Ikebana: An Ancient Tradition with a Modern Twist

Read all the exciting things our scholars have been up to!

Am I really allowed to do this? Will I be the only guy at the event? These are but a few of the many questions that raced through my mind as I anxiously walked to my first 生け花 (Ikebana) event. The basis of my initial fears basically stemmed from the fact that 生け花 (flower arrangement) is mainly practiced by females in Japan and I don’t want my presence to make anyone uncomfortable. Also, I didn’t want to right off this potential mistake on the mire fact that I’m a 外国人(foreigner) because that usually means that I am not following the norms of Japanese society well enough. Thankfully though, I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong and I had a wonderful time learning about this ancient tradition.

What is 生け花 (Ikebana)?

At it’s core Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement, which is based on the Japanese ideals of minimalism and seasonality. As my instructor Yoshino-san explained, the origins of Ikebana can be traced back to when Buddhism was first introduced to Japan. However, the form of flower arrangement that was prevalent at that time could roughly be described as a seasonal offering of flowers to one’s ancestors, and it lacked much of the refinement and meaning it has today. It would not be until the end of the Waring Samurai Period, that Ikebana finally became the art form that is now widely practiced throughout Japan.

(Yoshino Sensei’s Second Piece)

Now, what was most surprising about this brief history on Ikebana was the fact that originally only powerful samurai and rich merchants practiced the art of flower arrangement. This was the most relieving piece of information because in a room of about 30 girls and 5 guys, I now knew for sure that Ikebana was also practiced by men in Japan. Now, I do think my fears were a little justified because Ikebana is considered one of the three classical Japanese arts of refinement. The other two being 香道 (Incense-smelling ceremony) and 茶道 (tea ceremony). Of these three forms of refinement, both the tea ceremony and the art of flower arrangement are primarily practiced by woman, hence the initial apprehension in my decision to participate.

Creating a Seasonal Piece

With my worries in the wind, I jumped right into the art of Ikebana. The most import part of any Ikebana piece is balance. This balance is achieved by trying to form a triangle with the flowers you have within the vase that you are working with. That beings said, achieving an aesthetic balance with roughly 4 floral pieces is quite difficult. For instance, at first, I tried to create a piece that used large flowers, but I soon realized that I was just recreating a typical western style flower arrangement. As Yoshino-san soon explained to the class, a typical western style flower arrangement features many flowers and no open space, which is exactly the opposite of what Ikebana strives for. (Yoshino Sensei teaching us how to cut branches)

Following this brief failure, I decided to trade in the large flowers for a few small roses and some interesting vines because they added depth and variety to my piece. This is an important aspect of Ikebana because even the most mundane of branches can add new layers of depth to the piece being worked on. Now, after a few minutes of trial and error, I soon was finished my first miniature Ikebana piece, which to my surprise even gained the praise of the instructor Yoshino-san. (My final piece ^-^ )

Although, I still have a long way to go before I can consider myself an amateur at Ikebana. I did learn quite a lot about the history of this beautiful art form. I look forward to learning more about Japanese history and culture and I hope everyone will continue this journey with me. Actually, for my next blog post, I will be discussing the ever complex 自己紹介 (self introduction) and the difficulties I have experienced when it comes to meeting Japanese people. So, look out for it because it’s really quite fascinating.