History of Ikebana
Updated: May 23, 2020
What is Ikebana – It literally means “living flower”. It is more than simply putting flowers in a container. It is a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is a living thing where nature and humanity are brought together. It is steeped in the philosophy of developing a closeness with nature, as there is an interaction between the creator and the material, which often results in moments of contemplation and reflection.
Ikebana can be traced to the 6th century introduction of Buddhism to the Japanese. Part of the worship involved the offering of flowers on the altar in honor of Buddha. Flowers were one of the three traditional offerings to Buddha, together with candles and incense. In these offerings the material was arranged standing in a narrow-mouthed vase. The erect position expressed the hope that the donor's prayer, like the flowers, would rise towards heaven.
The oldest school of Ikebana dates its beginnings from a priest of the Rokkakudo Temple in Kyoto who was an expert in flower arranging that other priests sought him out for instruction. As he lived by the side of a lake, for which the Japanese word is Ikenobo, the name Ikenobo became attached to the priests there who specialized in these altar arrangements.
As time passed, Ikebana became a major part of traditional festivals, and Ikebana exhibitions were held periodically. Rules were prescribed, and materials had to be combined in specific ways. In these early forms, a tall upright central stem had to be accompanied by two shorter stems; the three stems represented heaven, man, and earth. The specific Japanese names for these differed among Ikebana schools.
Many different schools arose, styles changed, and Ikebana came to be practiced at all levels of Japanese society. Today there are over 2000 schools registered in Japan – here in South Africa we have 4 main schools, Ikenobo, Ohara, Sogetsu and Ichiyo.