The History of Ikebana: the Japanese Art of Flower Arrangement

The History of Ikebana: the Japanese Art of Flower Arrangement

Sarah Hinds-Friedl

Ikebana is making a comeback, and as far as floristry classes in Melbourne go, it's easy to see why. The arrangements are simple, exquisite, the practice promotes mindfulness, and with one Ikebana class you can learn the basics of this Japanese flower arranging technique. If you’ve never heard of this ancient flower arranging tradition before, here’s a brief rundown of the history.

Traditional Ikebana

Most experts agree that Ikebana started when Buddhism made its way to Japan from Korea and China during the 6th century. Before this time, the Japanese already had practices of using floral arrangements as offerings or gifts, but it was the introduction of Buddhist teachings that brought a new level of balance and minimalism to the art form. The first iteration of Ikebana was Ikenobo. It remains the largest school of Ikebana and encompasses both traditional and modern Ikebana practices. Historical records show that the practice of Ikenobo began at a pond-side temple built by Prince Shōtoku about five hundred and fifty years ago.

Over the next few hundred years, Ikebana developed alongside similar practices that focused on aesthetics - think tea ceremonies and Japanese garden design, among many others. It was largely practiced by Buddhist priests, but it also gained in popularity among Japanese generals looking to find peace when faced with difficult strategic decisions. In fact, Ikebana held only a religious meaning until aristocrats and wealthy families brought the flower arrangements into their home as decoration.

During these years of development, Ikebana came to be understood as a metaphor for the unity of human, spirit, and the earth. Its dimensionality is key. Everything from the height of the different elements, to the contrast of delicate and sturdy, down to the colour composition and slant of the piece has meaning. Some arrangements even seem to defy nature. Others are playful, modern, and unexpected. And each unique piece, as a temporary work of art, speaks volumes to the fleetingness of the human condition.

It’s interesting to learn how much consideration goes into the artistic process given that the finished product looks – to the untrained eye, of course – like a couple of flowers and twigs standing upright in a container. The more you learn about the care and precision behind every single detail, though, the more amazed and awestruck you become. This is a practice with truly deep roots.

Modern Ikebana 

These days, Ikebana is a popular hobby because it is at once accessible to newcomers and also limitless for those who want to take their craft to new levels. There are over 3,000 distinct schools of Ikebana, which means there’s always more to learn, and you’ll be challenged at every stage. And, just as the early artists knew, Ikebana is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness. You’ll find yourself completely immersed in the craft, which has a range of benefits for your mental health. In fact, the Department of Health states that dedicating time to a creative hobby, especially a visual art like Ikebana, has the ability to promote psychological functioning and boost creativity in the other areas of your life.

Each stage of the Ikebana process is meditative. You spent time selecting meaningful elements. You place them precisely and carefully in order to give the piece a narrative. You make adjustments to ensure that the entire work is balance and harmonious. It is a mental challenge without compare. Once you’ve created one Ikebana, you’ll be thinking about the message you can create with the next one. That’s when you know you’re hooked.

Ikebana Class in Melbourne

Ikebana is available to Melbourne residents through ClassBento’s popular Ikebana class taught by Ikebana master Shoso Shimbo. This is a short floristry course for any experience level, in which you will explore the world of Japanese flower arrangement.

You’ll learn from an experienced Ikebana instructor a few of the different techniques of Ikebana, and you’ll get plenty of time to experiment with your favourites. The instructor will provide a variety of different flowers and other elements that you can incorporate in your design, and at the end of the class you can bring your work home and wow your friends and family. Or, follow the tradition and give away your arrangement as a token of gratitude.

One of the wonderful things about this class is that you’ll learn a skill that you can continue to build over time. And, because it’s as unique as it is beautiful, you’ll find that Ikebana makes for the perfect gift for any occasion.

Other stories by Sarah Hinds-Friedl

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