Mieko Kubota

Mieko Kubota practices various Japanese traditions including ikebana (flower arranging), origami (paper folding), calligraphy and the tea ceremony. A master ikebana artist with over fifty years of experience, she creates arrangements that both adhere to tradition and reflect modern sensibilities. She is a former president of the Miami chapter of Ikebana International and won the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 2010. Mieko is originally from Japan.

The following text, written by anthropologist Laura Ogden, was published in Florida Folklife: Traditional Arts in Contemporary Communities (1998):

Mieko Kubota is an accomplished artist in ikebana, a Japanese method of flower arranging. Well-recognized for her creativity, Kubota teaches and demonstrates ikebana throughout South Florida. She lives with her daughter and her daughter’s small children in a house in Miami, whose entranceway is decked with bonsai formed from blooming bougainvillea and ficus plants. For several years, she has served as an interpreter and tutor for the Dade County school system.

Ikebana, like many traditional Japanese arts, has a history dating back several centuries. Flowers and greenery are arranged both to reflect the artist’s interpretation of natural forces and to create new meanings linked to the non-natural environment. There are many schools of ikebana, which range from the strictly traditional to the various contemporary free-style forms. Kubota’s own style is eclectic. Similar to the manner in which a jazz musician improvises within standard chord changes, she explores personal interpretations of traditional ikebana patterns. Her designs incorporate found objects, experimental containers, native plants and tropical flowers.

Kubota is the local president of the Ikebana International school, which was founded in the United States in the 1950s. The motto of Ikebana International is “friendship through flowers.” In keeping with this motto, Kubota uses ikebana to reach out to others in the community through the beauty of arranged flowers. She has taught ikebana at Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami for several years, as well as at other locations. In addition to teaching, she has demonstrated the art on many occasions. For instance, she donates her time each year to fund- raisers for the Miami Horticultural Society, held at the Miami Museum of Science. One year she demonstrated flower arranging techniques to music, thus creating a performance piece.

Kubota’s perceptions of ikebana parallel her feelings about bonsai, the Japanese art of shaping small shrubs to give the illusion of trees in nature. In 1971 Kubota and her late husband founded a nursery in rural southern Dade County, dedicated to bonsai. She comments that “bonsai teaches you that you must follow the rules of nature. You shape bonsai to emphasize nature’s shape. And there are many styles of bonsai, but nature decides what style it will be.”

Kubota is also a skilled origami artist. In origami, a paper sculpture is created out of a single piece of folded paper, without using scissors, tape, glue or staples. Popular forms are the crane, frog, ship and balloon. Like most folk arts, origami has been passed down through oral instruction and demonstration, with mothers teaching designs to their children. Kubota has passed on this traditional art to her daughter and grandchildren.