I’ve been wanting to do a post about ikebana – the Japanese art of flower arranging – ever since I started this blog, but it’s not easy to find in London. But this week I struck lucky; an exhibition by members of the London chapter of Ikebana International titled The Delights of Spring at the Brompton Oratory Hall. It was only on for a few hours but I raced down there – here’s what I found.
Ikebana dates back to the sixth century and the introduction of buddhism to Japan. Whereas in India flowers were strewn before the buddha, the organised Japanese began presenting them in containers and then developing rules that have become an integral part of Japanese culture.
Ikebana allows for a range of styles from the classical to the modern and there are hundreds of different schools of ikebana in Japan, each with their own style. Each school gives its students certificates as they progress through the syllabus, leading to instructor level and then Master.
So how is ikebana different from western flower arrangement? Well, it’s essentially minimalist and tends to emphasise shape, line and form whereas in the West we tend to emphasise colour. It uses asymmetrical forms and empty space as an essential feature of the composition. It requires a sense of harmony among the materials, the container, and the setting.
Ikebana also has its spiritual side. It must be practised in silence and it is said to help its practitioners to becomes quiet, to live in the moment and to appreciate things in nature that previously had seemed insignificant.
The oldest ikebana school is Ikenobo. It began 550 years ago at the Rokkaku-do Temple in Kyoto. The Ikenobo school uses the formal rikka ‘standing flower’ style of arrangement, the principles of which were formulated in 1545. Rikka arrangements use seven principal branches representing hills, waterfalls, valleys, and other objects of nature arranged in a specific way.
In the Edo period simper styles became fashionable. The seika style is characterised by a tight bundle of stems which form a triangular three-branched asymmetrical structure. The form is now considered classic, and schools that teach it are called the classical schools.
At the beginning of the twentieth century Unshin Ohara, an Ikenobo professor in Kobe, invented a form of ikebana done in a low bowl using some of the shorter stemmed western flowers that had been introduced at the beginning of the Meiji era. That led to formation of the Ohara school of modern ikebana.
The free style Sogetsu school was founded in 1926.
Three schools predominate nowadays – Ikenobo, Ohara, and Sogetsu. In the UK we also have classical schools Kohdo, Koryu and Enshu and modern school Ichiyo.
If you want to see some ikebana yourself, there will an exhibition in Hampstead on 24th May of the Sogetsu School. Details here.