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The wonder & beauty of flowers

Ikebana is the representation of the Japanese love of nature, tranquility and perfection. The beauty of a flower arrangement lies in its asymmetrical balance, respect for the individual flower and harmony with nature as a whole. It is more than simply putting flowers in a container. It is a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is a living thing where nature and humanity are brought together.

The History of Ikebana
The custom of placing flowers on the altar began when Buddhism was introduced to Japan by way of Korea in about 538. In the Heian period (794-1192), apart from altar offerings, the practice of enjoying flowers displayed beautifully in a vase also became popular. Poems, novels and essays from that time contain many passages which describe the appreciation of flowers used in this way.

In the Kamakura period (1192-1333), the samurai class seized governing power from the aristocrats, a development which brought about great changes in Japanese society as a whole. The shoin zukuri style of architecture first appeared at this time. The tokonoma (a small, sacred alcove at the side or end of the room for receiving guests) was an important new element in this architectural style. And flowers in a vase were often if not always the key decorative element in the tokonoma.

Not satisfied with merely appreciating flowers in a vase, Japanese people in the early 15th century tried to give wider meaning to placing flowers in a vase. An earlier attitude of passive appreciation developed into a more deeply considered approach. This approach forms the basis of what we call ikebana today.

Kao irai no kadensho
Japan’s oldest existing ikebana textbook, dating from the late 15th century, in which 43 examples of ikebana style are introduced.

Folding screen with Ikebana painting (left half)
This folding screen (17th century) shows examples of rikka style ikebana.

Evolution of Styles
Ikebana patterns and styles evolved quickly. By the late 15th century flower arrangement had become so widespread that they were appreciated by ordinary people, not just the imperial family and the upper classes. This marks the beginning of an art form with fixed requirements. Rules were prescribed, and materials were combined in specific ways. In 1523, the Ikenobo School formulated the principles of rikka arrangements by naming the seven principal branches used in that type of arrangement.

During the Momoyama period (16-17th century), many magnificent castles were constructed. During the same period, noblemen and imperial retainers devoted much time to creating large decorative rikka floral pieces. The rikka style was considered the most appropriate form of decoration for Japan's castles.

The Momoyama style was, in general, notable for its excessive decorative style. However, the Momoyama period also gave birth to the tea ceremony and its emphasis on rustic simplicity. This resulted in a new style of ikebana for the tea ceremony room called chabana which contrasted sharply with Momoyama excesses.

By 1600, the religious significance of ikebana had diminished, and the resulting floral arrangements gradually became a decorative lay art. In the Edo period (17th-19th centuries), the simplicity of the chabana developed into the syoka or ''thrown-in'' style.

It was this non-structured design which led to the development of the seika or shoka style, as it is called in the Ikenobo School. This style is characterized by a tight bundle of stems which form a triangular three-branched asymmetrical structure. The form is now considered classic, and schools that teach it are called the ''classical schools''.

Shoka Style by Ikenobo

Ikenobo, the Origin of Ikebana
Rokkaku-do Temple is the site of the birth and earliest development of ikebana. The name ''Rokkaku'' refers to the hexagonal shape of the temple. Rokkaku-do Temple was founded by Prince Shotoku in the 6th century to enshrine a Nyoirin Kannon Bosatsu, the Goddess of Mercy. Near a pond (ike) where Prince Shotoku bathed, a small hut (bo) was built and became the home of succeeding generations of Buddhist priests. This gave rise to the name Ikenobo.

The custom of appreciating flowers in a vase probably dates back almost to the birth of the human race. Involved in this custom is the human characteristic of loving and adoring the beautiful. In this regard, there is no difference between East and West. In Japan, however, arranging flowers has been carefully considered as the art form and, indeed, way of life called kado (ka=flower; do=way or path).

According to a 15th century manuscript, the two of the most popular flower arrangers of the time were the Ikenobo master Senkei and Ryu-ami, a tea master. The description in Hekizan Nichiroku (a diary of the monk Daikyoku, 15th century) states that many people vied to see arrangements by Ikenobo Senkei and this stands as the first record of Ikenobo ikebana.

