Recently at Jcollector, we’ve been studying Ikebana, the unique Japanese art of flower arranging, and featuring displays in our warehouse gallery. Unlike Western arrangements, in which flowers and plants are assembled in bouquets, Ikebana highlights stems and leaves as much as blooms. Ikebana arrangements focus on form. Artists pay careful attention to shape and line, and their goal is to achieve balance and harmony both within their arrangements and within their lives. Silence is generally observed during the practice of Ikebana. Artists take time to appreciate nature and consider natural elements more deeply. Often, practitioners feel that they become increasingly patient and tolerant of differences during their practice, and they begin to discover beauty in unexpected places. In addition, practicing Ikebana often gives artists a feeling that they are close to nature, that they are relaxed in mind, body, and soul.
Ikebana’s origin can be traced back more than 600 years. It developed from various Buddhist rituals in which flowers were offered to spirits of the dead. In the mid-1400s, classical styles of Ikebana emerged and the practice became an art form, independent of its religious origins. The first teachers and students were priests and members of the nobility. However, over time, various schools appeared, styles transformed, and Ikebana became common practice at all levels of Japanese society.
Today, over a dozen schools of Ikebana offer different philosophies and approaches to this ancient art. Foremost among them are Ikenobo, Ohara and Sogetsu, which range from strictly formalized arrangements to free style.
The oldest school is the Ikenobo School. Headmasters of Ikenobo famously developed the very formal and precise Rikka style of Ikebana. Rikka arrangements are often quite large and complex. In fact, an early recording mentions two arrangements featured in seven-foot-tall vases reaching forty-feet-high at the great Buddha located in Nara, Japan, in 1693. Overall, Rikka arrangements are microcosms, which represent the entire universe through the image of a landscape. Their chief characteristics are asymmetry, symbolism, and spatial depth.
Almost concurrently in the mid-14th century, the Japanese tea ceremony appeared. The tea ceremony’s emphasis on rustic simplicity contrasted sharply with the ornate Rikka. This led to the emergence of a “thrown in” style called Nageire. Then, in the seventeenth century, the merchant class grew increasingly prominent and developed a simplified version of Rikka, which became the Shoka style. Shoka offered limitless possibilities for variation. It is characterized by a tight bundle of stems which form a triangular three-branch asymmetrical structure, the three branches symbolizing ten (heaven), chi (earth), and jin (human being). Variations of this form have become the basis of all Ikebana instruction, even in the most modern schools, such as Sogetsu.
Jcollector’s interest in Ikebana has prompted us to offer an exciting array of exquisite baskets, vases and suiban perfect for Japanese flower arranging. Because Ikebana pieces are so visually unique, they are best presented in vessels that complement their simplicity. Baskets often serve to further anchor the arrangements to nature. Tall, thin vases complement minimalist arrangements. Wide basins allow for large, dramatic displays. We encourage our clients to experiment with this practice and find out what kind of arrangements best suit their homes and tastes.
Our favorite English-language books about Ikebana are Ikebana, the Art of Arranging Flowers, by Shozo Sato, and Ikebana, Japanese Flower Arranging for Today’s Interior, by Diane Norman and Michelle Cornell.