IKEBANA INTERNATIONAL, a worldwide nonprofit cultural organization was founded in 1956 in Tokyo by Mrs. Frank A. Allen, Jr., the wife of a United States Army General. The organization, with its motto of “Friendship through Flowers,” is dedicated to perpetuating and spreading the art of Japanese flower arrangement (ikebana) and with it, other facets of Japanese culture. With headquarters in Tokyo, International Board members are nominated by and from the membership of the Tokyo chapter but with their election conducted through votes of all worldwide members. At present (2013) there are 154 chapters and 9 prospective chapters with 7788 members worldwide. A variety of publications are issued from headquarters for distribution to members, such as newsletters, magazines and hana-kagamis (ikebana instruction sheets). World conventions are held every five years in Japan and the North American Regional Conferences are usually held every two years.


In 1959, Mrs. Yasundo Takahashi and Mrs. Alexander D. Calhoun, Jr. each independently started investigating possibilities of establishing an Ikebana International chapter in San Francisco. Mrs. Akira Nishiyama, wife of the then Consul General of Japan and a mutual friend of both women, became very interested in helping organize such a group. On September 18, 1959, Mrs. Nishiyama had a luncheon for a group of ten who she felt would become a most effective working core for this new organization. At this first gathering a preparatory committee was established with Mrs. Takahashi as chairman and Mrs. Calhoun as vice chairman. More interested people were added to this group who began holding meetings, usually at the home of Mrs. Calhoun. On November 25, 1959, the group became an official Potential Chapter.

The first official meeting of the Potential Chapter was a Japanese New Year’s Tea Party at the Consul General’s residence on January 15,1960. By this time the group decided to ask the wife of the Consul General of Japan to be Honorary President and, subsequently, the Cultural Attache of the Consulate General of Japan to be Honorary Patron, positions the Consulate graciously accepted. The group also asked the following to be chapter Teacher Advisors: Mmes. Haruko Obata, Shunei Uchida and Mr. Taizan Fujioka.

The following will give a picture of the first year activities of Chapter 31:

  • January: New Year’s Tea at the Japanese Consul General’s residence with an Ikebana exhibit and demonstration of the proper wearing of a bridal kimono. There were now 100 members.
  • February: Luncheon meeting at Yamato Restaurant featuring ikebana demonstration by Mme. Uchida and announcement of the slate of officers. The San Francisco Garden Center was being constructed at this time and it was decided to join San Francisco Flower Show, Inc. in order to use the Hall of Flowers (a.k.a. SF County Fair Building) as a regular meeting site.
  • March:┬áParticipation in the Japan Society Doll Festival at the deYoung Museum with a presentation of an Ikebana exhibit and tea ceremony.
  • April: Tour of the T. Z. Shiota garden in San Francisco.
  • May: Ikebana demonstration by Rachel Carr at the deYoung Museum.
  • June: Charter proclaiming San Francisco to be I.I. Chapter #31 presented by first International President Fay Kramer (who subsequently moved to San Francisco and became our honorary life member) at the Oakland Garden Center. An election of officers was held followed by demonstration by Headmaster Soko Sen of the Urasenke School of Tea Ceremony. To further celebrate the Chapter, a banquet and an ikebana demonstration by I.I. Headquarters Advisor Norman Sparnon of Australia was given that same evening.
From this beginning we have grown into one of the larger and more active chapters in the world. Now we are involved not only in Chapter functions but community activities as well. Two major community activities are the Ikebana Flower Shows and Ikebana Beautification Programs benefiting numerous community projects. Many donations received by the Ikebana Beautification Program are living memorials and commemorations to relatives and friends with annual presentations to the Strybing Arboretum Botanical Gardens and the Golden Gate Park.

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