Ikebana (生け花, "living flowers") is the
Japanese art of flower
arrangement. It is also known as Kadō (華道, "way of
flowers"). The tradition dates back to the 7th century when
floral offerings were made at altars. Later, they were placed in the
tokonoma (alcove) of a home.
Ikebana reached its first zenith in the
16th century under the influence of Buddhist teamasters and has
grown over the centuries, with over 1,000 different schools in Japan
Kadō is counted as one of the three classical Japanese arts of
refinement, along with kōdō for incense appreciation and chadō for
tea and the tea ceremony.
9 In popular culture
10 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
"Ikebana" is from the Japanese ikeru (生ける, "keep alive, arrange
flowers, living") and hana (花, "flower"). Possible translations
include "giving life to flowers" and "arranging flowers".
A drawing of mitsu-gusoku, from the Senden-shō (15–18th century)
Illustration from the Kaō irai no Kadensho, believed to be the oldest
extant manuscript of ikebana teaching, dating from a time shortly
after that of
Ikenobō Senkei. It shows various arranging styles of
tatebana (ogibana) wide-mouth (right) and upright styles.
Plants play an important role in the native
Shinto religion. Yorishiro
are objects that divine spirits are summoned to. Evergreen plants such
as kadomatsu are a traditional decoration of the New Year placed in
pairs in front of homes to welcome ancestral spirits or kami of the
The pastime of viewing plants and appreciating flowers throughout the
four seasons was established in Japan early on through the
aristocracy. Waka poetry anthologies such as the
Man'yōshū and Kokin
Wakashū from the
Heian period (794–1185) included many poems on the
topic of flowers. During this time, Buddhism was introduced to
Japan starting in the 6th century through China and Korea.
Offering flowers at Buddhist altars became common. Although the lotus
is widely used in India where Buddhism originated, in Japan other
native flowers for each season were selected for this purpose.
While in China the Buddhist priests were the first instructors of
flower arrangement, in Japan they only introduced its crudest
elements. For a long time the art had no meaning and was merely the
placing in vases, without system, of the flowers to be used as temple
offerings and before ancestral shrines. The first flower arrangements
worked out with a system were known as shin-no-hana, meaning "central
flower arrangement". A huge branch of pine or cryptomeria stood in the
middle, and around the tree were placed three or five seasonable
flowers. These branches and stems were put in vases in upright
positions without attempt at artificial curves. Generally symmetrical
in form, the arrangements appeared in Japanese religious pictures of
the 14th century. It was the first attempt to represent natural
scenery. The large tree in the center represented distant scenery,
plum or cherry blossoms middle distance, and little flowering plants
the foreground. The lines of these arrangements were known as centre
and sub-centre. Later on, among other types of Buddhist offering,
placing mitsu-gusoku became popular in the Kamakura (1185–1333) and
Nanboku-chō periods (1336–1392). Various Buddhist scriptures
have been named after flowers such as the Kegon-kyo (Flower Garland
Sutra) and Hokke-kyo (Lotus Sutra). The
of Frolicking Animals and Humans) depicts lotus being offered by a
monk(ey) in front of a frog mimicking the Buddha.
With the development of the shoin-zukuri architectural style starting
Muromachi period (1336–1573), kakemono (scroll pictures) and
containers could be suitable displayed as art objects in the oshiita,
a precursor to the tokonoma alcove, and the chigaidana, two-leveled
shelves. Also displayed in these spaces were flower arrangements in
vases that influenced the interior decorations, which became simpler
and more exquisite. This style of decoration was called zashiki
kazari (座敷飾). The set of three ceremonial objects at the
Buddhist altar called mitsugusoku consisted of candles lit in holders,
a censer, and flowers in a vase. The flowers in the vase were arranged
in the earliest style called tatebana or tatehana (立花, "standing
flowers"), and were composed of shin (motoki) and shitakusa. Recent
historical research now indicates that the practice of tatebana
derived from a combination of belief systems, including Buddhist, and
Shinto yorishiro belief is most likely the origin of the Japanese
practice of ikebana that we know today. Together they form the basis
for the original purely Japanese derivation of the practice of
The art developed very slowly, and the many schools did not come into
existence until the end of the 15th century following the period
of the civil war. The eight shogun
Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436–1490),
was a patron of the arts and the greatest promoter of cha-no-yu, the
ceremonial tea, and ikebana flower arrangement. Yoshimasa finally
abdicated the office in order to devote his time to the fine arts. It
was he who said that flowers offered on all ceremonial occasions and
placed as offerings before the gods should not be offered loosely, but
should represent time and thought. Rules then commenced to be
It is to the celebrated painter Sōami, a contemporary and friend of
Yoshimasa, who conceived the idea of representing the three elements
of heaven, human, and earth, from which have grown the principles of
the arrangements used today. It was at Yoshimasa's
Silver Pavilion in
Kyoto, where the art of cha-no-yu, the tea ceremony, and ko-awase, the
incense ceremony, may be said to have been evolved that the art of
ikebana received its great development.
