After a celebration at my house, during which I arranged some large bouquets of flowers, I had an idea. I wanted to try out Ikebana! If you are wondering what Ikebana is, I will enlighten you. Ikebana is the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging. Why is it special? Well, instead of mostly relying on the inherent beauty of the flowers, and building bulk in an artistic way to create an arrangement, Ikebana often uses only a few different types of materials to create an aesthetic appeal based primarily on line and composition. In other words, in a more traditional ‘Western’ approach to flower arrangement, I might get a lot of different flowers, in color combinations I find pleasing, and group them together in a large bunch. In Ikebana, I might use one or possibly two types of flowers, with accent greenery or branches, and focus on how I arrange them within the space they are intended for.
Disclaimer: I have never taken a class on Ikebana, nor have I talked to anyone who practices, teaches, or has been taught about Japanese flower arranging. However, I own a book and the internet!! So, a little backstory about Ikebana.
Flower arranging first started in Japan when monks in the 6th century offered flowers to Buddha. Often, this practice continued (and still does) in the home, with an arrangement centered around the in-house alter in aristocratic society. Around the 15th century, Ikebana began to flourish as an art form outside of the monastery and seemed to take it’s inspiration from architecture and religious ideals of harmony. According to Keiko Kubo, and backed up by information I read online, the alcove, or tokonoma, in a traditional Japanese home housed art objects and Ikebana arrangements. The tokonoma is a very important aspect of interior design and is often considered the most important place in the house. With the tokonoma’s growing popularity, the aesthetic design and prominence of Ikebana also became paramount. This expanded Ikebana from being a mostly religious and aristocratic pastime to entering all levels of society.
Ikebana means to “bring life to flowers,” and it is important to treat both the flowers and their arrangements with care in order to give them a new life after being cut. There are many different styles and types of arrangements, and I will list some great online resources at the end of this article for more information. However, what is most important to me, in my untrained state, is the emphasis on line and the importance of placement. Traditionally, the arrangements were formed with three main lines, or sections, to represent earth, man, and heaven, as well as the harmony between them. This was represented by three varying lines of height within the arrangement, and the balance as a whole. The entire arrangement should reflect carefully the space it will be housed in, as the flowers should neither overcome nor get lost within the space. The arrangement should be harmonious with the space and with it’s container. This time, I was using leftover flowers, so it was a bit difficult to get everything to work, but I am pretty happy with the results. I really tried to think of having three heights, and pretty much stuck to having just a few flowers for each arrangement.
In addition to the symbolism of balance and harmony within the arrangement, Ikebana is supposed to bring pleasure and peace to the artist. Each flower is cut precisely and placed carefully, and the whole process is done with intent and pre-meditation. I definitely got into this aspect of Ikebana, wanting to practice grace, ease, and a sense of beauty. However, I somewhat failed. Clumsy as always, I stabbed myself in the thumb with some wire I was trying to utilize and became quite flustered when I started bleeding all over the green flowers. It wasn’t beautiful. However, I took a moment to compose myself, and finished it all up. I’m not one to give up, and the pleasure I got from seeing the results was great! Next time, I’ll try to once again cultivate a sense of mindfulness, hopefully with more success.
Enjoy! (I really can’t wait to get a camera that shoots raw photos and has manual settings so I can start really playing and giving you all lovely photos!)
For some more information on Ikebana, and some cool websites, here you go:
Deschamps, Sarah and Tomoko Hara. “Ikebana in the Cultural and Historical Traditions of Japan.” Modern Tokyo Times. 5 March. 2012. <http://moderntokyotimes.com/2013/03/05/ikebana-in-the-cultural-and-historical-traditions-of-japan/> (This was a really cool article; I’d highly suggest reading it. It also has listings of other websites at the bottom of the article).
“Ikebana: A bit of history.” <http://famille.delaye.pagesperso-orange.fr/Ikebana/history.html>
Ikenobo: Origin of Ikebana. <http://ikenoboamerica.com/?page_id=17#more-17> (This site has some great explanations of different styles of Ikebana.)
Kubo, Keiko. Keiko’s Ikebana. Tuttle Publishing: Tokyo, 2006. (I really love this book – I ought to because I own it! Anyway, it has some really good information and great pictures.)
“The origin and evolution of Ikebana.” Ikebana International. <http://ikebana-basel.ch/iibasel/index.php?id=46>
Teshigahara, Wafu. “History and spirit of Ikebana.” Holy Mountain Trading Company. <http://www.holymtn.com/garden/Ikebana1.htm>
“Virtual Ikebana.” Kids Web Japan. <http://web-japan.org/kidsweb/virtual/ikebana/ikebana04.html> (This is kind of fun.)