If you search for an ikebana definition the most basic answer you’ll get is that it is the centuries-old traditional Japanese art of flower arranging. The name ikebana is made up of the words ikeru (to vivify) and hana (flower), together the word ikebana can be roughly translated to “making flowers come alive.” It is a practice that involves using seasonal plants and flowers to convey a feeling or message to the observer. Originally ikebana arrangements were solely created as altar offerings, but nowadays you’ll find them in hotels, homes, schools, restaurants, and other places.
Ikebana arrangements are also an important component to chado, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which is an embodiment of spiritual and aesthetic discipline for refinement of the self. Arranging and displaying ikebana flower arrangements make up the decor elements that help to set the tone and conversation for the tea ceremony.
Though, it must be emphasized that ikebana flower arrangements are not just created for their aesthetic appeal, but are a philosophical component of creating sculptural art out of nature to get closer to nature. It is essentially a form of meditation involving flowers. The artist is expected to infuse the flowers and plants with life by arranging them in a way that highlights their natural beauty. Each element when set together is meant to enhance the other and present a balanced arrangement.
But ikebana doesn’t stop at the flowers and plants used. The holding vessel is just as important for pulling together the arrangement. Unlike western flower vessels, oftentimes ikebana vases are shallow to highlight the structure of the plants, such as stems, leaves, branches, and so on. Typically ikebana vases rely on kanzen (flower frog), a circular or square piece with pins that hold the flowers and plants in place.
There are different styles and techniques for creating ikebana flower arrangements, ranging from stricter traditional methods and more modern looser adaptations. Nageire is a style often recommended for beginners, because of its looser guidelines that emphasize talent over skill. It is non-structured, meaning that it does not require the flower arranger to consider size or symmetry. You can basically throw together an asymmetrical arrangement of flowers and call it a day.
Jiyuka is similar to Nageire, because it’s also a more freestyle form of making ikebana arrangements. However, unlike nageire, it incorporates other natural elements like leaves, stems, rocks, and more.
Seika or shoka involves creating a structured design and arranging the components at specific angles to represent the heaven, the earth, and the human (in Japanese, ten, chi, and jin). This style is particularly sophisticated and is often seen adorning hotel lobbies, alcoves, lounges, and so on.
Another ikebana arrangement style is rikka, which was originally developed by Buddhists to represent natural landscapes. It focuses on the beauty and simplicity of nature and normally makes use of flat disc ikebana vases.
Last but not least is moribana style, also known as modern style. This style consists of flowers arranged in a row set in a shallow ikebana vase or basket often with slanted branches.
If you are interested in dipping your toes into the water but aren’t ready to fully commit to one ikebana style or practice just yet, here are some basic rules to guide you:
Less is more. Ikebana incorporates space and focuses on minimalism for maximum impact.
Asymmetry is beauty. When in doubt keep things asymmetrical. Try going for a 30/70 balance ratio rather than the 50/50 you may be used to.
Ephemerality is the name of the game. Ikebana is all about capturing the fleeting beauty of things and representing the duality of breathing life into cut flowers.
All you need is a sharp pair of scissors to trim stems, a tall vase to hold your ikebana arrangements, and a kenzan to hold things in place. Give it a go!