuka Ryokan features a tsubo-niwa, or courtyard garden, an essential part of traditional ryokans. The architecture of Shizuka Ryokan is organised around a raked gravel garden that has a maple tree growing out of it. (In Japan, raking gravel took on a symbolic significance for the Buddhist monks–more on that in a future blog post!)

The Japanese maple is native to Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia and Russia, where it grows in mixed and understorey forests.  There are hundreds of varieties, with a wide variation in leaf colour and texture. Maples are prized for their 7-palmed leaves and colours. There are generally two types of tree shape: upright and horizontal.

Botanists have a field day identifying Japanese maples. There are so many different cultivars a system of categorisation has developed. They are divided into 7 groups. 5 of the groups depend on their leaf forms:

  • Amoenum Group: Each leaf is divided up to two-thirds to the leaf base
  • Palmatum Group: Each leaf is divided two-thirds to three-fourths to the leaf base
  • Matsumurae Group: Each leaf is divide more than three-fourths to the leaf base
  • Dissectum Group: Each lead is divided into lobes, which are dissected into sub-lobes
  • Linearilobum Group: Each leaf is divided from the tip to the base into narrow, straplike lobes

(The final 2 groups are dwarf cultivars and cultivars that don’t fit the other groups)

Four leaves from four different species of Japanese maple tree.

Acer palmatum cultivars – From left to right A. palmatum wild type, A. palmatum ‘Amoenum’, and A. palmatum ‘Matsumurae’ (‘Dissectum’ is similar to ‘Matsumurae’) [Photo credit: Abrahami/Creative Commons]

Close up of Iris growing at Shizuka

Irises: Japanese traditions

A blooming Iris in the gardens of Shizuka RyokanThe ancient art of gardening is alive and well at Shizuka Ryokan. Our gardens display a beautiful selection of traditional Japanese plants such as bamboo, ginkgo, persimmon, sakura (cherry blossom), maple, shiso (a herb used in our kitchen), magnolia, Japanese quince and hibiscus. At dusk, the pine trees fill with sulphur-crested cockatoos, and the fruit trees attract fast moving parrots, leaving streaks of the brightest greens and reds. Kangaroos feed on the grass. A kookaburra sits on the wooden bridge at the ryokan entrance, waiting for chef Akiko-san to appear with sashimi. It is this fusion–of Japanese tradition in an Australian setting–that makes a visit to Shizuka Ryokan potent and unique.

This month, the Irises are in bloom. In Japan, Iris cultivation is considered a high art, and the Japanese have developed more than 2000 cultivated varieties. These cultivars display large, beautifully coloured and patterned flowers, with exceptional wide falls (the petals that hang down) and narrow standards (the upright petals).

The name Iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow, an apt name for a species that blooms in a wide range of colours. There are around 300 species of Iris. They are treasured for their large flowers—in colours of blue, purple, maroon or white—and their contrasting pattterns of dots, stripes, veins and edges. Many Iris have ruffled flowers, with multiple floral parts.

There are three species of Iris commonly grown in Japan—hanashobu (Iris ensata), kakitsubata (Iris laevigata) and ayame (Iris sanguinea). Outside of Japan, Iris ensata is referred to as ‘Japanese iris’. It has a bluish purple colour and references to it in Japanese art and literature date back to the 12th century. Iris ensata is native to Japan, China, Korea and Siberia.  It is believed that farmers would plant irises in or near their rice fields because their blooming coincided with the start of the rainy season—the time for transplanting rice plants from seed beds to the fields.


To learn more we recommend The Japanese Garden, a fantastic book written by Sophie Walker.

Utagawa Hiroshige painting of Iris garden.

Utagawa Hiroshige’s painting of an Iris garden. Hiroshige greatly influenced Van Gogh.