Artists of the
Kanō school such as
Sesshū Tōyō (1420–1506),
Sesson, Kanō Masanobu,
Kanō Motonobu (1476–1559), and Shugetsu of
the 16th century were lovers of nature, so that ikebana advanced
in this period a step further than temple and room decoration and
commenced in a rudimentary way to consider natural beauty in floral
arrangement. At this time ikebana was known as rikka.
This same age conceived another form called nageirebana.
nageirebana are the two branches into which ikebana has been divided.
Popularity of the two styles vacillated between these two for
centuries. In the beginning, rikka was stiff, formal, and more
decorative while nageirebana was simpler and more natural.
Although nageirebana began to come into favour in the Higashiyama
period, rikka was still preferred, and nageirebana did not truly gain
popularity until the Momoyama period, about a hundred years after
Ashikaga Yoshimasa. It was at this period that cha-no-yu reached its
highest development and strongly influenced the flower art. A
practitioner of tea was most probably also a follower of ikebana.
After a long, hard struggle for existence as a dependent of rikka,
nageirebana branched off and became independent and very popular. It
was welcomed by the people of the 16th century for its freedom of
line and natural beauty. So, while these two branches both started in
the Higashiyama period, rikka better represents the taste of that
time, and nageirebana more reflects the taste of the Momoyama period.
Rikka lost some of its popularity in the Momoyama period, but in the
first part of the
Edo period (1603–1668) it was revived and became
more popular than ever before. In the
Higashiyama period rikka had
been used only as room decorations on ceremonial occasions, but now
was followed as a fine art and looked upon as an accomplishment and
pastime of the upper classes.
Ikebana has always been considered a dignified accomplishment. All of
Japan's most celebrated generals have been masters of this art,
finding that it calmed their minds and made clear their decisions for
the field of action. That warriors like Hideyoshi and Yoshimasa, two
of Japan's most famous generals, found benefit in the practise of
ikebana shows that it is valuable training, even for the masculine
Rikka reached its greatest popularity during the
Many works on ikebana were published in the centuries from the Ken'ei
(1206–1207) to the
Genroku (1668–1704) eras, all founded on
Sōami's idea of the three elements. The first of these works,
published in the early part of the
Ken'ei era, was a book called
Sendenshō, and there were many others, but none of much value to the
student of flower arrangement. They gave few rules and their chief
object seemed to be to withhold all information. Although of little
instructional value, these books were fully illustrated, thus
documenting the gradual progress of the art. During the early Edo
period (17th century) publications in Japan's developed rapidly. Books
about ikebana were published in succession. During this time the
Sendenshō (仙伝抄) was published and is the oldest published
manual. The Kawari Kaden Hisho (替花伝秘書) came out in
(1661). This was carefully written and very instructive, with rules
and principles freely given. In the Edo period, it was the second
publication after the Sendenshō. Although the text is similar to the
contents of commentaries of the Muromachi period, the illustrations
showed how to enjoy Tachibana. Tachibana had spread from monks to
warriors and further on to townspeople. The Kokon Rikka-shu
(古今立花集) was the oldest published works on rikka in
(1672). The Kokon Rikka-taizen (古今立花大全), published in
Tenna 3 (1683), was the most famous rikka manual. The
Sugata (立華時勢粧) came out
Jōkyō 5 (1688).
