Friday, December 26, 2014


What Is Ikebana?

Ikebana is the art of beautifully arranging cut stems, leaves, and flowers in vases and other containers that evolved in Japan over seven centuries. To arrange the stems and flowers exactly as one wishes, a familiarity with many different ways of fastening and positioning them is necessary. These techniques are what people attend ikebana classes to learn. Usually, three to five years are required to acquire these technical and expressive skills.

Over the seven centuries of its evolution, ikebanahas developed many different styles of arrangement. Among the most common are the rikka (standing flowers), seikaor shoka (living flowers), and nageire (flung flowers) styles when making arrangements in bowl-shaped vases and the moribana (piled-up flowers) style when using dish-like containers.

Traditionally, arranged flowers were decorated in the toko-no-ma--the alcove in rooms where guests were normally received. Today they are also frequently seen in entrance halls and living rooms, as well as in lobbies of large buildings and shop windows.

The choice of what flowers to arrange is guided by the desire to create harmony between flower and container and to find flowers that blend in well with its surroundings. Although layer after layer of flowers are used in Western floral arrangements, in ikebana, the key consideration is to use as few stems and leaves as possible in composing elegant contours that highlight the flowers' beauty.

Some schools of ikebana have begun incorporating Western approaches (like the hanaisho style of the Ohara school). But even then, there are no dense layers of flowers, as in Western styles; the arrangements are imbued with an Eastern view of nature and incorporates the space around the flowers to strike a perfect balance among the elements.

Photos: (Top) Heika; (middle) moribana; (above) Hanaisho (Photos courtesy of Ohara School of Ikebana.)

Types of Ikebana: Heika

Heika (also called rikkashoka, or seika) is a basic style of ikebana arrangement that uses a tall vase and highlights vertical lines. The biggest feature is the emphasis on bringing out the flowers' natural charms and arranging them in a tasteful and elegant manner.

Vases with a narrow opening or tall, jar-shaped containers are used, with the stems being bundled tightly together at the mouth. Crosspieces are used to fasten the stems to the vase.

Heika arrangements consist of three main elements--the primary, secondary, and ornamental stems; their lengths, positions, and angles differ depending on the type of heika style used. In the slanting style, one of the most popular heika arrangements, the length of the primary stem is one and a half times the height of the vase, and the secondary and ornamental stems are around half the length of the primary branch.

The primary stem is tilted forward around 70 degrees and scattered across a 45-degree area to the front and left. The secondary stem is placed behind and to the left of the primary one to give depth. The ornamental stem is arranged so that it slants forward at a 60-degree angle across a 30-degree area to the right of the primary and secondary elements.

diagram diagram

Types of Ikebana: Moribana

Moribana uses a shallow container and a kenzan, a holder with many sharp points into which flowers are inserted. The big feature of moribana is the broad expanse of natural-looking shapes and a mound of beautiful flowers.

While the heika style was developed many centuries ago and has a lot of rules, moribana is only about a hundred years old and is not as fussy. Western flowers can be used, for instance, and the arranged flowers may be placed in Western-style rooms and entranceways--not just in the tokonoma, the alcove of traditional Japanese-style rooms.

There are different types of moribana depending on the length and angle of the primary, secondary, and ornamental stems. The upright style is the most common; it exudes a feeling of stability and gravity. In this style, the primary stem is about as long as the diameter and depth of the container combined, with the secondary stem being around two-thirds and and the ornamental stem about half the length of the primary branch.

The primary stem is placed vertically, while the secondary stem is tilted 45 degrees and scattered over a 30-degree area to the front and left. The ornamental stem is tilted 60 degrees and placed across a 45-degree area to the front and right. Seen from above, the three stems form a right triangle. Flowers are placed inside this triangle to fill out the shape.

diagram diagram

Virtual Ikebana

There are a number of different ways of arranging flowers. Two of the most common styles are heika (also called rikkashoka or seika) and moribana.Heika are arranged in tall, thin vases, while moribana use low, shallow containers. A distinguishing feature of these and other styles is the use of three main elements--primary, secondary, and ornamental stems--that are said to represent heaven, humans, and earth.

