What is Ikebana?

Ikebana Culture
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Writer’s profile

Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. She also loves to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.

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At fancy restaurants or traditional Ryokan in Japan, you might have been impressed by beautiful flowers and natural plants arranged in a Japanese style. They are called “Ikebana” (生け花) and are a traditional art of flower arranging which has developed in Japan for over centuries. What exactly is Ikebana? And where and how did this artistic tradition all begin? Here we will help you get clear answers to all these questions about Ikebana!                 

1. What is Ikebana?

The flowers used in Ikebana are not set in stone, but are kept simple

Ikebana (生け花) is the Japanese art of flower arranging which has been a big part of Japanese culture since ancient times. “Ike” (生け) means keeping something alive, while “bana” (花) means flower in Japanese. The aim of Ikebana is not only to appreciate the beauty of plants and flowers but also to learn how to help your mind calm down by arranging living materials in silence. Learning Ikebana also will allow you to feel the seasonal changes by arranging beautiful flowers for each season in a container such as a vase. 

Ikebana uses various kinds of living materials, including blossoms, branches, moss, leaves, and even stems. This traditional art is similar to Western-style flower arrangements in many ways, but at the same time, have distinctive features that can’t be found in any other form of flower arrangement in other countries. 

2. How is Ikebana Different from Western Style Flower Arrangements?

Ikebana can add beauty and nature to your home!

One of the most important features of Ikebana is the importance of emptiness and simplicity. In Ikebana, keeping some space between arranged materials is considered an essential component to make a perfect design. The simplicity of Ikebana is also achieved by using fewer natural materials compared to Western-style flower arrangements. In Western-style flower arrangements, on the other hand, many colors of flowers and plants are typically used to make the arrangement look gorgeous.

Another feature that can be found in Ikebana is how the materials are arranged in a container. In western-style flower arrangements, you need to carefully place the materials so that they can be viewed from all sides and directions. This is not the case for Ikebana, since Ikebana is traditionally designed to be appreciated only from the front.            

3. Brief History of Ikebana

Ikebana is largely seasonal

There are several theories about the origin of Ikebana, but some argue that Ikebana was originally brought to Japan along with the introduction of Buddhism from China around the 6th century. It was originally developed as a floral offering that was placed at a Buddhist altar. After it was introduced, Ikebana quickly became popular, especially among the nobles who started to learn and practice it. 

Since then, the meaning and form of Ikebana have changed over the years. It is believed that during the Muromachi period (1336 – 1573) that the current style of Ikebana was finally established. Ikenobo (池坊), the first Ikebana school in Japan, was also founded around this time by Ikenobo Senkei (池坊専慶), a Buddhist priest of Rokkaku-dou Temple in Kyoto

During the time, the traditional Japanese architectural style, known as “Shoin-zukuri” (書院造) in Japanese, was also developed. Ikebana started to be widely displayed as an essential component for Shoin-zukuri rooms along with other traditional artworks such as Kakejiku (hanging scrolls) and Suibokuga (Ink paintings).                             

4. Ikebana in the Present Day

Ikebana is largely dependent on the individual

Today, it is said there are more than 300 Ikebana schools in Japan that all teach different styles of arrangements. Ikebana has also been getting more and more popular around the world with the increase in the number of foreign learners who enjoy Ikebana as a hobby as well as a way of meditation. There have also been new styles of Ikebana that incorporate elements from both traditional Ikebana and modern Western style flower arrangements. 

It may seem difficult to master Ikebana for beginners, but the basics of Ikebana can be easily learned by anyone, as long as they are interested in this traditional art form. You can join Ikebana schools around you, or find free, helpful materials on the Internet. 

Recommended Ikebana experience in Tokyo:

Learning Ikebana will enable you to touch, feel and smell the beauty of natural materials, arrange them in your favorite style, keep your mind peaceful, and learn how to cope with stress and anxiety in a busy life! 

Learning Ikebana is a great way to understand Japanese culture, admire seasonal nature, and make your mind calm and peaceful by arranging natural materials. You can also enjoy it as a hobby at home, and decorate your rooms with your own Ikebana works. If you are interested in Japanese cultural experiences in the Tokyo area, check out our article Best Local & Cultural Experiences Near Tokyo to find out the best things to add to your travel bucket list!

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