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Japanese Flower Art Helps Calm a Frantic Moscow

was founded in Japan in 1927 to free the art from its very strict rules, allowing the use of everyday objects: from nails to multicoloured coat buttons.

With a curriculum controlled from Tokyo, the school today boasts 200 pupils in Moscow. Olga also travels across Russia, where followers of the discipline are relatively young, often decorators keen to improve their skills. Her colleague from Japan -- Yamada Sensei as her students call her -- teaches the very traditional Ikenobo school. "One does not simply arrange a flower in Ikebana, it is absolutely necessary that there are branches and leaves," she explained.

Before coming to Moscow, Yamada spent years in Japan teaching the art of the teas ceremony, flower arrangement and painting -- before suddenly giving up on her harmonious life at 54 to learn Russian in Moscow.

"I began to think, 'I have such a calm life, it's not good. My brain is growing dull,'" she said. Arriving in late January 1991, she moved into a freezing hostel amid the food shortages of the dying days of the Soviet Union, which would cease to exist in December that year.

Invited by chance to teach Ikebana, already very popular in the Soviet Union through the support of the Japanese authorities, she jumped at the chance. Throughout the turmoil of the post-Soviet transformation, her life has remained dominated by the ancient arts. Most days she ends a class with a tea ceremony in a room that whisks its visitors to Japan with its simple decor and traditional Tatamis floor covering.

She leads the women, in light summer kimonos, in silence through each gesture of the ritual, filling her small corner of the Russian megalopolis with a perfect calm.




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