H i s t o r y o f I k e b a n a
Ikebana, one of the traditional arts of Japan, has been practiced for more than 600 years. It developed from the Buddhist ritual of offering flowers to the spirits of the dead. By the middle of the fifteenthcentury, with the emergence of the first classical styles, Ikebana achieved thestatus of an art form independent of its religious origins, though it continued to retain strong symbolic and philosophical overtones. The first teachers and students were priests and members of the nobility. However, as time passed, many different schools arose, styles changed, and Ikebana came to be practiced at all levels of Japanese society.
W h e n B u d d h i s m A r r i v e d i n J a p a n
The beginning of Ikebana can be traced to the 6th century introduction of Buddhism to the Japanese. Part of the worship involved the offering of flowers on the altar in honor of Buddha. In India, the birthplace of Buddhism, the flowers were placed very informally, and sometimes only petals were strewn around. However, by the time of 10th century Japan, the Japanese were presenting their offering in containers. The altar offerings were the responsibility of the priests of the temple.
W h a t i s I k e b a n a
Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Ikebana is more than simply putting flowers in a container. It is a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is a living thing in which 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.
T h e J a p a n e s e L o v e o f N a t u r e
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.
F l o w e r A r r a n g e m e n t
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.