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In addition to Zen Buddhism, tea ceremonies, hanami and calligraphy, ikebana is also clearly part of the traditional Japanese culture. The Japanese art of flower arrangement impresses with the simple aesthetics and meditative aura of its arrangements. And although these may look simple at first glance, they actually take a lot of time and patience. It is not for nothing that this art is taught by experienced teachers in well-established Ikebana schools in Japan, in different styles and traditions. What exactly is behind Ikebana and what are the basic principles of this ancient art of flower arranging, you will learn below. You will also receive some important tips and plenty of inspiration if you want to learn more about or practice Japanese flower arrangement.
The Japanese art of flower arrangement has a long tradition
What is Ikebana?
Freely translated from Japanese, Ikebana means "living flowers" or "flowers that are brought to life". The Japanese art of flower arrangement is around 1,500 years old and its roots can be found in 6th century during the Nara period in Japan. The Buddhist temple priests used ritual flower offerings in honor of the Buddha and used them as an important part of prayer and meditation.
Over time, flower arranging has turned into a real art, accessible only to nobles, priests and samurai until the 17th century. Only later did commoners, geishas and women in general get the right to learn and practice Ikebana.
Ikebana has also evolved and changed over time
Unlike Western flower arranging, Japanese flower arrangement is more minimalistic and always carries a deeper meaning. Here every little detail, the orientation and the position of the flowers, branches and leaves play a certain role. In addition, it is not only about aesthetics, but about meditation and self-discovery as well as the transience of the moment. Ikebana is also often called Kadō (華道, dt. "Way of Flowers").
Basic principles of Japanese Flower Arranging
What at first glance looks like a random flower arrangement is actually a perfectly thought-out combination of plant parts and flowers. This not only conveys the artist's feelings and worldview, but also illustrates the cosmic order. You basically work with three basic levels, which stand for heaven, humanity and earth. The highest branch symbolizes the sky (Shin), the middle blossoms or leaves symbolize the people (Soe) and the lowest parts mean the earth (Hikae). In most cases, an ikebana also contains additional elements called jushi.
The shape and color of the vase or bowl are fully part of the Ikebana concept
The closeness to nature of this floral art is also reflected in the fact that an ikebana always expresses the current season. Even, or above all, buds and withered leaves as well as stems are an important part here, reminding the viewer of the ever-present impermanence and the natural beauty of imperfection.
There is perfect beauty in imperfection
Styles in the Art of Ikebana
The Japanese art of floral arrangement has come a long way since its inception. Various styles have been developed belonging to different ikebana schools. The ancient art is still learned today either in the Ikenobo, Ohara or Sogetsu tradition. The first two are fairly traditional and strict, while the last one is fairly liberal and more suitable for beginners.
The Rikka style is the basis and most original form of Ikebana. In principle, the flower arrangements are made with seven main branches and only certain plants, shapes and colors may be used. From this, the other Ikebana styles later developed, such as the most difficult Shoka Ikebana as well as the free styles - Nageire, Moribana and Jijuka.
Autumn Nageire Ikebana with Roses
What we know as ikebana here in the West are mainly the flower arrangements in the Nageire and Moribana style. In the first case, tall vases are used, and in the second, the so-called suiban - shallow ceramic bowls with the traditional stick, the kenzan.
Cherry Blossom Tulips Ikebana Moribana Style
Short instructions in this video:
The Japanese art of arranging flowers is a lesson in itself. Nevertheless, everyone can learn them and not only take up an exotic hobby, but also discover the Japanese way of self-discovery. Ikebana helps you to feel your own connection to nature and the universe in a meditative way and to experience the primordial beauty of imperfection.
If you would like to follow the "Way of Flowers", look around for Ikebana courses at the adult education center in your area or contact the Ikebana Federal Association e.V. or the 1st German Ikebana school. There you will always find up-to-date information about forthcoming training courses and workshops in this area. Also, get inspired by our image gallery below and dig deeper into the secrets of Ikebana.
Ornate Ikebana with Kenzan in Bowl
Moribana Ikebana with Red Dahlias in Autumn
Japanese Style Spring Decoration
Freestyle Ikebana with Gerberas
Blooming chestnut branches arranged in the bowl
More Elaborate Summer Ikebana Composition
Tulip meets Magnolia
Ikebana interpretation with fresh daffodils
With the right tools, even the most complicated ikebana will succeed
Feel and celebrate spring even more deeply