An Introduction to Ikebana : Japanese Flower Arrangement
Before you learn ikebana from a master artist, let’s learn a little about this ancient art.
What is Ikebana?
Ikebana (also known as kado) is the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement. Flowers, plants, leaves and branches are chosen according to the season to represent a theme or to establish the decor of a room – for this reason, it shares close links with Japanese tea ceremony.
Ikebana differs from western flower arrangement in a number of ways. Most obvious is Ikebana’s emphasis on space and simplicity. Often far fewer elements will be used to create a piece. While western floral designs can usually be enjoyed from all angles, Ikebana pieces are usually only designed to be viewed from one direction, and are often placed in an alcove called a tokonoma in traditional rooms.
While flower arrangement has been studied in China for millenia, the practice spread to Japan alongside Buddhism in the 6th century. Flower arrangements placed in front of an altar were some of the first steps towards the Ikebana we see today.
During the Heian Period (794–1185), arrangements of one or more seasonal flowers became popular among the nobility, and flowers were a popular topic in the poetry of the time.
Flower arranging developed slowly over the next few centuries, and the first schools started to appear in the late 15th century. Of these, the Ikenobo School in Kyoto is the oldest, and still exists today.
Ikebana was closely linked with tea ceremony from the beginning as an element of tea room decor. The two would influence each other greatly over the following centuries, and many masters in one art also practice the other.
In the Ikenobo School, each flower or element is assigned a different role (yaku-eda) in the overall composition. There are three roles in total:
- Shin真/The main element, usually placed in the center. It should be about twice as long as the combined height and length of the vase.
- Soe副/The main supporting element, about two-thirds the length of the shin.
- Tai体/This element supports the soe, and is about half the length of the shin.
As much of the skill in ikebana comes from the artist, only a few tools are needed to produce breathtaking pieces.
- Kazai (flowers and plants) — Flowers, plants, branches and other natural elements, chosen for their seasonality and compatibility.
- Kaki (vase) — The choice of vase depends on the space in which the piece will be displayed as well as the kazai being used.
- Hana-Kiri (scissors) — Special scissors designed to cut hard branches and stems with great precision.
- Kenzan (base) — A pad with pins allows stems to be placed at any angle.
How to Do Ikebana
The basic steps of ikebana are as follows:
1. Plan The Concept
Most ikebana compositions express a theme. While this can change at any time, it’s helpful to choose this in advance.
2. choose Your Materials
The vase, flowers, and other elements should harmonize both with your theme and with each other. The vase, in particular, can greatly affect the final product.
3. Arrange The Elements
Having considered your theme, use the kenzan to arrange your elements into a pleasing composition.
4. Appreciate The Finished Product
Sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
How to Preserve Your Flower Arrangement
There are several ways to ensure that your ikebana piece stays fresh for as long as possible.
Literally “water-cutting.” Cutting the stems of your flowers underwater will keep them fresh for longer.
Put it in a Cool Room
Flowers can wilt in the heat. Keep them cool if you can.
Keep the Water Clean
It’s best to change the water every day.
Turn Off The Air Conditioner
Air conditioning can dry flowers out, shortening their lifespan.
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