Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement also known as kadou, is a three dimensional figurative art. It changes the atmosphere of a space by giving life to seasonal flowers, branches and leaves. Ikebana emphasizes the harmony of flowers, combination of colors and elegantly simple design. Although ikebana is a creative expression, there are temporal and spatial restrictions because ikebana mostly uses plants that are alive. These restrictions mark a significant difference between ikebana and other art works. Unique ikebana is created when one concentrates on one’s work by putting one’s thoughts and feelings into plants, which one can only see at the moment.

The Origin of Ikebana

Ikebana has been handed down from teachers to students over the centuries. Although its origin is not certain, it could be traced to yorishiro, which is a spiritual ritual of Shinto, and kuge, which is one of

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the Buddhist traditions. In ancient times, Shinto Gods were believed to appear on the top of tall trees or huge rocks. Therefore, people tried to invite them by hanging evergreen branches at high places. This ritual

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is called yorishiro. Kuge is a tradition of offering flowers to the statues of Buddha in a ritual that originated in China, and was brought to Japan as the introduction of Buddhism. An interesting thing is that ikebana has its origin in the adoration or fear of supernatural power and an uncontrollable nature.

The Development of Ikebana

The style of ikebana was completed in the Muromachi period (1338-1573), although the Japanese had enjoyed the beauty of plants and flowers far before that era. The Muromachi period was a time when traditional Japanese culture, such as tea ceremony and noh, established their styles, while paintings, architecture and gardening technique evolved greatly. In the middle of the 15th century when Japan was ruled by the shoguns of the Ashikaga clan, a new architectural style called shoin zukuri became popular. It forms the basis of current traditional-style Japanese houses. The main reception room is characterized by specific features: a recessed alcove (tokonoma), staggered shelves (chigaidana), built-in desks (shoin), and sliding doors. Ikebana changed its style in conjunction with the transition of traditional Japanese houses. After the emergence of shoin zukuri, flowers were placed on the tokonoma instead of a portable place, which gradually led ikebana away from religious rituals. In the Edo period (1603-1867), ikebana became common enough that they were appreciated not only by high level people, but also by ordinary people. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), ikebana, which was once a male art form, opened the door to women, and this big shift helped ikebana become widespread and popular.

Modern Ikebana

Japanese lifestyle has changed dramatically since the Meiji period. After World War II, places incorporating the ikebana style were no longer limited to tokonoma because Japanese people were influenced by Western culture, and the number of houses without traditional Japanese rooms with tatami (Japanese mats) or tokonoma increased.The development of planting methods and transportation systems made it possible to use various kinds of flowers to decorate them in many places. Ikebana is not displayed within the home, and it could also be found in outside commercial spaces and showcases at exhibitions. Therefore, nowadays ikebana even plays a role in contemporary artwork beyond traditional art.

TheTools for Ikebana

In the course of the development of ikebana, a unique tool called kenzan was created. It is an iron flower holder, which enables the fixing of branches or flowers in whatever position one desires. As Ikebana is also displayed in outdoor spaces, various other tools are used, such as chain saws, drills, and even floral foams that are used for Western style flower arrangement. As for vases, one can use not only traditional flower bowls, pots or vases but also various unconventional containers, or if preferred, none at all. Hence, it is considered all one needs for ikebana is, in a sense, a pair of scissors.

Training and Schools

Continual training is required to acquire the necessary skills, such as using spaces effectively, expressing feelings in a sophisticated way, knowing the traits of each flower, and using techniques to put flowers together so as to exemplify their beauty.These techniques have been developed and inherited over centuries, and it is not easy to master them without proper instruction. It is therefore recommended to repeatedly practice with your teacher. There may be as many as 300 schools of ikebana, and each school attempts to keep its own tradition and value. Each teacher tries to hand down the attitude toward ikebana and the mind of desire for truth as well as its techniques to the next generation. Recently, ikebana has been gaining popularity as a way of expressing personal feelings beyond the formal or traditional styles. There are many ikebana schools and exhibitions outside of Japan as well. In the United States, ikebana lovers range from Japanese natives to people with diverse cultural backgrounds.

Text: Rena Suno Information from Akiyo Sano (Sogetsu School: http://www.sogetsu-ny.org) Sogetsu School, which is one of the famous ikebana schools, has its network all over the United States. The members are actively working based on the unique idea that ikebana can be arranged anytime, anywhere, by anyone, and with any material. Assistant: Senna Abe