Ikebana is an ancient art from Japan that has grown in popularity in the West since the end of World War II. It’s an art form that appears simple but is actually deceptively complex. The aim of this guide isn’t to turn you into an ikebana master after reading; that would be impossible. Instead, we aim to help you overcome the feeling of intimidation that one feels when beginning something new like this.
In this guide, you’ll learn enough to help you figure out if ikebana is something you want to take up and if so, what the first few steps on the path should be.
All There is to Know about Ikebana
The History of Ikebana
Ikebana is thought to have originated in Japan in the 6th century; the same time that Buddhism arrived in Japan from China. This isn’t a coincidence since Buddhists had long offered up flowers to Buddha at their temples. The flowers offered up in Japan began to reflect some of the principles of Buddhism.
Being associated with Buddhism and the aristocracy, it was only a matter of time before it was taken up by the masses. By the 15th century, the floral arrangements that were initially just offerings to Buddha had become an art form known as ikebana.
In Japanese, ikebana is made up of two characters: 生 and 花
The first means life, while the second means flower. It’s for this reason that ikebana is often translated in English as ‘bring life to the flower’.While different schools have emerged and ikebana has evolved since the early days of the art form, originally ikebana arrangements were created with a similar theme in mind; one of three lines that represented heaven, man and earth.
Shin, Soe and Tai by Soil and Stem
Fundamental Techniques of Ikebana
Before you can begin to create arrangements of your own, there are some basic skills that you must first acquire. Without these basics, it will be hard to create anything, regardless of your imagination or creativity.
It’s also helpful to understand the environmental factors that will affect your arrangement. Ikebana, being made from flowers, last longest in environments that flowers flourish in. Some humidity is welcome and will help keep the flowers fresher for longer.
In addition, a cooler environment is preferred to a hot one, as warmer temperatures cause cut flowers to die sooner.
You should also endeavor to keep your arrangements away from smoke, strong sunlight, and air conditioning.
If you’re going to be doing ikebana, one of the things you’ll find yourself doing frequently is cutting flowers. While this may seem simple to do, there are a few things to note that will make the cutting much more successful.
One technique frequently used by ikebana practitioners is known as mizukiri,
or ‘water-cut’. This refers to the method of cutting stems of flowers under water to avoid air from finding its way into the stem of the flower.
Doing this will keep your flowers alive longer, so it’s important to get into the habit of doing this.
Second, you need to make sure you’re making the cut the right way. If you’re using a kenzan (we’ll explain what this is shortly) to hold your flowers in place, then you’ll want to make the cuts straight across the stem so it can be better held in place.
However, if you’re using a vase to hold your flowers, then you’ll want to use a diagonal cut so that the surface area of the cut is maximized, meaning that water will be more readily absorbed into the stem, keeping the flower alive for longer.
Modern Ikebana piece by Kyoko Hamada
Another activity you’ll find yourself doing when practicing ikebana is trimming. Because ikebana is always made with clean lines in mind, you’ll want to remove any twigs and small branches that are getting in the way of this aim.
Doing this is a skill, but by visualizing the arrangement as you want it, then gradually trimming away leaves and smaller branches until there’s nothing more to remove, your arrangement will be greatly improved.
Also consider getting rid of leaves below the waterline since they won’t really add anything to the arrangement, but could encourage the growth of bacteria.
It might sound a bit over the top (and if you’re just getting started it might be), but if you want to get the most out of your arrangements then it’s helpful to clean your leaves.
By applying a wet paper towel to your leaves, you’ll add a freshness that not only keeps them looking nice but also helps to keep them alive a bit longer.
Capping & Splinting
Using a kenzan is a must for certain ikebana styles, but it’s not always possible to stick thinner stemmed flowers onto it. When this happens, you have the option of capping your stems to allow this process to become easy.
How it works is you take your thin stem and place it into a thicker stem, which is then placed firmly onto the kenzan. It sounds trickier than it is, once you’ve done it once or twice you’ll find that it’s very easy to do and makes your life much easier.
Another method for achieving the same goal is to use a splint. To do this, you simply take another small piece of stem and attach it to the stem that you want to arrange. Which method you prefer depends on your personal preference as well as what materials you have on hand.