Ken'ei era, rikka was simple and natural, with no extreme
curves in the arrangement, but in the
Genroku era, the lines became
complicated and the forms pattern-like. This was an age of utmost
elegance. All the fine arts were highly developed, above all
pattern-printing for fabrics and decoration. In the latter part of the
17th century, Korin, the famous lacquer artist and essentially a
creator of exquisite designs, strongly influenced ikebana. In this
period, the combination of a pattern or design with lines that
followed the natural growth of the plant produced the most pleasing
and graceful results.
It was in the latter part of the 17th century that ikebana was
most practised and reached its highest degree of perfection as an art.
Still, there were occasional departures into unnatural curves and
artificialities that caused a shift, and nageirebana again revived.
Until then only one branch of ikebana had been taught at a time,
following the taste of the day, but now rival teachers in both rikka
and nageirebana existed.
Rikka reached its greatest popularity in the
Genroku era, and then
commenced its decline. From the decline of rikka, nageirebana, the
origin of the present ikebana, grew in power and popularity. From this
time on, it ceased to be called nageirebana and took the name of
ikebana. In the
Tenmei era (1781–1789) nageirebana, or ikebana,
advanced rapidly in favour and developed great beauty of line. The
exponents of the art not only studied nature freely, but combined this
knowledge with that of rikka, the result bringing ikebana to a very
perfect state of development. After the
Tenmei era, the purest and
best taste in ikebana began to diminish, and a formal and artificial
form of arrangement came into existence. This is the present form,
which has a fixed rule or model known as heaven, human, and earth.
The most popular schools of today, including Ikenobō, Enshū-ryū,
Mishō-ryū, among others, adhere to these principles, but there are
in Tokyo and Kyoto many masters of ikebana who teach the simpler forms
of Ko-ryū, and Ko-Shin-ryū of the
The oldest international organization,
Ikebana International, was
founded in 1956. Her Imperial Highness
Princess Takamado is the
Followers and practitioners of kadō, from pupil to teacher, are known
as kadōka (華道家). A kadō teacher is called sensei (先生). The
term comes from sen or saki (before) and sei (life) – i.e. one
who has preceded you. Noted Japanese who practiced it include Junichi
Kakizaki, Mokichi Okada, and Yuki Tsuji. Tsuji was at a March 2015
TEDx in Shimizu, Shizuoka, where he elaborated on the relationship of
ikebana to beauty.
Another practitioner is the Hollywood actress Marcia Gay Harden, who
started when she was living in Japan as a child. She has published
a book about it with her works.
There are over a 1,000 different types of schools of ikebana
throughout the world today. A school is normally headed by an iemoto,
oftentimes passed down within a family from one generation to the
next. Some of the most historic and well-known schools are:
Ikenobō goes back to the 700s CE of the
Heian period and is
considered the oldest school. This school marks its beginnings from
the construction of the
Rokkaku-dō in Kyoto, the second oldest
Buddhist temple in Japan. It was built in 587 by Prince Shōtoku, who
had camped near a pond in what is now central Kyoto, and enshrined a
small statue of her. During the 13th century, Ono-no-Imoko, an
official state emissary, brought the practice of placing Buddhist
flowers on an altar from China. He became a priest at the temple and
spent the rest of his days practicing flower arranging. The original
priests of the temple lived by the side of the pond, for which the
Japanese word is 'Ike' "池", and the word 'Bō' "坊", meaning
priest, connected by the possessive particle 'no' ”の” gives the
word 'Ikenobō' "池坊", "priest of the lake". The name Ikenobō,
granted by the emperor, became attached to the priests there who
specialized in altar arrangements.
Ikenobō is the only school that does not have the ending -ryū in its
name, as it is considered the original school. The first systematized
classical styles, including rikka, started in the middle of the
15th century. The first students and teachers were Ikenobō
Buddhist priests and members of the Buddhist community. As time
passed, other schools emerged, styles changed, and ikebana became a
custom among the whole of Japanese society.
