What is ikebana?

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging. The word stems from the Japanese words ikeru, which means 'to arrange' and hana, which means 'flowers.' You may also hear it referred to as kado, which roughly translates to 'the way of the flower.'

ikebana as an art form emerged from many ancient Japanese traditions that emphasize appreciating nature throughout the seasons. As early as the 7th century, simple floral offerings were placed before Buddhist alters, and later in alcoves (tokonoma) in homes. 

The first written book on ikebana was the Sendensho, published in 1445. By this time the practice of ikebana was already highly developed with specific styles and guidelines that remain in use today.

Philosophy

In addition to being an art, ikebana is a form of meditation. It clears the mind, encourages creative and spiritual expression, and teaches the appreciation of nature through the seasons, and all stages of life.

Ikebana combines nature with a human touch. The intent is to enhance nature by arranging and manipulating the materials. Ikebana often emphasizes the bend of a branch or the curve of a leaf, which allows the practitioner to discover new aspects of a plant. There is great emphasis placed on the intention behind each stem in an arrangement, with the goal being to use each stem to maximum effect.

Japanese Generals were known to practice ikebana before battle to calm and focus their minds.

Principles

While ikebana is a creative pursuit, in order to be successful a practitioner must first master the fundamentals.

Traditional arrangements include elements that represent heaven (shin), human (soe), and earth (tai/hikai).

Mass, color, and line (negative space) are all important elements to consider when creating an arrangement.

Arrangements should reflect nature; flower faces should be arranged to 'grow toward the sun', and branches should reach towards the light.

Styles

Rikka translates to 'standing flowers' and is the most complex and traditional style of ikebana.

Nageire means "thrown in". It originally referred to all arrangements that were not rikka. Today it describes arrangements that use a tall vase and no kenzan.

Shoka means 'living flowers'. It is a simplified version of rikka. A typical shoka vase is symmetrical and flares out at the top.

Moribana means 'piled up flowers'. A moribana arrangement uses a shallow vase called a suiban and a kenzan.

Freestyle allows the practitioner to have complete creative freedom, from the types of materials used (fresh, dried, flowers, metal, etc.), to vessel (vase shape, color, or no vase), to style (naturalistic, modern, etc.)

Chabana literally translates as 'tea flowers'. They are simple arrangements displayed during the tea ceremony which use seasonal materials and are meant to evoke a natural garden setting.

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