What is Ikebana?
Ikebana, one of the traditional arts of Japan, has been practiced for more than six hundred years. It developed from the Buddhist ritual of offering flowers to the spirits of dead. By the middle of the fifteenth century, with the emergence of the first classical styles, ikebana achieved the status of an art form independent of its religious origins, though it continued to retain strong symbolic and philosophical overtones. The first teachers and students were priests and members of the nobility, but as time passed, many schools arose, styles changed, and ikebana came to be practiced at all levels of Japanese society.
The varying forms of ikebana share certain common features, regardless of the period or school. Any plant material – branches, leaves, grasses, moss and fruit, as well as flowers – may be used. Withered leaves, seedpods and buds are valued as highly as flowers in full bloom. While a work may be composed of only one, or of many different kinds of materials, the selection of each element demands an experienced eye, and the arrangement requires considerable technical skill in order to create a kind of beauty that cannot be found in nature.
What distinguishes ikebana from simpler decorative approaches is its asymmetrical form and the use of “empty” space as an essential feature of the composition. A sense of harmony among the materials, the container and the setting is also crucial. these are characteristics of the Japanese aesthetic feeling that ikebana shares with traditional paintings, gardens, architecture and design.
Mastering Basic Styles
Learn the ikebana concept of shape and space through these three basic styles: Upright style, Slanting style and Cascading style.
In ikebana, the distinction between moribana and nageire can be generally seen in the kinds of containers used. Basins are used for moribana and vases for nageire, but the methods of arrangement are also different.
Upright Style (Moribana)
This is the most basic structure in ikebana. Moribana literally means “piled-up flowers,” which are arranged in a shallow container such as suiban, compote or basket. Moribana is so named because an arrangement in the wide-mouthed, shallow container suggests that the arrangement is a serving (moru in Japanese means “to serve up,” and is generally used on the occasion of filling a rice bowl, salad bowl, etc.). Moribana is secured on kenzan, or needlepoint holder(s), also known as metal frogs. Click here for illustrations.
Upright Style (Nageire)
Nageire literally means “tossed-in flowers,” which are arranged in a narrow-mouthed, tall container without using kenzan, or needlepoint holder(s). Long popular, this style uses plant materials in their natural state, in containers such as those made of bamboo, or in water pitchers. Frogs are not used to hold the flowers, Instead, simple devices are made and fitted to either the material or container. Thus, this style and moribana differ in respect to the containers used and the method of holding material in place.
We often cut a garden flower and simply place it in a cup; this too is nageire. We can say that nageire starts with one-flower arrangements such as these. The basic beauty of nageire arrangements is present even in such simple arrangements. Click here for illustrations.
Slanting Style (Moribana)
The reversed arranging style can be also used depending on the placement of the display, or the shapes of branches. Choose branches which look beautiful when slanted. This style will give a softer impression than the upright version. Click here for illustrations.
Slanting Style (Nageire)
Slanting style creates a gentle touch and flexibility. Here is an ideal composition for beginners of nageire. Click here for illustrations.
Cascading Style (Nageire)
In this style, the main stem hangs lower than the rim of the vase. Choose a flexible material which creates beautiful lines balancing with flowers. Click here for illustrations.
The side of an arrangement to be seen and appreciated is the side which appears most beautiful, or, in other words, the side arranged keeping in mind the direction from which the composition will be seen. Every arrangement invariably has such a side.
Until recently, the side of an arrangement to be appreciated has been limited to one, because ikebana developed within the confines of the tokonoma alcove of Japanese homes. Since feudal times, the tokonoma has been the spiritual center of Japanese homes, the place where scrolls, antiques, etc. were displayed. Although only a corner of one room, the tokonoma has played an important role in the formation of the style of Japanese residential architecture.
Virtually all flower arrangements were placed in the tokonoma, never in the center of the room or in another corner of the house. If a house lacked a tokonoma, a shelf or low platform served as a substitute, above which scrolls would be hung and on which ikebana could be displayed. Flowers in the tokonoma or on a shelf, due to the conditions imposed by the form and location of these places of display, appear most beautiful when seen from one direction — the front.
However, the Japanese way of living has changed completely. Japanese homes have been greatly modernized and the importance of the tokonoma has dwindled. Most important of all, ikebana is no longer limited to the tokonoma, but is now used to decorate any part of the house. Ikebana is now placed in the living room, or on a table so that all those seated there may enjoy it. Simultaneous with the popularization of decorating tables with ikebana has come the necessity to appreciate the arrangement from all sides.
– from Japanese Flower Arrangement: Ikebana Step-by-Step by Reiko Takenaka © 1995 by JOIE, Inc., Japan