From serene temples to Imperial Court palaces, ikebana has a rich, interesting history. In Japanese, ikebana means living flowers and refers to the Japanese style of flower arranging. Originating in the sixth century when Buddhist priests began offering flowers on temple altars, this exclusive pastime of the privileged slowly evolved to include the general population. By the 15th century, various schools of ikebana with unique rules and methods were established.
Today, the most predominant schools are Ikenobo, Ohara and Sogetsu, but more than 2,000 are registered with the Japanese Ministry of Education. Ikenobo, founded in the 15th century, is the oldest and remains connected to Buddhism. One of the first modern schools, Ohara, founded in 1912, added western materials and flat containers. Sogetsu, founded in 1927, introduced avant-garde style with the use of steel and plastics.
Although arrangements differ depending on the school, there are basic shared characteristics: asymmetrical shape; inclusion of empty space; and harmony among materials, container and setting. Traditionally, the overall form is triangular, and can be created with line, colour and mass or shapes within. “Like Japanese paintings, ikebana includes empty space as one of the components,” says Ikebana International president and Ikenobo professor Irene Foulkes. Any plant or part thereof can be incorporated—from seedpod, full flower, to bud, and withered leaves—thus nature and its changing essence connotes past, present and future.
In Japan, special events and seasonal festivities are celebrated with ikebana. Over time, like the language of flowers popularized during the Victorian age, specific flowers and plants have become symbolic of certain ideas. For example, pine tree or matsu is fashioned into Oshogatsu or New Year’s Day decorations. This evergreen is prized for its hardiness and longevity. Similarly chrysanthemum or kiku, Japan’s Royal Family crest, is used for auspicious occasions.
Top photo caption: For Irene Foulkes, a triangular bowl by Michelle Mendlowitz was her starting point. “It reminded me of a boat with Aboriginal spirit animals on the outside. I thought of Bill Reid’s Jade Canoe and decided to do a flower canoe,” says Irene. Knowing the arrangement would be placed in a corridor leading to the meeting rooms at the G8, Irene chose the departing boat or defune—done on happy occasions in the Ikenobo school. Irene explains, “My arrangement is a modern version of defune and combines Canadian themes with traditional ikebana. Driftwood and pine comprise the sail, agapanthus depicts water spray while peonies and chrysanthemums, which are held in high esteem in Japanese culture, represent the G8 leaders.”
Photography courtesy of Ikebana International, Toronto chapter 208