Styles of Ikebana

From the 14th through 16th centuries, a formal study with a window and writing shelf became part of classical Japanese architectural design. A low rectangular board provided a place for appreciation of the tatehana style of ikebana, precursor to rikka. Later, a room having a tokonoma (formal alcove) developed from this style of room design. It was an important way of welcoming guests, and it can be said that the rikka developed as a style suited for display in the space provided by the tokonoma. Rikka today is divided into two main styles, contemporary rikka shimputai, and traditional rikka shofutai.

Shussho or the essential inner character of each plant variety is considered most important when arranging in shoka style. This inner character of the plant governs its basic growth. As the plant puts out leaves and flowers, natural environmental factors such as light and weather uniquely affect the growth of individual plants. Shoka style reflects both the inner character of the plant variety and the bright energy of life filling each individual plant as it grows. Shoka today is divided into two main styles, contemporary shoka shimputai and traditional shoka shofutai.

As a contemporary ikebana style, this style has no rules governing its arrangement. Spaces and situations where the creativity of the free style can be enjoyed are unlimited. The various qualities of plant materials provide new starting points for creative arrangements. Some free style arrangements emphasize the natural shapes and characters of plant materials. Other arrangements look at plant materials in new ways, with utilization determined by the expressive intention of the arranger.

Other Ikebana Schools
Saga Goryu School
Saga Goryu School has a tradition dating back over 1,200 years to the foundation of Daikaku-ji Temple in Kyoto in the 9th century. The Saga Goryu School respects the traditional but vital form of ikebana, and attempts to introduce visual and spiritual pleasure into daily life. The School's motto in practicing ikebana is ''to unite flowers and the universe''. The School practices a ceremony of floral tribute to Buddha, studies truth, goodness, and beauty through ikebana. Saga Goryu School has more than 100 branches in Japan, and also has branches in many other countries.

Sogetsu School
In 1927 the Sogetsu School was founded by Sofu Teshigahara who broke with the traditional conventions of ikebana. ''Anytime, anywhere, anyone,'' and with any kind of materials, Sogetsu Ikebana is now enjoyed throughout the world. In 2001, Akane became the school's fourth Iemoto or master. She explored new possibilities of ikebana through stage performances in the ''Iemoto Ikebana Live'' tour. There are currently 49 Branches in Japan and 120 Branches and Study Groups in 38 countries and regions. Sogetsu Ikebana is now a truly international art.

Ohara School
The Ohara School emphasizes seasonal qualities, natural growth processes, and the beauty of natural environments. Unshin Ohara founded the Ohara School in the late 19th century. His departure from previous ikebana lay in the creation of a new form which he called the moribana style. This style later evolved into the school's ''landscape arrangement'' style. He also designed and produced the wide, shallow containers most suitable for works in the moribana style. Worldwide, there are nearly 130,000 Ohara teachers and over one million students.

Essay by Pauline Hung (from Taiwan)
An ikebana practitioner who fell in love with Kyoto

It was a global nightmare in the second half year of 2007 and all of 2008 as financial markets collapsed. I work in the financial industry and I always find it hard to get away from the pressure of my work environment and find a sense of inner peace and quiet. I visited Kyoto for the first time in October 2007 and discovered an amazing historical city full of temples and culture developed to purify the human spirit.

There are so many special temples in Kyoto and each seems to have its own story. I was very curious about each site I visited and tried to learn as much as I could. Since that first visit, I have acquired more than 200 books in Chinese, English and Japanese about Kyoto. And I have no doubt that I have fallen in love with this incredible city.

Kyoto is the perfect destination for a single woman. It is safe, clean and easy to navigate. And when you do occasionally get lost you find the most incredible places.

Since 2007, I have visited Kyoto twice a year and have spent more than 40 days here. In my daily life in Hong Kong I am constantly reading about Kyoto and planning my next trip. My involvement with Kyoto has been a great way for me to escape the stress in my work life...

I am a Buddhist and I became very interested in a pilgrimage route in Western Japan that covers 33 important temples where Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion, is worshipped. I decided that I would visit all of them. The first Kannon temple on this pilgrimage that I visited was Choho-ji Temple or Rokkaku-do Temple. It is regarded as the birthplace of ikebana and stands right next to the headquarters of Ikenobo. Discovering this temple and its associations with flowers made me realize how much I loved flowers as a child and how much I wanted to learn flower arrangement. I visited Ikenobo next door to the temple and learned that I could study flower arrangement with the Ikenobo study group in Hong Kong. I have been studying ikebana in Hong Kong since April 2010.

