What Is Ikebana?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ikebana is an ancient Japanese art which involves arranging flowers, conforming to very strict principles designed to create harmony, balance, and a beautiful form. Formal training in Ikebana is carried out at several schools around the nation of Japan, and overseas students may choose to study with masters of the art. An Ikebana arrangement is distinctive and sometimes quite beautiful, and it certainly cannot be confused with Western flower arrangements, which follow very different governing principles.

Ikebana emphasizes simplicity.
Ikebana emphasizes simplicity.

The very earliest origins of the tradition actually appear to have begun in China, where Buddhist monks offered flowers to the Buddha. In the sixth century, Buddhists brought the art to Japan, along with a greater knowledge of Buddhism. However, Ikebana as we know it began in Japan. Practitioners refined the art, creating several major schools including Rikka and Shoka. Practice of Ikebana is a spiritual and aesthetic art, and it is counted in the skills of many accomplished Japanese men and women; many Japanese women pursue the study of Ikebana an explore the addition of more unusual and avant-garde elements like metal and plaster.

Ikebana began in China when Buddhist monks offered flowers to the Buddha.
Ikebana began in China when Buddhist monks offered flowers to the Buddha.

Many women study Ikebana as part of a general course of self improvement and refinement, while both men and women may follow it as a spiritual pursuit. Ikebana incorporates many principles of Japanese life, including a high value for simple, highly symbolic aesthetics. Directions for Ikebana are very precise, dictating which flowers and plant materials can be used, and when, and how they should be best arranged. The style of vase used is also very important, as are the general aesthetics of the room where the arrangement will be displayed.

To the Western eye, an Ikebana arrangement may seem very spare and plain. However, these arrangements encompass spiritual and aesthetic values which have been refined over centuries. Each branch, flower, twig, and leaf is carefully placed, with the practitioner thinking about how it will look in the overall arrangement as well as considering its individual symbolism. Color and form are very important considerations, with many flower arrangers going through large amounts of plant material in their search for the perfect composition.

Ikebana is also a very important part of the tea ceremony, and many formal Japanese homes include an Ikebana arrangement, along with seasonally appropriate scrolls and decorations. Highly refined practitioners may have devoted their lives to the study of Ikebana for several generations, with several modern schools incorporating free-form aesthetics and other break-away aspects of this very traditional and formal field of study.

The Japanese art of Ikebana has strong ties to Buddhism.
The Japanese art of Ikebana has strong ties to Buddhism.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


The principles of Japanese ikebana can be seen in traditional Japanese gardens. I visited one several months ago. It was very impressive.

The whole garden was very well designed. It was balanced, with trees and shrubbery trained and maintained in a beautiful way. The ponds had rocks and stones placed very artistically.

There was a tea house there, and it had an ikebana flower arrangement inside the tea house during the tea ceremony.


@bfree - Your post was very interesting. I didn't realize that there were actual reasons to explain how the principles of Ikebana evolved over the years. Use of space in the arrangements imitates how nature exists, and one can imagine how the wind is flowing through the space.

It must be a challenge and take a lot of practice to become a master at this flower arranging technique. It's certainly different from western flower arranging, but it is intriguing and makes you want to observe it for a time.


My friend hired a practitioner of Rikka Ikebana to create positive energy vibrations in the three homes she's currently trying to sell. They've been on the market for a while now so she decided to clean out and spruce up the decor with a little Zen magic.


While I was living in Tokyo I had the opportunity to learn how to create Ikenobo style Ikebana arrangements from a local florist. The first lesson she taught me was that in Japan beauty is perceived as space the same as in nature.

That's why Ikebana artists leave space between their tall branches. It allows the air to pass through them just like wind in nature. This is the most basic lesson and once you learn to see space, you can begin to create space.

There are solid rules that govern the art of Ikebana, but there's also a lot of room for creativity within those rules. Most importantly, the arrangement should always engage the viewer and stimulate their imagination.

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