The History of Ikebana

Ikebana International Melbourne Chapter # 216

 Ikebana is one of the traditional Japanese arts, it has been practiced there for over 600 years and came from the Buddhist ritual of offering flowers to the spirits of the dead. Ikebana sprang out of the introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the 6th century when flowers or just flower petals were placed at alters for Buddha.  By the 10th century the Japanese were presenting their offerings in containers.  At this time the offerings were the responsibility of the temple priest. 







The oldest school of Ikebana, Ikenobo, began from a priest of the Rokkakudo Temple in Kyoto who became so well known for his beautiful and unique arrangements that other priests came to him for instruction.  The priest lived on a lake and the Japanese word for lake is Ikenobo, so the Ikenobo name soon became the style of arrangements made by the priests at the Rokkakudo Temple, as well as the work done by the priests who came to this temple to learn this new art form.  For the Ikenobo Ikebana artist and for all of the many schools of Ikebana to follow, Ikebana is much more than simply putting flowers in a container.  This is a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is viewed as a living thing in which nature and humanity are brought together.  It is an ingrained philosophy of the Japanese to develop a closeness with nature.


With the passage of time, patterns and styles evolved and by the late 15th century arrangements were no longer found just in the temples and the homes of the imperial family.  The ordinary people began to appreciate and practice the art form and the requirements began being written down.  Festivals and exhibitions were held, rules were prescribed and materials had to be combined in specific ways. The Rikka and Momoyamastyles appeared in the 1500-1600s, during this period and for the next 200 years the practice of Ikebana was only for men.  The Momoyama style was very opulent   and grandiose and was favored by the upper classes, while the Rikka style was based in the eloquence of simplicity and it was this style that eventually prevailed.  The Rikka style became the foundation of Ikebana from which Shoka, Moribana and Nageire styles evolved.

As with all other art forms, Ikebana is creative expression within certain rules of construction.  The materials used are living branches, leaves, grasses and blossoms with the beauty resulting from color combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines, and the combining of nature with humanity.  The benefits of Ikebana are much more that just a beautiful arrangement to decorate your home.  During the creative process the artist becomes quiet and must live "in the moment" to appreciate things in nature that previously might have seemed insignificant.  One becomes more patient and tolerant of differences and imperfections, not only in nature, but more importantly in ourselves and other people. 


As the numerous schools and styles of Ikebana developed  they all shared common features, the use of plant material of any sort including: branches, leaves, grasses, moss, fruits and flowers.  To some schools, it was just as acceptable to use withered leaves, seed pods, palm leaves, bamboo, succulents, pieces of wood, rocks, metal and almost anything that enhances the arrangement .  Flower buds are valued as highly as flowers in full bloom and quite often flowers are used in multiple stages of opening in the same arrangement, just as might be found in nature.  The classical Ikebana arrangement is asymmetrical in form and uses empty space as an essential feature for the composition.  The sense of harmony among the materials, the container and the setting is also crucial.  Today there are more than 2000 different schools of Ikebana registered with the Japanese Ministry of Education, but the three schools that predominate at the present are Ikenobo, Ohara and Sogetsu. 


in 1956 the late Ellen Gordon Allen, the wife of U.S. Amy Major General Frank Allen began Ikebana International with it's first Chapter being in Washington D.C.  Today it is a worldwide organization with the headquarters in Tokyo, Japan.  With a motto of “Friendship Through Flowers” its members seek to promote mutual understanding and friendship between other countries through Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arrangement.  Ikebana International  (I.I.) is a nonprofit organization.