As Mr. Senei Ikenobo, the 45th Headmaster of Ikenobo said, if one has a beautiful heart their ikebana will also be beautiful. He says through the study of ikebana, our hearts will become benevolent and we will become filled with an admiration of nature and a love of humankind. Mr. Senei also says "Ikenobo considers a flower's bud most beautiful, for within the bud is the energy of life opening toward the future. Past, present, future... in each moment plants and humans, respond to an ever-changing environment. Together with plants, humans are vital parts of nature and practicing ikebana expresses this awareness.''

The spirit of Kyoto and the Ikenobo philosophy has been a great inspiration for me and I feel blessed to have discovered these worlds of beauty. Thank you Kyoto. The rest of my life will be connected to Kyoto.

''Friendship Through Flowers''
Ikebana International: an internationally active group promoting ikebana

Ikebana International is a worldwide non-profit cultural organization operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. The dream of the founder, Mrs. Ellen Gordon Allen, to introduce the ikebana art to the world and to create an organization uniting the peoples around the world through their mutual love of ikebana and others traditional Japanese art was realized in 1956 with support of the 21 members.

Thanks to our predecessors whose dedicated love for traditional Japanese art of ikebana, contributes to the widespread of ikebana throughout the world. And now, we, who celebrate its 55 years have inherited their desire for mutual understanding between nations, hope that through learning ikebana and feeling its deep spirit, people are striving to build a better living place on the earth for us and our successors, the place full of harmony with the nature, the place without the war, lie and misunderstanding. We believe that better future may only build on the good will and mutual cooperation between the nations.

With its motto ''Friendship through flowers'', Ikebana International has gained members in seven regions of the world, in nearly 60 countries. Every five years the World Conventions is held in Japan. The 10th World Convention is well under way and it will be held in May 2011 at the Grand Pacific Le Daiba hotel in Tokyo. Members from all over the world gather to observe and gain inspiration from ikebana demonstrations, workshops, and ikebana exhibitions as well as from other programs.

In the intervals between the conventions our members can join Regional Conferences which are held once or twice per year. Those events are hold for cultural and educational purposed such ikebana demonstration and workshops lead by teacher from Japan.

We are issue the Ikebana International Magazine per year. This publication includes full colour illustrated photos of ikebana and articles concern the Japanese culture.

On our web site are information about history of ikebana, colour photographs of ikebana arrangement made by masters of the art, background of the major schools as well as information concern many events organize in Japan and around the world.

In order to take care of the nature properly and thus to ensure better future for the next generations, we have been promoting the ''Green Campaign'' (tree planting program) for a few years now. Our members living around the world are actively involved in this project.

In the near future we would like to increase cooperation between I.I. and other associations and institutions in Japan as well as to co-host international events on ikebana and other traditional Japanese arts.

Looking into the future we are note that the time has come to focus on the young generations. Since this September our members have started passing their skills of the art of ikebana to children in Nishi-machi International School in Tokyo. Our near goal will be to extend such collaboration to other international schools.

Dialogue between Mr. Henry Mittwer and Florence Harada Members and contributors of Ikebana International for 50 years

Henry Mittwer, born in Yokohama in 1918, is a Buddhist monk of a sub-temple in the Tenryu-ji Zen complex. He used to be the president of the Kyoto Chapter of Ikebana International and has published a book about cha-bana (flowers for tea ceremony).

Florence Harada is the daughter of Ikebana International Kyoto Chapter (1969), founder, the late Bishop Daiyu Y. Henjoji, Buddhist priest of Koyasan and immediate past-president of the chapter. Both Henry and Florence have contributed to the promotion of ikebana for many decades and they are still fascinated with the beauty of ikebana. This dialogue between Henry and Florence discusses the attractions of ikebana and how this art form relates to the Japanese spirit...

KVG: What is Ikebana International?

Florence: To begin Ikebana International is a worldwide organization which promotes ikebana globally regardless of school (ryuha). Compared to other traditional Japanese culture forms, such as chado, kodo or the matrial arts, it is a rare for different schools of the same art to associate and cooperate with each other especially internationally as we do. This may be explained by the fact that the founder of Ikebana International was not Japanese. It was in 1956 that Ellen Gordon Allen's love of ikebana inspired her to establish Ikebana International so that she could share the beauty of ikebana with the world. Thirteen years later in 1969 the Kyoto Chapter was established by the late Bishop Daiyu Y. Henjoji. This was a time, especially in Kyoto, when our organization's concept was extremely difficult for the various established schools of ikebana (ryuha) to comprehend. Each school was busy re-establishing itself and immersed with its own activities. There was no pressing need nor opportunity to cooperate with other schools, let alone internationally.

