Ikebana - Beginner's Guide: Here's What You Need to Know About Japanese Art of Flower Arrangements

Floral arrangements are a hobby spread and appreciated by all peoples of the world.

However, few floral design schools are characterized by such rich symbolism, tradition and cultural significance as Japanese Ikebana art.

This ancient flower arrangement craft has a minimalist aesthetic, but behind it lies a complex theory. The purpose of this guide is to describe this impressive art and to explore the various fundamental styles and techniques of ikebana. At the end of this article, you will be able to successfully make your first floral arrangement according to the ikebana principles.


  • What is ikebana? Definitions, significance and short history
  • Ikebana design styles and principles
  • Basic techniques of ikebana
  • How can you make your own ikebana arrangement?

  •  1. What is ikebana? Definitions, significance and short history 

    Also known as kadō, ikebana is the traditional art of arranging flowers according to centuries-old Japanese principles. The term ikebana comes from the Japanese words ikeru (to arrange, live or have life) and do (flower). This practice uses a variety of flowers, greenery and other items chosen with the utmost care to convey a feeling or emotion to observers - just as a painting or a sculpture does.

    This art that "makes flowers come to life" dates back to the 6th century, when several classic Japanese poems began to mention various associations of seasonal flowers. At the same time an important role in promoting this art was Buddhism, also introduced in the sixth century in Japan. Initially, the flowers were simply placed in vases and on altars as offerings to the god Buddha. Kadō (the path of flowers) continued to grow and become one of the symbols of Japan, like the tea ceremony or the burning of fragrant wood. 

    In the 14th century, religious art described the first attempts at flower arrangements with various elements of foreground, composition and background. These were created with a similar theme in mind: the harmonization of human existence with nature and divinity. Thus, the three lines created by branches of different heights, called shushi, represent heaven (heaven), man and earth. 

    A century later, the first publications on ikebana appeared, and today this art is widely taught and practiced in Japan and beyond. Today there are over 1,000 different schools of ikebana, each with its own way of interpreting this art. The oldest of these is the Ikenobo School, with a history of over 1300 years, which laid the formal foundations of ikebana. The Ohara School (founded in 1895) is known for its use of shallow bowls as containers, while the Sogetsu School is extremely popular and popular in the West due to its more flexible rules. 

    2. Ikebana design styles and principles 

    Ikebana art uses a variety of lines, colors, shapes, dynamic elements and a rich tradition of Japanese culture, religion and symbolism to capture the imperfect-perfect nature and human emotion in floral design. 

    This diversity has materialized over time in the creation of unique ikebana styles. The most popular styles are:

    Rikka style

    This style (the literal translation is "standing flowers") was one of the first styles of ikebana developed and is characterized by a more formal design, especially preferred by the aristocracy of ancient times. The arrangements are made as an interpretation of nature according to the Buddhist principles of life. One of the things that differentiates this style from the others is the use of 7 or 9 branches placed in a vertical position.

    Moribana style

    Moribana arrangements (meaning "piled flowers") use shallow, bowl-like containers that allow the artist to create a design that flows outward into positions other than the vertical. Stylish arrangements of worship that reflect the luster of water are very popular. 

    Swimming style

    The first difference you can see between the Moriban style and the swim is that the second one is placed in a vase with a high neck, rather in a low bowl, held together with needles. However, swimming arrangements can have 3 style variations, as in the case above: vertical, inclined and cascading.

    Shoka style

    This modern style is a simplified version of the traditional arrangements. As in the case of the rikka style, the shoka style consists of three main lines: the central branch representing the "truth", several branches of support, then branches placed at the base of the arrangement for balance.

    All these styles are based on design principles unchanged for centuries. A basic element is the principle of nature. Recognizing and appreciating changes in nature is fundamental to ikebana. The arrangements should be seen as a reflection of a certain moment in time - a snapshot or a portrait that illustrates a certain season.

    At the same time, ikebana is considered to be a direct representation of the artist's personality. The way man sees nature is the way the arrangement materializes in reality. This fundamental axis man - nature is illustrated by the 5 principles that underlie Ikebana, namely:

    1. lines - are given by the outline of the flowers or branches used. An arrangement can have a few lines or more, depending on your preferences. Arrangements composed mostly of vertical and horizontal lines are more symmetrical and convey a static character. To create a more dynamic design, you can put asymmetrical or curved elements. Verticality is another principle. Just as a upright posture in humans means strength and vitality, so can ikebana. The more vertical an arrangement, the stronger it looks.
    2. volume - is another basic element used to add weight and depth to the arrangement. When looking at different patterns of arrangements, try to notice how the volume was used to get a full look, or vice versa, to express something more delicate.
    3. Focal point (focus) - is the final element on which an ikebana arrangement is based. Most often, it can be obtained with the help of a special flower that attracts the viewer's attention, using a flower to attract attention.
    4. space - can be positive or negative. This is the relationship between the physical elements of the arrangement and the empty space between them.
    5. materials - Although there are generally fewer strict rules here, most arrangements use only 2-3 different types of plant material. When choosing materials, consider their shape, color, density, and texture. 

