Leisure Traditional Culture

Ikebana (flower arrangement)

Hello how are you doing?  Well, I’d like to talk about one of three classical Japanese arts “Cool Japan” of refinement today; “Ikebana” (flower arrangement).

What are three classical Japanese arts of refinement, then?

One is “kado“, “Ikebana” both of which have a long history behind them, dating back to the 7th century when floral offerings were made at altars. Later, they were placed in the tokonoma (alcove) of a home.

Kakejiku(hanging scroll), Ikebana(flower arrangement) on the Tokonoma(alcove)

At that time, people believe that plants play an important role in the native Shinto religion, along with ideas derived from animism.

Let’s take “Yorishiro” for example, they are objects that divine spirits are summoned to. Evergreen plants such as kadomatsu are a traditional decoration of the New Year placed in pairs in front of homes to welcome ancestral spirits or kami of the harvest.

Kadomatsu at the entrance on New Year’s Day, but opportunities have gradually been deceasing to see them nowadays.

Besides Kadō, kōdō for incense appreciation and “chadōfor tea and the tea ceremony.

What’s Ikebana or Kado?

The origin of word, etymology of “Ikebana” is from the Japanese ikeru (to arrange flowers, have life, be living) and hana (flower). Possible translations include “giving life to flowers” and “arranging flowers”.

Ikebana had its origin in early Buddhist flower offerings and developed into a distinctive art form from the 15th century, with many styles and schools.

Ikebana reached its first zenith in the 16th century under the influence of Buddhist tea masters and has grown over the centuries, with over 1,000 different schools in Japan and abroad.

The attention give to the choice of plant material and container, the placement of the branches, and the relationship of the branches to the container and surrounding space distinguished this art from purely decorative uses of flowers.


Traditional Ikebana and schools

Buddhist ritual flower offerings were introduced to Japan from China early in the 7th century by Ono no Imoko, from whom the Ikenobo school of arranging claims descent.

“Ikenobo”, “Sogetsu-ryu”, “Ohara-ryu”, These three schools are typical schools of Japan, and are called “three large schools”. It is said that Ikenobo established ikebana in this, and it becomes the oldest school. The principles and techniques that have been passed down from time to time will be completely passed down by each school.

The name of Ikenobo originates from the story that that was established by a monk at Rokkakudo temple in Kyoto. It seems to have been named “Ikenobo” because this monk (“bo“) lived by the pond (“ike“) for generations.


The important “three element” offering placed in fron of a Buddhist image consisted of an incense burner flanked by a candlestick and a vase of flowers. from the three element tradition developed the style known as rikka (standing flowers), a more sophisticated arrangement that sought to reflect the majesty of nature and from which all later schools of Japanese flower arrangement derive.

In the late 16th century, a new form of flower arrangement called nageire (to throw or fling into) emerged for use in the tea ceremony.

An austere and simple form was required for chabana a general term for flower arrangements used in the TEA CEREMONY, in which a single vase might hold only one flower disposed with deceptively simple elegance.

The late 17th century saw the emergence of a thriving merchant class and a shift away from aristocratic and priestly forms of flower arrangement.

A growing demand for simplification of the increasingly contrived rikka styles gave rise to a new form of arrangement called shaka or seika (living flowers), basically consisting of three main branches arranged in an asymmetrical triangle.

The ideal in shoka was to convey the plant’s essence. Shoka combined the dignity of rikka with the simplicity of nageire, and by the end of the 18th century it had become the most popular style.

flower arrangement

Modern Ikebana

After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, traditional Japanese arts, including ikebana, were temporarily overwhelmed by enthusiasm for Western culture.

In the late 19th century, however, there was a revival of ikebana when Ohara Unshin (18861-1916), founder of the Ohara school, introduced his moribana (piled-up flowerw) style.

flower arrangement
Sougetsu Ikebana Moribana upright

In the late Taisho (1912-1926) and early Showa (1926-1989) peiods, the foundations of modern Ikebana were held in the work of Ohara Koun (1880-1938) and Adachi Choka (1887-1969), among others.

Up until about 1930, Ikebana was taught exclusively by private instructors in upper-class homes, but now masters began to concentrate on developing Ikebana schools that could attract large numbers of students from all social classes.

flower arrangement

In the postwar era, avant-garde Ikebana,, spearheaded by Sogetsu school founder Teshigahara Sofu (1900-1979), Ohara Houn (1908-1995), and Nakayama Bumpo (1899-1986), revolutionized the materials considered acceptable.

These artists used not only live flowerw and grasses but also plastic, plaster, and steel to express surrealistic and abstract concepts in their arrangements.

flower arrangement

Today, therte are approximately 3,000 Ikebana schools in Japan. The most popular styles are the Ikenobo, Ohara, and Sogetsu.

Before World War Ⅱ, foreign interest in, and knowledge of, Ikebana was scant. After the war, however, Ikebana became popular with the wives of Allied military officers stationed in Japan, and many returned home as certified teachers, bringing the influence of Ikebana to untold numbers of student abroad.

flower arrangement

About the author

古林 茂樹(Shigeki Furubayashi )