  • heika
    Virtual Heika
  • moribana
    Virtual Moribana
  • Ikebana Equipment


    Hasami (clippers or scissors) are used to cut flowers and stems to their desired lengths. Although the way stems are cut depends on the type of plant and arrangement, most cuts are made at an angle. This makes them easier to secure in the vase and kenzan and makes the area for drawing water larger.


    Tall vase used in making heika arrangements. Crosspieces are used to secure stems at three points.


    Low, shallow container for moribana. A kenzan is used to secure the stems and flowers.


    A holder with many sharp points about 1 centimeter high into which flowers are inserted so that they are fixed firmly.

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. 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. It is steeped in the philosophy of developing a closeness with nature.
As is true of all other arts, ikebana is creative expression within certain rules of construction. Its materials are living branches, leaves, grasses, and blossoms. Its heart is the beauty resulting from color combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines, and the meaning latent in the total form of the arrangement. Ikebana is, therefore, much more than mere floral decoration.
The growing appreciation of Japanese art and architecture in the West has extended to the Japanese way with flowers. Ikebana is an art, in the same sense that painting and sculpture are arts. It has a recorded history; it is backed up by articulate theories; and it is concerned with creativity. In Japan, flower arrangements are used as decorations on a level with paintings and other art objects.

Ikebana and the Japanese love of nature
The remarkably high development of floral art in Japan can be attributed to the Japanese love of nature. People in all countries appreciate natural beauty, but in Japan, the appreciation amounts almost to a religion. The Japanese have always felt a strong bond of intimacy with their natural surroundings, and even in contemporary concrete-and-asphalt urban complexes, they display a remarkably strong desire to have a bit of nature near them. Foreign visitors to Tokyo are often surprised to notice that their taxi driver has hung a little vase with a flower or two at the edge of the windshield. The Japanese house that does not at all times contain some sort of floral arrangement is rare indeed.
Nature is always changing. Plants grow and put forth leaves, flowers bloom, and berries are borne regularly and repeatedly throughout the seasons. Nature has its own rhythm and order. The awareness of this is the first step in involving oneself in ikebana.
In principle, ikebana aims not at bringing a finite piece of nature into the house, but rather at suggesting the whole of nature, by creating a link between the indoors and the outdoors. This is why arrangers are likely to use several different types of plants in a single arrangement, and to give prominence to leaves and flowerless branches as well as blossoms. Even when a single type of flower is used, an attempt is made to bring out its full implications as a symbol of nature.
Do men also do ikebana?
Both men and women study this art form. Indeed, in the past, ikebana was considered an appropriate pastime for even the toughest samurai. Currently, the leading flower arrangers are, for the most part, men. Ikebana is not only an art, but an occupation for men and women alike.

Is ikebana difficult? 
To say that ikebana is a full-fledged art does not mean that it is esoteric. The greatest creations in the field are apt to be made by the most highly skilled experts, but, as in painting and sculpture, there is plenty of room for amateurs. Almost anyone with a little time and inclination can acquire sufficient skill to make beautiful arrangements. Still, as in the other arts, it is necessary to master certain fundamental techniques before proceeding to free creation.

Spiritual aspects of ikebana
Many practitioners of ikebana feel that the spiritual aspect of ikebana is very important. One becomes quiet when one practices ikebana. It helps you to live "in the moment" and to appreciate things in nature that previously had seemed insignificant. One becomes more patient and tolerant of differences, not only in nature, but more generally in other people. Ikebana can inspire you to identify with beauty in all art forms -- painting, music, etc., and to always expect the best in yourself.

What are ikebana arrangements made of?
The varying forms of ikebana share certain common features, regardless of the period or school. Any plant material -- branches, leaves, grasses, moss, and fruit -- may be used, as well as flowers. Withered leaves, seed pods, and buds are valued as highly as flowers in full bloom.
Whether a work is composed of only one kind of material or of many different kinds of materials, the selection of each element in the arrangement demands an artistic eye. An arranger with considerable technical skill combines materials to create a kind of beauty that cannot be found in nature.

How is ikebana different from flower arrangement?
What distinguishes ikebana from other approaches such as "flower arrangement" is its asymmetrical form and the use of empty space as an essential feature of the composition. A sense of harmony among the materials, the container, and the setting is also crucial. These are characteristics of aesthetics that ikebana shares with traditional Japanese paintings, gardens, architecture, and design.


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