What is Ikebana?

Ikebana is an ancient Japanese art form that entails arranging flowers according to strict rules in order to achieve harmony, balance, and a pleasing form. Formal Ikebana training is available at a number of schools across Japan, and international students can study with masters of the art. Ikebana flower arrangements are distinct and sometimes quite beautiful, and they are not to be confused with Western flower arrangements, which are governed very different principles.

Buddhist monks in China are said to have started the Ikebana tradition offering flowers to the Buddha. Buddhists brought the art to Japan in the sixth century, along with a greater understanding of Buddhism, and Japanese practitioners refined it, resulting in the formation of several major schools, including Rikka and Shoka. Ikebana is a spiritual and aesthetic art practiced many accomplished Japanese men and women; many Japanese women study Ikebana and experiment with the addition of more unusual and avant-garde elements such as metal and plaster.

Ikebana is often studied women as part of a broader program of self-improvement and refinement, but it can also be pursued as a spiritual practice men and women. Ikebana incorporates many Japanese life principles, including a strong emphasis on simple, highly symbolic aesthetics. Ikebana instructions are very specific, stating which flowers and plant materials can be used, when they should be used, and how they should be arranged. The vase style used, as well as the overall aesthetics of the room where the arrangement will be displayed, are both important considerations.

An Ikebana arrangement may appear sparse and plain to the Western eye. These arrangements, on the other hand, include spiritual and aesthetic values that have been refined over centuries. Each branch, flower, twig, and leaf is placed with care, with the practitioner considering both how it will appear in the overall arrangement and its individual symbolism. Many flower arrangers go through large amounts of plant material in their search for the perfect composition, so color and form are very important considerations.

Ikebana is an important part of the tea ceremony, and many formal Japanese homes have an Ikebana arrangement, as well as seasonal scrolls and decorations. Several modern schools have incorporated free-form aesthetics and other break-away aspects of this very traditional and formal field of study, with highly refined practitioners dedicating their lives to the study of Ikebana for several generations.