Mittwer: However, the headquarters decided to have the 5th World Convention in Kyoto. It was held in 1985 and was the first World Convention held outside of Tokyo. Florence and I worked hard together to make this large event in Kyoto successful as we realized there was a deep meaning in holding a World Convention in Kyoto, the birth place of ikebana. I can't believe 25 years have passed since we held the convention here. I am very happy that an understanding and interest in ikebana continues to spread worldwide.

Florence: At our World Conventions held every five years, iemoto (Headmasters) of the major schools give demonstrations. For the exhibition, the Headmasters and worldwide registrants display their ikebana works. The exhibition is an amazing opportunity where you can see how ikebana and its spirit are interpreted by people from different cultures. By viewing ikebana created by different schools and ikebana enthusiasts from different ethnic backgrounds, we gain a deeper cultural awakening giving us a wider, global perspective of the wonderful potential of ikebana.

KVG: What makes ikebana beautiful?

Mittwer: I don't belong to any schools. I just enjoy doing ikebana as I like. My connection to ikebana began from my practice of chanoyu. I needed to learn how to decorate a tea room (chashitsu) with flowers. The arrangement is called cha-bana and there are no rules. All I can say is that I love flowers and enjoy imagining and creating how to display flowers in beautiful ways. Speaking philosophically, I believe all human beings love beautiful things. Human beings try to find beauty in all things.

Florence: Literally, ikebana means ''to bring out the best in the floral materials.'' Each flower has its individual beauty and characteristics, such as human individuals have: twisted or straight, large or small, colorful or simple... In ikebana, we attempt to coordinate and bring out the beauty of the materials and materials with the flower container for a heightened sense of overall beauty. What I respect about ikebana is the freedom in how we can express our individual sense of beauty with whatever given materials. Of course, there are restrictions for the numerous forms, but this freedom must be one of the reasons why ikebana is enjoyed all over the world regardless of culture differences.

KVG: What do you want foreign visitors to understand about ikebana?

Mittwer: First of all, I hope there will be more opportunities for foreigners to see ikebana in daily life. When people see an ikebana display they experience a certain sense of beauty. Such encounters with ikebana can result in a new awareness of the potential of flower arrangement in different cultures.

Florence: I would like foreign visitors to understand the essence of ikebana and how it is now enjoyed by different cultures and countries worldwide. Hopefully visitors will become aware that the beauty of ikebana is, indeed, borderless, going beyond cultures and nationalities. The Kyoto Chapter organizes an annual ikebana workshop for overseas students who are attracted not only to ikebana but also the spirit of Japanese culture. I believe that our shared love of ikebana is facilitating for a more understanding and peaceful world.

Welcome to
the 10th World Conventionn

Inherit the spirit of Ikebana and evolve into a peaceful world

It is a great pleasure to announce that the Ikebana International 10th World Convention will be held in 2011. The Ikebana International World Convention is held every five years. The Ninth World Convention, held in 2006, included a retrospective of 50 years' history of Ikebana International. We looked back on many important milestones during the 50 years since our organization's founding. Now, we are looking ahead to the future of ikebana, as well as of our organization.

The Ikebana Exhibition will be open to the public on the second day and third days of the convention. Nearby 300 arrangements will be displayed, included works by 30 ikebana headmasters.

Ellen Gordon Allen, an American woman, established Ikebana International in 1956, at a time when the Japanese people's love of their own culture was in the process of being reborn after the chaos of WWII. We look back at that time with gratitude, realizing that it was non-Japanese who most deeply understood the universal value in traditional Japanese culture. Ikebana is an important aspect of worldwide culture which Japan can be proud of. We hope that people everywhere in the world will share our love for ikebana.

Beautiful ikebana can make us smile, relax, and feel peaceful. Whatever the social situation is, we should never forget the spirit of ikebana. It is our hope that people will live together with flowers and other aspects of nature, and create a peaceful planet.

We hope that, through ikebana, the Ikebana International World Convention will contribute to a peaceful world.

Nobuko Usui, Convention Chairperson

© Kenji Miura