Ikebana: The art of flower arranging

Ikebana, translated, means ‘arranging flowers’ or ‘making flowers alive’ and is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Also known as Kadō or ‘the way of flowers’, this Japanese tradition dates back to the 7th century, when floral offerings were made at altars and were later placed in tokonoma, the alcove of a home. Let’s take a look at Ikebana over time, and how it has developed to become the fascinating flower arranging it is known as today.

A beautiful history 

The origins of Ikebana stem back to either the ceremonial practices of the native Shinto religion or to a tradition of floral offerings in Buddhism. The first known written text on Ikebana, called sendensho, was created in the 15th century. The text depicts a set of instructions on how to create arrangements that are appropriate to individual seasons and occasions, as the practice of Ikebana embodies the evolved appreciation and sensitivity to nature that Japanese culture is known for.

Around this time, Ikebana started to become a more popular and became a well known and engaged in activity. The design of Japanese homes during this period reflect this transition, with special recess called tokonoma being used to hold a scroll, precious art object and of course a flower arrangement.

Although Japanese homes consisted of muted colours and flat planes, the tokonoma stood out as the singular piece of colour and decoration. Keeping within Japanese culture, tokonoma displays are rotated regularly with the changing seasons and during festive occasions. Arranging flowers for the home has paved the way for Ikebana and its recognition as a distinct art form.

An artistic influence

Ikebana arrangements are similar to that of artistic sculpture. Considerations of colour, line, form and function guide the construction of work which leads to varied and unexpected pieces that can range widely in terms of size and composition. Whether it’s a single flower or several flowers, plants and branches making up each arrangement, every single Ikebana piece is as bespoke as the last.

Most native flowers, plants and trees are embedded in Japanese culture, each with its own symbolic meaning and associated season. Symbolism and seasonality have always been prioritised in developing Ikebana arrangements. Sometimes, practitioners of Ikebana trim and shape flowers and branches into unique and bespoke shapes and complement them with paint. They also arrange plant limbs to spout in various directions ensuring that the whole end piece is still balanced and contained.

In Ikebana, it is not enough to have beautiful materials if they aren’t used to their full potential to make something even more beautiful. Given skill and practice, one carefully arranged flower can have the same power to awe as an elaborate arrangement.

A variety of vessels

There is an incredibly wide variety of vases and vessels used in the art of Ikebana. They are traditionally considered not only beautiful in form, material and design but are made to suit the use of which they will be put. This means that each flower display can always be placed in the appropriate vessel and probably in one that has been specially designed for that particular sort of flower.

Besides offering variety in the form of vases and vessels in Ikebana, the lower, 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 colour of vases, soft pastel shades and bronze vases are especially popular. To the Japanese, the colour bronze seems most like mother earth and is seen to be suited to complement and enhance the beauty of flowers in Ikebana.

A modern take

In recent decades, chapters for all the major Ikebana schools have grown on a global scale. Over the last few years, the practice of Ikebana has inspired contemporary artists to develop new, original creations.

Today, anyone who practices Ikebana knows well that building relationships is at the core of the practice; the relationships between materials, students and teachers is a highly important element. In Japan today, the word Kadō is the preferred term for Ikebana as it’s believed to accurately capture the spirit of the art as a lifelong path of learning.

At Atelier Japan, our makers carefully craft each piece of our collection to bring you authentic Japanese craft containing designs from the most skilled makers. Visit the Atelier Japan website to discover our unique collection of Japanese teas, silverware, fans, jewellery and of course pottery. Browse our collection of bespoke handcrafted pottery and try your hand at the art of Ikebana.