It is Friday night at 11:30pm in September 2007 in Seattle. I am at my desk at this late hour for how many days in a row? And how many weekends have I spent in this office? The software company I have been running for the past 7 years signed a MOU with a possible acquirer and a rigorous due diligence started. In addition to answering over 200 questions from the possible acquirer, I took up on our controller’s job because she is now on maternity leave. How would I be able to do all that?

That’s when I had a craving for practicing Ikebana, a form of traditional Japanese flower arranging, again. I haven’t thought about Ikebana in years. Shortly after I moved to the US to pursue my career in high tech, I took an Ikebana class for the first time. Funny, Ikebana was one of two things that I refused to learn while I was in Japan (the other one was tea ceremony). Did I get homesick? Ikebana was fussy and old-fashioned—something that only housewives were expected to practice, not something a modern woman who is pursuing executive career should do. Sure enough, as soon as I got used to the life in the US and exciting entrepreneurship, I dropped out Ikebana completely, until now…

Out of desperation, I called on my old Ikebana teacher after a long interval. At 5pm on every Thursday, no matter how busy, I would get out of my office heading for my Ikebana class. There, I’m able to leave the friction of my life behind. The release was real and immediate, and soon I discovered something surprising. I found that practicing Ikebana was more than a respite from my daily worries. I began seeing things in a new way. I practiced accepting new kinds of beauty in my life. In Ikebana, it’s not just the perfectly realized blossom that gets the attention. The stems and leaves of the plants are just as important. It is about acceptance of the full expression of the plant.

I began finding beauty and acceptance in not just the blossom parts of my life, say signing a deal, but also in the stems and leaves—the due diligence, the negotiations, the paperwork. I began to see these things as part of the full expression of my work life, not just something stressful I had to get through. And this time I was really hooked on Ikebana.

However, my appreciation of the traditional Japanese arts was only just beginning. I went deeper into my study of Ikebana eventually getting my teacher’s license. I also began studying tea ceremony to appreciate taste and smell and dusted off my mother’s kimonos to enjoy the art of dressing. All of these practices have taught me the richness of something called life.

In this super digital and super hectic world, I believe that the Japanese traditional arts can be a strong foundation on which to build a modern, thoughtful, and engaged life. It is my mission and now the mission of the Five Senses Foundation to bring the wisdom of traditional Japanese culture into modern life—both as a way to preserve Japan’s cultural heritage and as way to bring the much needed mindfulness and beauty of these ancient arts into our everyday lives.

 -Akemi Sagawa, Founder of The Five Senses Foundation

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