When Emiko Suzuki arrived in Western North Carolina eight years ago, she brought with her a deep passion for her native Japan’s centuries-rich culture. Her father, a painter, had created a cultural center in their hometown in southeastern Japan, to pass on traditional Japanese art and craft to younger generations. Suzuki herself had, for many years, been studying the ritual of the tea ceremony and Ikebana — the Japanese art of minimalist, geometric flower arranging using various parts of the plant (including twigs and leaves). This month, Suzuki realizes a long-held dream by opening theWestern North Carolina Japanese Culture Center, on 5th Avenue near downtown Hendersonville.
Suzuki came here as a “Japan Outreach” coordinator, a job supported by the Japan Foundation in Tokyo. For two years, she delivered programs about Japanese culture in local schools. “I taught origami, Japanese songs, Ikebana and the tea ceremony,” she says. Her new cultural center will offer many of the same activities, along with an expanded program Suzuki is fine-tuning during the center’s opening months. “I have some ideas that I will offer space for exhibitors or other culture workshops besides Ikebana and the tea ceremony,” she says. “I may have some Japanese movie nights to share my favorite Japanese films with local people.”
The idea for the center grew slowly during Suzuki’s first years here, flowering via her studies at Western Carolina University, which awarded her an MFA in ceramics and mixed media. She produced all of her work for her degree in her own ceramics studio, set up at home, where she also taught classes in Ikebana and served as an adviser to the Blue Ridge chapter of Japan’s oldest school of Ikebana, where Suzuki received her training before leaving for the U.S.
“There are more than 3,000 different Ikebana schools in Japan, but Ikenobo, my school in Japan, is the oldest,” she confirms. “We celebrated our 550th anniversary in 2012.”
As the number of her students grew, space at home became cramped. But then two occurrences sparked the creation of the new center. One was encouragement from Suzuki’s husband of five years, Manabu Suzuki, whom she met in Hendersonville but who comes from Nagoya, Japan’s port city near Suzuki’s own hometown.
“While I was wondering if I should decide to start the business of the Japanese Cultural Center, my husband pushed me,” Suzuki says. “He said to me that if I don’t take one step ahead, I am just looking like a pretty picture of Mochi” — a traditional Japanese type of rice cake, decorated and eaten only at festive occasions. “He advised me to move on.”
Then serendipity struck when the couple’s neighbor, who owns the Hendersonville Flower Market on 5th Avenue, mentioned to Suzuki that there was space for rent in the building. A traditional Tatami room is now under construction to serve as the setting for students of the tea ceremony, which Suzuki intends to teach twice a month, as soon as the new room is completed. She already offers two-hour weekly Ikebana classes.
The center is very much a family enterprise, launched with Emiko and Manabu’s own resources and with no outside funding other than lesson and workshop fees. Manabu serves as president and Emiko as director.
“I often do workshops and demonstrations in different states around the country, so that income will also help to run the business,” she says, adding that she also might apply for nonprofit status. Since the local Ikebana society has been located in Hendersonville for more than 20 years, and since the center is a short drive from Greenville, S.C. — a city with a significant Japanese population — “I think Hendersonville is a great place to have this,” she adds.
She hopes Hendersonville will embrace the complexity and delicacy of her native country’s heritage. “The outreach-coordinator position was my ideal job, and I have been dreaming of sharing Japanese culture for a long time,” says Suzuki. “We wish that many people will come to the center. I believe it will bring much richness to their lives.”
The Western North Carolina Japanese Culture Center opens this month at 629 5th Avenue West in Hendersonville, 828-226-2979
For information about weekly ikebana lessons as well as instruction in the Japanese tea ceremony and other upcoming programs, contact Emiko Suzuki at email@example.com.