Ikebana links son to father lost in 1985 JAL crash

SAKAI-Twenty-nine years ago, Atsunobu Katagiri of Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, lost his father in the 1985 crash of a Japan Airlines jumbo jet, one of the worst accidents in aviation history.

Today, he carries on his father's legacy as an ikebana artist, honoring his father and using his art to help those struck by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

This year, Atsunobu is 41, the same age that his father Yusuke was when he died in the disaster. On the Tuesday anniversary of the crash, Atsunobu commemorated the tragedy by arranging flowers at home with his students, using a drawstring pouch that belonged to his father as a vase.

The JAL crash occurred when Atsunobu was a sixth-grade primary school student. His father was the deputy head of the Misasagi school of ikebana at the time, and was headed back to Sakai after giving lessons to students in Tokyo.

Atsunobu and his family stayed at an inn near a crash site on the Osutaka Ridge in Gunma Prefecture, praying that Yusuke had survived the accident, but his body was found one week later.

Atsunobu said he realized then how fragile life was.

Though he was still young, Atsunobu tried to calmly accept reality. He lived with relatives in the United States during high school and college. When he was 21, he was told that his grandfather, the founder of the Misasagi school, did not have much time left to live. Atsunobu returned to Japan, and took up ikebana for the first time in his life.

He studied pictures of his father's work to learn the art, and was impressed by the originality of his work, including a five-meter-tall piece made with about 100 varieties of grass and flowers. Atsunobu remembered how his father would concentrate as he arranged flowers late at night.

Thinking that his father would have wanted to keep creating ikebana works, Atsunobu decided to dedicate his life to the same world. In 1997, at the age of 24, he became the head of the Misasagi ikebana school. He now has about 100 students.

At the request of the Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art, Atsunobu took part in activities using art to support areas hit hard by the 2011 disaster. He arranged flowers with objects that drifted ashore after the disaster, including a buoy from a fishing boat, a boot and a car. When he posted pictures of his creations on his Facebook page, he received many responses.

His father used to carry the drawstring pouch as a bag for his pocketbook and wallet. It is stained with soil believed to be from the crash site.

Looking at the pouch, Atsunobu says he feels like he can hear his father saying, "I look forward to seeing how your next piece comes out."