Ikenobō (池坊) is a development of rikka, and its branches include
the schools of:
Saga Go-ryū (嵯峨御流), dates back to Emperor Saga, who reigned
from 809–823 CE.
Shōgetsudo Ko-ryū – originated by the monk
Ko-ryū (古流) – originated by Ōun Hoshi or Matsune Ishiro
Higashiyama Jishō-in-ryū (東山銀閣院流) – originated by
Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436–1490), who was also called
Higashiyama-dono or Jishō-in. Branches of this school are:
Senke-Ko-ryū – originated by the famous tea master
Sen no Rikyū in
Bisho-ryū – originated by Goto Daigakunokami or Bishokui Dokaku in
Enshū-ryū (遠州流) – originated by Lord Kobori Enshū
(1579–1647). The branches of this school are numerous:
and many others.
Ko-Shin-ryū – originated by Shin-tetsu-sai, who was the teacher of
Tokugawa Hidetada (1579–1632)
Sekishu-ryū – originated by Katagiri Iwaminokami Sadamasa
Jikei-ryū – originated by Shōuken Jikei in the year 1699
Senkei-ryū – founded around 1669 by Senkei Tomiharunoki
Tōgen-Ryu – commenced by Togensai Masayasu about 1716
Gengi-ryū – commenced by Chiba Ryōboku in the year 1772
Mishō-ryū (未生流) – founded by Ippo Mishōsai (1761–1824) in
Yōshin Go-ryū – developed during the Edo period
Sei-ryū – commenced by Dōseiken Ittoku in 1818
Shōko-ryū – commenced by Hakusuisai in the year 1896
Ohara-ryū (小原流) – founded in 1895 by Ohara Unshin
Sōgetsu-ryū (草月流) – founded in 1927 by Teshigahara Sofu
Other schools include Banmi Shofu-ryū, founded in 1962 by Bessie
"Yoneko Banmi" Fooks, and Kaden-ryū, founded by Kikuto Sakagawa in
1987 based on the Ikenobo school.
Since flower arrangement entered Japan from China with Buddhism, it
naturally was imbued with Chinese and Buddhist philosophy. The
Buddhist desire to preserve life lies at the root of the whole subject
and has created most of the rules of flower arrangement, controlling
also the shapes of the flower vases, which are so formed as to help to
prolong the life of the flowers. So much thought and time would never
have been given to preservatives had not this desire predominated in
all their floral offerings.
The idea of good and evil fortune governs both the selection of
material and the form of arrangement. The concept of hanakotoba
(花言葉) is the Japanese form of the language of flowers. In this
practice, plants are given codes and passwords. Physiological effects
and action under the color of the flowers, put into words from the
impressions of nature and the presence of thorns with the height of
tall plants, flowers and garlands of flowers through the various
types. These are meant to convey emotion and communicate directly to
the recipient or viewer without needing the use of words. The colours
of some flowers are considered unlucky. Red flowers, which are used at
funerals, are undesirable not only for that reason but also because
red is supposed to suggest the red flames of a fire. An odd number of
flowers is lucky, while even numbers are unlucky and therefore
undesirable, and never used in flower arrangements. With the odd
numbers one avoids symmetry and equal balance, which are actually
seldom found in nature, and which from the Japanese standpoint are
never attractive in art of any description.
More than simply putting flowers in a container, ikebana is a
disciplined art form in which nature and humanity are brought
together. Contrary to the idea of a particolored or multicolored
arrangement of blossoms, ikebana often emphasizes other areas of the
plant, such as its stems and leaves, and puts emphasis on shape, line,
and form. Though ikebana is an expression of creativity, certain rules
govern its form. The artist's intention behind each arrangement is
shown through a piece's color combinations, natural shapes, graceful
lines, and the implied meaning of the arrangement.