     3. Basic techniques of ikebana 

    Before you start creating your own arrangements, there are some rules and techniques that are good to know. Without these basics, it can be difficult to create something, regardless of your creativity or imagination.

    Environmental factors:  A flower arrangement will last the most in favorable environments. Humidity is welcome and will help the flowers to stay fresh for longer. Also, a cool environment is preferred to warm, because high temperatures will wither the vegetation faster. Keep arrangements away from smoke, strong sunlight and air conditioning. 

    Stem cutting: One technique commonly used by ikebana practitioners is mizukiri, in which the flower stalks are cut under water to prevent air from entering and oxidizing the flower. Also, make sure that you cut the stem correctly. If you have chosen a kenzan bowl as the base, then it is recommended to make the cuts perpendicular to the stem. If you use a vertical vase to hold the flowers, then a diagonal cut will maximize the portion through which the flower can absorb the water so necessary for survival.

    Retouching: A rule in ikebana is to always keep the lines and contours very clear.  Thus, sometimes it may be necessary to remove any twigs and leaves that prevent you from getting the desired result. Also consider cutting those leaves that are below the water line, as they do not add anything to the arrangement (but could be an environment conducive to the growth of bacteria).

    Leaf maintenance: If you want to enjoy a beautiful and long lasting look, it is recommended to clean from time to time the leaves in the arrangement. You can do this with a lightly damp paper towel.

    Flower fixing: Sometimes it can be difficult to fix the flowers with a thinner stem in the chosen support.  When this happens, you can take the thread with the thin stem and place it, or merge it with a thicker stem, which you can place firmly in the bowl. Another method is to use a splint. To do this, simply attach a smaller stem segment to the stem that provides more stability. 

    Crushing the stems: We all want to have flower arrangements lasting fresh. You can achieve this by hitting or crushing the flower stalks you use in your arrangement. Although it may sound a little aggressive, this procedure is absolutely necessary for hard and fibrous stems. By crushing them, you will increase the surface of the cut more, ie the place where the flower will get its water. This process does not take long and all you need is a small hammer or other flat object. Hit slowly until the ends are softer and further apart.

    Boiling the stems: Another technique you can use to keep your flowers alive longer is to boil the stems. By doing this, you will not only allow the stems to absorb more water, but you will also eliminate bacteria that could affect the health of your flowers. To do this, take the ends of the stems and put them in boiling water for about 5-7 seconds.

    Bending and modeling: Sometimes you may find that the stems and branches in the arrangement do not have the desired shape. Fortunately, most are flexible enough, allowing you to bend or shape them to your liking. 

     4. How can you make your own ikebana arrangement? 

    As we have seen, Ikebana models can vary in size and composition. They could be composed of a single flower or an amazing combination of branches, flowers and foliage. If you have decided to try such a flower arrangement, here are some steps that can help you in this new experience!  

    STEP 1: Buy flowers

    To make your own ikebana arrangement, floral experts suggest you start with a visit to the flower market. Before choosing items to include in the arrangement, ask yourself the following questions: “How do I feel when I see this flower or this Curiosity object? Interest? Joy? Feeling we have 'Run out of gas' emotionally? " Let your emotions guide your choices and remember that this practice embraces human nature, with all its imperfections and complexities. In addition to flowers, you may find an interesting vase, a few blades of grass, a twig, or a leaf that you think might fit right into your arrangement. 

    Bonus tip: you can reuse flowers or leafy branches from the classics buchete received on various occasions in their own ikebana arrangement!

    STEP 2: Select and cut branches

    Once you've gathered some elements for the arrangement, it's time to put things right. Most ikebana models include 5 to 13 stems. For starters, it is recommended that you integrate a smaller number of elements, so that you do not feel overwhelmed by a potential congestion.  The process of selecting the stems can be difficult, but to overcome this feeling, choose in the first phase the stalk that "tells you more" than the others - that is the central piece of the arrangement. Then place it next to other items so you can see potential combinations. Do you see any kind of match? Do they have similar colors? If you don't see anything complementary, go in another direction. If you have found a convincing branch, but you need to cut it in order to integrate it, use the cutting techniques above. Use a pair of sharp scissors. Also, remember that the items you select for your arrangement do not have to be perfect. Crooked stems and uneven shapes are welcome! 

    STEP 3: Arrange the items in the ikebana bowl

    It's time to dump her and move on. Unlike traditional Western arrangements, which try to hide the "magic" behind the design, ikebana highlights it. Usually called the traditional vessel kenzan it is shallow and may have the shape of a small pond, in which you can place the flower stalks in the desired position. If you do not have such a pot, a vase or a ceramic bowl can be just as good. You can fill the pot with water - and if the petals fall into the water, then so be it! It's all part of the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi, the belief that there is beauty in imperfection. 

    The end result can be really surprising, as the arrangement will become a direct expression of the way you relate and work with nature in its purest form. As you experience this new art at home, remember that the process is as important as the end result. So it is best to slow down, take things in stride and put self-criticism aside - a great practice that can be applied in life!

    As we have seen, ikebana is not just a simple method of arranging flowers as a decorative object. This is a real art with a rich history of meanings and especially a calming, healing process that will highlight your creative sense!

    Photo sources: shutterstock.com, unsplash.com.

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