Cultural background: ikebana

Japanese artists certainly weren’t the first people in the world to use flowers and other plants for decoration ? it’s likely that the practice first reached the country along with Buddhism from India via China, where it met the local Shinto custom of offering plants to the gods. However, in its long history, it has acquired a uniquely Japanese flair, and today ikebana is perhaps one of the most visible and widely studied aspects of Japanese traditional arts. Since the second world war, it has come to be practiced as an art form, but has never lost its religious roots; during the flourishing of Higashiyama culture, it was a crucial aspect of Zen tea ceremony, decoration, and meditative practice. Its popularity led to the proliferation of a number of styles,

One of the secrets of modern flower arranging is a tool called the “kenzan,” a spiky stand that allows flowers to stand at different angles inside a container. Trimming or bending flowers before placing them in a long-necked vase, as is done in some styles of ikebana, allows artists some ability to create shapes, and historically small flower holders with open holes have also been used at the bottom of vases. The kenzan, however, developed in the Meiji era, offered the ability to create long, sideways-arching lines, or to hold long flowers upright even in shallow ceramic containers. In addition to their ceremonial and decorative use, flower arrangements during this time also began to be seen as artistic works.

Most visitors to Japan have experienced flower arrangements in some form, and some travelers and long-term residents have the opportunity to make their own through acquaintances and friends, but the overwhelming variety of styles and schools can make choosing an ikebana teacher difficult. It is also often associated with tea ceremony and kimono wearing, which can be expensive hobbies. But with so many diverse schools and styles, there are also plenty of different teachers to work with, and in recent years a worldwide interest in ikebana has led to the creation of tourist- and English-friendly classrooms and lessons. Even if you don’t study long-term, a workshop or lesson may change the way that you approach decorating and give you a new, unexpected outlet for creative expression.