Another common but not exclusive aspect present in ikebana is its
employment of minimalism. Some arrangements may consist of only a
minimal number of blooms interspersed among stalks and leaves. The
structure of some Japanese flower arrangements is based on a scalene
triangle delineated by three main points, usually twigs, considered in
some schools to symbolize heaven, human, and earth, or sun, moon, and
earth. Use of these terms is limited to certain schools and is not
customary in more traditional schools. A notable exception is the
traditional rikka form, which follows other precepts. The container
can be a key element of the composition, and various styles of pottery
may be used in their construction. In some schools the container is
only regarded as a vessel to hold water and should be subordinate to
Consideration of the vase as being something more than a mere holder
of the flowers is purely Japanese. They think of the surface of the
water, which they always expose, as the surface of earth from which
the group springs. This aids in creating the effect of representing a
complete plant growing as nearly as possible in its natural
The Japanese give an expression of the seasons in their floral
arrangements, grouping the flowers differently according to the time
of the year. For example, in the month of March, when high winds
prevail, the unusual curves of the branches convey at once the
impression of strong winds. In summer the Japanese rejoice in the low,
broad receptacles, where the visually predominating water produces a
cooler and more refreshing arrangement than those in upright
There is no occasion which cannot be suggested by the manner in which
the flowers are arranged. It might seem strange to us to have our
departure from home announced by an unusual arrangement of flowers.
Yet hundreds of ordinary occurrences are heralded by charming flower
compositions. So many Japanese poets have sung of the willow,
comparing its very long branches with long life, happy married life,
etc., that it is frequently used for many celebrations and is a great
favorite for an arrangement made at parting, the length of branch
insuring a safe return from the longest journey, especially if one
branch is made to form a complete circle.
For a house-warming, white flowers are used, as they suggest water to
quench a fire, fire being their constant dread, as in the construction
of many houses everything but the roof is flammable. Red flowers
suggest fire, so are avoided on such occasions. To celebrate an
inheritance all kinds of evergreens or chrysanthemums may be used, or
any flowers which are long-lived, to convey the idea that the wealth
or possessions may remain forever.
There are appropriate arrangements for all felicitous occasions, as
well as for sad ones. An offering at death should be of white flowers,
with some dead leaves and branches, so arranged as to express peace.
All gifts of flowers must be in bud, so that the person to whom they
are sent may have the pleasure of seeing them open – quite a
contrast to the present Western idea of everything being forced to
perfection before leaving the florist.
The spiritual aspect of kadō is considered very important to its
practitioners. Some practitioners feel silence is needed while making
ikebana while others feel this is not necessary. It is a time to
appreciate things in nature that people often overlook because of
their busy lives. It is believed that one becomes more patient and
tolerant of differences, not only in nature, but also in general.
Kadō can inspire one to identify with beauty in all art forms. This
is also a time when one feels close to nature, which provides
relaxation for the mind, body, and soul.
Rikka arrangement by
Ikenobō Senkō II, a drawing from the
Rikka-no-Shidai Kyūjūsanpei-ari, Important Cultural Property
Patterns and styles evolved, and by the late 15th century
arrangements were common enough to be appreciated by ordinary people
and not only by the imperial family and its retainers.
Ikebana in the beginning was very simple, constructed from only a very
few stems of flowers and evergreen branches. This first form of
ikebana is called kuge (供華).
Styles of ikebana changed in the late 15th century and
transformed into an art form with fixed instructions. Books were
written about it, "Sedensho" being the oldest one, covering the years
1443 to 1536.
Ikebana became a major part of traditional festivals,
and exhibitions were occasionally held.
The first styles were characterized by a tall, upright central stem
accompanied by two shorter stems. During the Momoyama period,
1560–1600, splendid castles were constructed. Noblemen and royal
retainers made large decorative rikka floral arrangements that were
considered appropriate decoration for castles.
Rikka (立花; "standing flowers") style was developed as a
Buddhist expression of the beauty of landscapes in nature. Key to this
style are nine branches that represent elements of nature. One of
rikka arrangement styles is called suna-no-mono (砂の物; sand
When the tea ceremony emerged, another style was introduced for tea
ceremony rooms called chabana. This style is the opposite of the
Momoyama style and emphasizes rustic simplicity.
Chabana is not
considered a style of ikebana but is separate. The simplicity of
chabana in turn helped create the nageirebana or "thrown-in" style.
Nageirebana (投入花; "thrown-in flowers") is a non-structured
design which led to the development of the seika or shoka style. It is
characterized by a tight bundle of stems that form a triangular
three-branched asymmetrical arrangement that was considered classic.
