Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. The word translates to “arranging flowers” or “making flowers alive”. This practice is also called Kadō which translates to “way of flowers”. Kadō is one of the three classical arts of refinement in Japan along with Kōdō “way of incense” and Chadō the Japanese Tea Ceremony. While both words are typically used interchangeably there is a slight difference. Kadō not only refers to the flowers themselves, but also to the techniques used in arrangements in addition to the mental and physical training. The work itself is named Ikebana. Masters of flower arrangement are called Kadō-ka “flower masters”.
There is no official record for how this tradition began but many believe that it is closely linked to Buddhism. Flower arrangement was introduced to Japan along with Buddhism in the 6th century. It is said that the first Ikebana was a composition left at the altar of a Buddha. During the Heian Period (794-1185) arrangements of seasonal flowers became popular amongst the upper classes. The first schools of Kadō were established in the 15th century.
Similar to the other classical arts of refinement there are very specific rules when arranging flowers. In the Ikenobo School, the oldest and largest school of Ikebana, each flower is assigned a different role in the overall composition. The main element, Shin, is always in the center and should be roughly twice as long as the combined height and length of the vase. The main supporting element, Soe, should be about two thirds the length of Shin. And finally, Tai, the element that supports Soe should be approximately half the length of Shin.
Ikebana is meant to be a beautiful combination of flowers, nature, and humanity. There are seven key principles in Ikebana: silence, minimalism, shape and line, form, humanity, aesthetics, and structure. It is not enough to simply put beautiful flowers together in a vase. Ikebana is, at its core, an art form meant to convey something specific. Flowers are chosen seasonally and are often artistic impressions of the seasons themselves. Ikebana is used for all manners of occasions from happy to sad, and each individual occasion is reflected in the final piece.