When Fine Arts professor Yukio Ozaki creates art, it is as if he is in a sacred space. A space of silence electrified by thought. Patient anticipation precipitates into a decisive idea that acts, causing material elements to move, form and change.
“Every art form started as a gift to God,” he said as he shook a banyan branch taller than himself during a recent demonstration of Ikebana for the Marianist Educational Associates (MEAs).
Ozaki paused. Despite the crowded room, he connected with a hidden quietness in himself. Decisively he stepped towards the large ceramic vase, held the branch to the ceiling and with a loud, cleansing breath, suddenly slammed the branch into the prepared vase. Stepping back, he determined that it was good. “A gift to God,” he proclaimed and named it.
Keeping in mind the requested “heaven and earth” theme, Ozaki created three unique floral arrangements.
Early that morning before the demonstration, he completed his first arrangement. Using flowers from the field tied to the tip of a bamboo branch, he fastened the bamboo to a palm tree near Henry Hall. The arrangement presented itself to the heavens like a banner. It heralded creation without fanfare or need for human approval.
The second arrangement was the banyan branch placed into the vase with a robust spirit.
During the third arrangement, Ozaki interacted with the audience, answering questions and sharing his method. Discussion ensued on the differences between Western and Japanese perspectives made evident through decisions in the creation process. As he taught, he sorted through his collection of yard cuttings and scrutinized with a hidden agenda. Chosen pieces were pruned for structure and line. Ozaki navigated his way through light and space, creating balance with placement. He deliberately ordered along dark branch lines intermittent moments of orange seed pods, green teardrop leaves and gray lichen grasping at banyan bark.
When he was young and still living in Japan, Ozaki considered teaching Ikebana as a possible career choice but found that was not the right fit for him. “When I quit lessons from my teacher in Ohara School of Flower Arrangement system in 1966, I thought I wasted more than five years of my life trying to become a flower-arrangement teacher to make a living. But the intensive training gave me an incredibly comprehensive foundation in aesthetics, material, design, history and culture,” recalled Ozaki. “The most profound philosophy I learned from my teacher was: ‘don’t arrange with your hands; arrange with your feet.’ By that, she meant: ‘Know where you can get the right material at any time when you need it’.”
Working with Ikebana taught him something else. It revealed how he did not want to teach. Consider it part of the pruning process. His early career experience and what he thought of as failure shaped his style of teaching.
“Now, in education, I don’t teach. This is very different from the way I learned flower arrangement. It was always very painful to see my teacher take apart my arrangement in lessons and change my work so completely to her arrangement,” he shared.
Later in a sculpture class at the University of Hawaii, he felt validated when his professor said, “There is nothing more awful than seeing an instructor in the students’ work.”
The beloved teacher shared on his calling as a teacher. “I am convinced that God gave me a second chance in life through becoming an educator at Chaminade. I’m so blessed that there was a purpose for someone like myself,” said Ozaki modestly. “It has been my educational motto that I facilitate my students’ learning, not teaching.”
His teaching manner connected with faculty in the room. “As I watched you carefully and thoughtfully prune the branches and leaves and flowers during the Ikebana demonstration, I realized this is how you teach,” wrote Joan Riggs, director of the Environmental + Interior Design program, in a thank-you email. “You meticulously examine your students’ work and guide them to discover and to discern what is relevant and meaningful and what can be discarded or re-used in a different way. I see all of this as an effort to seek the beauty and wonder of God in all things and circumstances. Your resulting arrangement was unique, interesting and thought-provoking. I see this in you and in the work your students produce.”
Ozaki joined Chaminade’s faculty in the fall of 1986 and continues to teach ceramics and 3D-design. Since 1973 he established himself as an artist mainly in the medium of ceramics and wood. His artwork has been exhibited in museums and in prestigious art exhibitions nationally and internationally, as well as in Hawaii.
Named as a Living Treasure of Hawaiʻi by Honpa Hongwanji of Hawaiʻi, Ozaki is not only a renowned artist, he is a renowned teacher. He was the first recipient of the Fr. Bolin Faculty Scholarship Award and recognized nationally by the Carnegie Foundation as Professor of the Year. He received the Chaminade Award for Commitment to Marianist Values as well as the Outstanding Tenured Faculty Award. In 2005, he inspired the addition of the Jean E. Rolles and Kiki Tidwell Ceramics Studio and Sculpture Garden between Eiben Hall and the Sullivan Family Library.
For Ozaki, creating art and teaching are sacred spaces. Each is done as an offering to God.