A History of Ikebana

Posted on August 11, 2017

R E F I N E M E N T  A N D  T R A D I T I O N:  I K E B A N A


 Ikebana arrangement
Rikka arrangement—a focus on three central stems
Koryu arrangement-a focus on slanting and angling the stems
Enshu arrangement— a focus on branches
Ohara arrangement—a focus on shallow bowls and dishes, along with the introduction of occasional western flowers 
Literati style arrangement—focus on freedom of materials and form

Scroll through the above images of arrangements from the different schools of Ikebana 

The Japanese Buddhist tradition of Ikebana—floral arrangement—links nature to minimalism, conscious decision, versatility of design, and symbolism: much like Spinelli Kilcollin jewelry. The seemingly austere and simple arrangements are the product of great effort and thought. Raw materials—be they metals, diamonds, colored stones, branches, leaves, or flowers are framed honored by arrangement. Read on to learn of the fascinating history of Ikebana: a tradition that we tend to incorporate into SK events.

H I S T O R Y  A N D  S C H O O L S

The tradition of Ikebana, or Kado ("the way of flowers") floral arrangements is now nearly six hundred years old. Ikebana, or Ikeruhas several Japanese translations, all of which circulate around flowers, arrangements, and allowing things to live.

Ikebana derives from the Buddhist tradition of offering beautiful objects to the dead—Ikebana was an early sign of the Buddhist integration into Japanese religious and social practices. In early Buddhist practices in India, and still today, flower petals were strewn on and near altars and images of gods and loved ones—and the Japanese adapted tradition this by presenting the floral offerings in minimal but elaborate arrangements, held in vases. 

The first school for Ikebana came about in the mid fifteenth century. The very first lessons were taught by a Buddhist priest at the Rokkakudo Temple in Kyoto. He had a lifelong interest in flowers and flower arranging, and other priests in the area took interest. The "professor" lived by a lake, or an Ikenobo in Japanese, and thus he and those who were in his floral school became associated with the word Ikenobo. The schools that followed were, in this tradition, also organized and led by Buddhist priests throughout Japan. 

Ikebana no longer has direct ties to religion or specific ceremonial practices, but the arrangements still often hold symbolic meaning.  

As Ikebana arrangements became less directly associated with religion and spirituality and more closely associated with decorative and visual modes, they attracted the attention of a more general Japanese public.  

As time passed, ikebana became a major part of traditional festivals, and ikebana exhibitions were held periodically.

The "rules" of Ikebana also became a bit more strict, but they varied from school to school within the greater boundaries of Ikebana. Each school produced arrangements that, to untrained eyes, are relatively similar—minimalist, clean, and exquisite—but each school had specific guidelines and rules of arrangement that were taught and utilized. 

In Ikebano, a tall, central stem and two shorter stems, symbolizing man, heaven, and earth always had to be present. All stems pointed directly down, supported by a Komi, or stick fork—similar to the pin cushions used today in Ikebana arrangements.

In Rikka (a sector of Ikebana) arrangements, nine stems were always present. The nine stems, of different lengths, taking different directions, and of different flowers, were meant to create a harmonious visual landscape. 

In the Koryu School, flowers were placed at an angle—the ends of the stems were cut at a slant, and the stems were propped against the vessels that they were placed in.

The Enshu School emphasized branches in their arrangements—they cut slits in them, bent them, and altered them and their placement in ways that allowed for them to take central focus within arrangements.

It was the Ohara school that introduced the use of bowls, or shallow vases, in place of the traditionally long vases used in Ikebana. The Ohara school also introduced the use of more Western flowers into their designs—the use which are still integrated into arrangements today. 

The literati style, which came later, allowed for arrangers to utilize the guidelines of traditional Ikebana arranging, but to have more creative freedom. Though the rules were less strict, literati style Ikebana arrangements still follow many of the lessons that were learned in the traditional schools, and thus were (and are) easily recognizable as being a part of the tradition. 

There are now around three thousand schools of Ikebana in Japan. Ikenobo, Sogetsu, and Ohara are the three most popular modern Ikebana schools, with Ohara emphasizing seasonal elements, Ikenobo being the eldest and most classical of the three, and Sogetsu (the most modern of the three) emphasizing artistic freedom and self expression. 

 C O N C E P T U A L  A R R A N G E M E N T S

Ikebana is considered to be a joining of humanity and nature.  The arranger's philosophical and moral intentions and aesthetic preferences are demonstrated by the color combinations, angles, and schools used. 

Certain arrangements still have religious symbolism, with particular stems and angles representing different parts of nature and the mind, while others are demonstrations of minimalism and refinement. 

Rikka arrangements are representative of the entire universe, the ecosystem, and the image of a landscape. Asymmetry, symbolism, and spatial depth were considered, and each element held significance. Arrangements made a nod to Mt. Meru, which is a mythical mountain in the tradition cosmology, and a symbol of the universe. 


 Ikebana in Japanese paintings


Repetition of form: circular Ikebana arrangements 

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