Ikebana is the art of beautifully arranging cut stems, leaves, and flowers in vases and other containers that evolved in Japan over seven centuries. To arrange the stems and flowers exactly as one wishes, a familiarity with many different ways of fastening and positioning them is necessary. These techniques are what people attend ikebana classes to learn. Usually, three to five years are required to acquire these technical and expressive skills.

Ikebana developed from the Buddhist practice of offering flowers to appease the spirits of the dead. During the 15th century is developed its own identity as an art and several different schools emerged, each with its own set of rules concerning such things as the type of container, number of stems used, other materials used, etc. As with other Japanese arts, only when one has passed an exam and become licensed may he or she teach the particular art form.

Obviously ancient China influenced Japan strongly. This is also true of Ikebana, “The Way of the Flower”. The early ideas travelled to Japan with Chinese monks but the formalisation of the Art occurred through many generations of devoted Japanese Masters. They developed progressive new forms from basic principles that had been set. Schools were set up to pass on the heritage to new generations and these became the workshops where the art was distilled to its essence.

Ikenobo, the oldest style of Ikebana
In the 6th Century, Ono no Imoko paid three official visits to the imperial court of China. After his retirement he was appointed guardian of Rokkaku-do, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto. There he became abbot, changed his name to Semmu and lived in a small house known as the ike-no-bo or the “hut by the pond”. In China he had studied arranging flowers as religious offerings, and in retirement he continued to develop his study of the way of the flowers. From this has developed Japan’s oldest school of Ikebana.

The Ikenobo school has a written history based on scrolls and documents which date back to 1462 as its heritage. I have studied many times at the Ikenobo School. I teach both Ikenobo and Sogetsu Ikebana. The current Master Sen-ei Ikenobo is the 45 th Headmaster with a direct link to the first Headmaster. A longer tradition than the European Royalty. Sen-ei has visited Australia to Exhibit Demonstrations of classical and modern Ikenobo Ikebana.

Over the seven centuries of its evolution, ikebana has developed many different styles of arrangement. Among the most common are the rikka (standing flowers), seika or shoka (living flowers), and nageire (flung flowers) styles when making arrangements in bowl-shaped vases and the moribana (piled-up flowers) style when using dish-like containers.

Traditionally, arranged flowers were decorated in the toko-no-ma--the alcove in rooms where guests were normally received. Today they are also frequently seen in entrance halls and living rooms, as well as in lobbies of large buildings and shop windows.

The choice of what flowers to arrange is guided by the desire to create harmony between flower and container and to find flowers that blend in well with its surroundings. Although layer after layer of flowers are used in Western floral arrangements, in ikebana, the key consideration is to use as few stems and leaves as possible in composing elegant contours that highlight the flowers’ beauty.