One of the noticeable characteristics of Japanese culture is “discipline.” This is seen in all aspects of their lives, from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night. They also practice it in flower arranging, or Ikebana (生け花), which is another representative aspect of Japanese traditional art. What is Ikebana, what does it have to do with discipline, and what can we learn from it? How can it help us heal?
Ikebana has been practiced for more than six hundred years and has continued to inspire many people in the country. Very basic ikebana is actually becoming a floral trend in Japan, as it depicts minimalism and asymmetry. Though the modern styles of Ikebana have grown over time, the classic approach is coming back.
Before talking about the different types of Ikebana, it is best to know how this flower arrangement culture evolved through time.
This practice developed from Buddhist rituals of offering flowers and gifts to the spirits of the dead in the 15th century. It is a disciplined art form which brings humanity and nature together.
It was established by Sensho Ikenobo (専正池坊), who also established the philosophy of ikebana. He is considered the “Master of Arranging Flowers.” He also taught, “Not only beautiful flowers, but also buds and withered flowers, have life, and each has its own beauty.” This philosophy was followed for many years.
After a while, Ikebana became an independent form of art and started to become popular among teachers and students who were members of the nobility. The Japanese had been placing their flowers in containers since the 10th century; it was the responsibility of the priests to arrange the offerings in the altar.
In conventional flower arrangement, the color and bloom of different flowers are emphasized while in ikebana, minimalism and asymmetry are the focus. It also reveres the sacred relationship existing between man and nature.
Ikebana is usually practiced in a silent and meditative state. It is a way of finding the beauty in flowers which we can link to a heart that values nature and cares for other people. Serious devotees practice this art form for years, as it can take several decades to master it. In short, it requires a lot of effort compared to just cramming flowers into a vase.
Minimalism is seen in almost all aspects of ikebana. This is seen in the arrangement of a minimal number of blooms and leaves. Each arrangement has its own intention and this is represented by the combination of colors, shapes, and leaves. The oldest school of ikebana dates back from its early beginnings.
A priest of Rokkakudo Temple (六角堂) in Kyoto (京都) was so fond of arranging flowers that many priests sought him out for advice. He was a priest who lived by the side of the lake, for which the Japanese word is ikenobo (池坊).
Priests who specialized in altar arrangement became attached to that name. Patterns and styles then evolved over time. It became a major part of traditional festivals and exhibitions, which were held periodically. There were certain rules to be followed and specific materials to be combined. Every flower arrangement expresses the beauty of each season, which is the core characteristic of ikebana.
Spring represents adolescence, summer a young adult age, autumn represents middle-aged years and winter old age or elderly years. Over time, ikebana changed, especially in the 15th century. Some of the popular styles were Rikka (立花) style, which consists of standing flowers. It was developed as a Buddhist expression of beautiful landscape. Another is the Seika (生花) style which is a simple style designed to show the beauty and uniqueness of the plant itself.
The classic ikebana style shows a simple, one-plant decoration. This is known as “Omoto” (万年青), the most formal type of flower arrangement, which is often used for New Year celebrations.
One example of this is Omoto Japanese Rhodea, which means being green for thousands of years and symbolizing life. This flower arrangement style was inherited from Kadou Enshu School (華道遠州) over two hundred years ago.
The plant in this arrangement is valued for its beautiful, large leaves, wherein each one has a special name according to position: dew-supporting leaf, dew-spilling leaf, frost-protecting leaf, wind-protecting leaf, berry-protecting leaf, swallows-mouth leaf, etc. You can follow the leaf arrangement through a manual.
The leaf arrangement also tells the relationship of the family members. The height of the leaves is also varied, which is a resemblance of every family members’ age and gender. The classic ikebana style also chooses the most minimalistic style, even for celebratory occasions such as New Year’s Day.
If you happen to pass by Japanese hotel lobbies, the usual gold, silver and red colors you may see in ikebana are starting to become less and less common. This shows that the decorative styles have become less popular when it comes to the modern Japanese lifestyle.
There is an annual Ikenobo Exhibition of Tokyo which always enjoys a large number of attendees. It is considered one of the largest gatherings where you can find Ikenobo students gathered together to appreciate art. Many people, young and old, join the observation tour to check out the classical side of ikebana. This event is something that retains the art’s influential floral style, which can be seen in ikebana practices.
Ikebana is not merely appreciating the beauty of flowers, but it also helps people aspire to fulfilling their mental and spiritual needs rather than material ones. Some practitioners feel that silence is needed while making ikebana. It allows time for people to feel close to nature, which in turn provides relaxation for the mind, body, and soul. As of now, it is no longer treated as an old-fashioned form of art but something connected to global mindfulness. It has a rich history which is constantly evolving as a way of expressing one’s creativity. However, you have to follow certain rules which govern its form. With the four seasons in the country, surely you will be able to try doing ikebana by associating it with nature.
There are actually hundreds of schools and styles which have developed throughout the centuries. If you’re serious about taking a lesson, why don’t you try Ikenobo Ikebana lessons? You may visit the official website here. This is probably the best way to de-stress yourself when you feel caught up with too much work in the office. Get inspired to do ikebana and appreciate the beauty of nature in all its art forms!