The History Of Ikebana

Ikebana, or the Japanese art of flower arrangement, is an important element of traditional Japanese culture. Although Ikebana itself extends back to ancient times, standardized styles did not emerge until the end of the 15th century, when they came into use for decorating the tokonoma alcoves that were becoming a standard part of Japanese architecture. In the centuries since, a variety of styles and schools have emerged, reflecting historical developments, such as the growth in the popularity of the tea ceremony, the emergence of new cultural pursuits, and, in recent times, the influence of Western culture.
The development of vases and other containers is closely linked with the growth of ikebana. At first, pottery, earthenware, and metalware from China were prized, but the subsequent extension of those overseas techniques into distinctively Japanese production methods had a significant influence on the development of ikebana. Ikebana vases and containers cover a wide range of forms and designs, and many materials are used in their production. In addition, many different techniques for forming, coloration, and firing are also used.

The various ikebana styles include countless methods of selecting flowers and vases. But they all involve a flexible decision-making process that emphasizes harmony with the situation, such as the purpose of the ikebana arrangement, the nature of the space where it will be displayed, the season, and the weather. In ikebana, vases serve as the earth for the plant materials, and they are vitally important factors that help to determine the beauty of the ikebana arrangement.

The word ikebana is usually translated as "the Japanese art of flower arrangement", but the materials of ikebana can include freshly cut branches, vines, leaves, grasses, berries, fruit, seeds and flowers, as well as wilted and dried plants. In fact any natural substance may be used, and in contemporary ikebana, glass, metal and plastic are also employed. 

As one of the traditional arts of Japan, ikebana has developed a symbolic language as well as decorative concepts, and the use of natural, ephemeral flowers and branches makes the dimension of time an integral part of the creation. 

The relationship between the materials; the style of the arrangement; the size, shape, texture, volume and color of the container; and the place and occasion for its display are all vitally important factors. In its 500-year history there have been a wide range of forms, from modest pieces for home decoration to vast landscapes and innovative sculptural works that can fill an entire exhibition hall. Along with the enormous variety of contemporary work, traditional forms continue to be studied and created. In addition, the practice of ikebana, also called kado, or The Way of Flowers, has been pursued as a form of meditation on the passage of the seasons, time and change. Its religious origins and strong connection to the natural cycle of birth, growth, decay and rebirth can give ikebana a deep spiritual resonance.

Obviously ancient China influenced Japan strongly, just as we in the West were influenced by Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. This is also true of Ikebana, "The Way of the Flower".The early ideas travelled to Japan with Chinese monks but the formalisation of the Art occured through many generations of devoted Japanese Masters.They developed progressive new forms from basic principles that had been set. Schools were set up to pass on the heritage to new generations and these became the workshops where the art was distilled to its essence.


Ikenobo History: 

In the 6th Century, Ono no Imoko paid three official vists to the imperial court of China. After his retirement he was appointed guardian of Rokkaku-do, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto. There he became abbot, changed his name to Semmu and lived in a small house known as the ike-no-bo or the "hut by the pond". In China he had studied arranging flowers as religious offerings, and in retirement he continued to develop his study of the way of the flowers. From this has developed Japan's oldest school of Ikebana. 

The Ikenobo school has a written history based on scrolls and documents which date back to 1462  as its heritage. The current Master Sen-ei Ikenobo is the 45th Headmaster with a direct link to the first Headmaster. A longer tradition than the European Royalty. 

The traditions, the written history, the progressive development of structure, form shapes and styles of Ikebana established by Ikenobo and then in parallel developed by other major more modern shools has established Ikebana as a major global art form that is in every way as valuable as painting, sculpture and ceramics in its essence. 

It is an art form that is essentially undiscovered and little understood by most Western art establishment. It has long been the provenance of the Japanese Royalty and Samurai Families with teaching particularly being controlled by the hierarchial Monks of the major Temples in Japan.

Sen-ei Ikenobo

So for many hundreds of years the art was not available to the ordinary folk. The secrets have been long locked away within inner cloisters and only in more recent times have these been more freely distributed. Ikebana International an interest group started by American service wives was a major instrument in helping disseminate the knowledge acquired by the generations of artists over hundreds of years.

Modern schools such as Sogetsu started by Sofu Teshigahara were particularly instrumental in incorporating foreigners in their schools, particularly after  World War II , when the support by the visitors was particularly welcome in reestablishing interest and financial assistance to maintain the art traditions during extremely difficult times. Sofu recognised the importance of globalising the art to maintain its long term development as well as to support its heritage.

Ohara History:

The Ohara School of Ikebana dates back to the Meiji Period (1867-1912). Unshin Ohara arrived in Osaka with the ambition to be a sculptor. His health was poor and because of his early training in the Ikenobo School of flower arranging he turned his energies to Ikebana. 

Huon Ohara

The Ikenobo school seemed to him too rigid and formal. Also Western flowers were beginning to appear in Japan. He greatly admired them and wished to use them in flower arrangements. Thus he decided to make his own type of flower arrangements in tray-like containers called suiban, which he had made for this purpose. Not only did he find a new way of using different flowers, he started the Moribana type of arrangement, which shocked the classical teachers of the time.

Sogetsu History:

Sofu Teshigahara was born in Tokyo in 1907. He learnt flower-arranging from his father who had studied many styles of different schools. When he was only twenty-five he started the Sogetsu School of Ikebana. He believed that Ikebana is not merely decorating with flowers, it is an Art. That the great difference between floral decoration and Ikebana lies in the belief that once all the rules are learnt, the techniques mastered, we must sculpt. Thus we create living sculptures.  In 1930 Sofu spear-headed a group of artists and flower-masters, issuing a manifesto breaking all ties with traditional ikebana.  In his encounter with nature with which he had a profund sensitivity he saw a boundless field for a freer personal expression. 

In 1933 he held his first solo exhibition at the Josui Kaikan in Tokyo working with scrap metal, a new medium.   In 1949 the first major post war Sogetsu exhibition was held at the Mitsukoshi Department Store in the Ginza.  It was revolutionary.  

Sofu Teshigahara

He never deviated from the basic principles which distinguish ikebana from other forms of floral art:  to grasp and express the feeling of the material, to express the third dimension and asymmetrical balance.   These were foremost in his teaching- "the principles never change, the form is always changing".
"He truly grasped the essence of ikebana and expressed precisely the beauty of omission."  (Sen-ei Ikenobo)

"Ikebana is not a mere decoration, it is an art. Ikebana is not for Japan alone, it is for the whole world." (Sofu Teshigahara)


Sogetsu logo characters The Sogetsu School

Sofu Teshigahara
Sofu Teshigahara
(1900 - 1979)
Iemoto and Founder of Sogetsu in May 1926

Katsumi Teshighara
Kasumi Teshigahara
(1932 - 1980)
1979 - 1980

Heroshi Teshigahara
Hiroshi  Teshigahara
(1927 - 2001 )
1981 - 2001

Akane Teshigahara
2001 - 


The Sogetsu School was founded on May 5, 1926 by Mr. Sofu Teshigahara with his revolutionary approach against the traditional and classical concept of ikebana.

Although basic techniques are taught by instructors, the Sogetsu School of Ikebana believes that anyone can arrange ikebana anywhere with anything, and that it should not be an exclusive Japanese art limited to a few. Sogetsu students are encouraged to be creative and imaginative.


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This page was last updated May 2023


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