Kids Web Japan

What Is Ikebana?

The History of 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.

A heika-style arrangement. Flowers: Virginia sweetspire, Chinese bellflower, and Solomon's seal (Ohara School)

Heika and Moribana

Over the seven centuries of its evolution, ikebana has developed many different styles of arrangement. Among the most common are the heika style, which includes rikka (standing flowers), shoka (living flowers), and seika (flung flowers), and the moribana (piled-up flowers) style when using dish-like containers called suiban.

A moribana-style arrangement. Flowers: Spanish jasmine, thistle, and plantain lily (Ohara School)
This moribana piece, which arranges the reds of the thistles with the yellows of the Spanish jasmine and the plantain lilies into a vibrant display, evokes the supple movement of branches and combines branches, flowers, and leaves that represent the start of summer.

How Ikebana Has Changed with the Times

Traditionally, arranged flowers were decorated in the tokonoma — traditional alcoves 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.

A moribana-style arrangement. Flowers: Forsythia and roses (Ohara School)

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.

An Eastern Aesthetic

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.

Flowers: Calla lily, polypodium, and baby's breath (Ohara School)
This piece brings out the beauty of the graceful curves displayed by the stem of the calla lily.