It is also known by the short form nageire.
Shōka (生花; "pure flowers") style consists of only three
main parts, known in some schools as ten (heaven), chi (earth), and
jin (human). It is a simple style that is designed to show the beauty
and uniqueness of the plant itself. Formalization of the nageire style
for use in the Japanese alcove resulted in the formal shoka style.
Moribana (盛花, "piled-up flowers"), flowers are arranged in a
shallow vase or suiban, compote vessel, or basket, and secured on a
kenzan or pointed needle holders, also known as metal frogs.
Jiyūka (自由花; "free flowers") is a free creative design. It
is not confined to flowers; every material can be used. In the 20th
century, with the advent of modernism, the three schools of ikebana
partially gave way to what is commonly known in Japan as "Free Style".
Nageire of the
Banmi Shofu-ryū school
Moribana kōseitai (hidarigatte) of the
Saga Goryū school
Jiyūka freestyle arrangement
The receptacles used in flower arranging come in a large variety. They
are traditionally considered not only beautiful in form, material, and
design but are made to suit the use to which they will be put, so that
a flower can always be placed in an appropriate receptacle, and
probably in one especially designed for that particular sort of
The thing the Japanese most seek in a vase's shape is what will best
prolong the life of flowers. For this reason, vases are wide open at
the mouth, for, unlike in Western flower arranging, they do not depend
upon the vase itself to hold flowers in position, believing that the
oxygen entering through the neck opening is as necessary to the plant
as the oxygen it receives directly from the water; thus, the water
remains sweet much longer than in small-necked vases.
There are many ideas connected with these receptacles. For instance,
hanging vases came into use through the idea that flowers presented by
an esteemed friend should not be placed where they could be looked
down upon, so they were raised and hung. In hanging bamboo vases, the
large, round surface on top is supposed to represent the moon, and the
hole for the nail a star. The cut, or opening, below the top is called
fukumuki, the "wind drawing through a place".
Besides offering variety in the form of receptacles, the low, flat
vases, more used in summer than winter, make it possible to arrange
plants of bulbous and water growth in natural positions.
As for the color of the vases, the soft pastel shades are common, and
bronze vases are especially popular. To the Japanese, the color bronze
seems most like mother earth, and therefore best suited to enhance the
beauty of flowers.
Bamboo, in its simplicity of line and neutral color, makes a charming
vase, but one of solid bamboo is not practical in some countries
outside of Japan, where the dryness of the weather causes it to split.
Baskets made from bamboo reeds, with their soft brown shades, provide
a pleasing contrast to the varied tints of the flowers, and are
practical in any climate.
Not to be overlooked is the tiny hanging vase found in the simple
peasant home – some curious root picked up at no cost and
fashioned into a shape suitable to hold a single flower or vine. Such
vases can be made with little effort by anyone and can find place
Moon and Hooked Vase
Incoming or Boat of Good Fortune and Standard Arrangement
In popular culture
Ikebana is shown on television and taught in schools. An example of a
television show that involves ikebana is Seikei Bijin (Artificial
Beauty). The story incorporates the importance of natural beauty. It
was also mentioned in
We Love Katamari for PS2.
In 1957 the film director and grand master of the Sōgetsu-ryū
Hiroshi Teshigahara made the movie titled Ikebana, which describes his
school. Flower and Sword, released in 2017, tells the story of the
development of ikebana during the
Sengoku period under the rule of the
Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 16th century. It was directed by
Tetsuo Shinohara, and was based on a novel by Tadashi Onitsuka. It
stars Kamejiro Ichikawa as Lord Hideyoshi, Mansai Nomura as the monk
Senko Ikenobo, and Koichi Sato as Sen no Rikyu. Masters and their
assistants of the Ikenobo school were involved in creating the various
rikka, shoka, and suna-no-mono arrangements for the movie. Of
particular note is a very large suna-no-mono arrangement that was
recreated based on a historic piece arranged in the Maeda clan
Bunroku 3 (1594) that took 14 people ten days to make
and measured 3.5 m (11 ft) in height and 7.2 m
(24 ft) in length.
Language of flowers
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