The art of Japanese flower arrangement goes back to the time of the Samurai in 15th Century Japan. Understanding the laws of nature, beauty and the value of life, as seen in Ikebana, calligraphy, the tea ceremony and poetry, occupied an important place in training for the Samurai and Shogun class. With the introduction of Western influence in 1888 floral design became a standard curriculum for young women in the Western styled public education.
As with many arts, there is room for free expressions within the guidelines. In Ikebana, there are 3 major styles that demonstrate the depth and fragility of the art; Rikka, Seika, Moribana.
The “first Ikebana style”, Rikka, strives to transcend the natural world. Designs are paradoxically designed to have a man-made look. Of the Ikebana styles, Rikka style is the most formal style with 9 distinct variations.
In the Seika style, living materials of branches, grasses, and flowers are arranged to create two and three dimensional art with lines, planes and mass in a given space. Active empty space is as important as natural plant materials.
“A mass of flowers”, Moribana, was strongly influenced with the introduction of Western Civilization to Japan. There are few rules other than the requirement of one natural material living or dried. It is often referred to as Free-Style and can be avant-garde in design.. Some abstract Moribana designs contain no flowers.
Flowers and their meanings
In Japanese culture, each flower in nature has a meaning. A sakura blossom (cherry blossom) symbolizes Man in that the blossom is brief but glorious and then it falls to the ground before it has withered. Here is a summary of many flowers used in Ikebana and their accompanying meanings.
Attachment, mortal love—Morning glory
Blessing—Adonis (pheasant’s eye)
Charity, benevolence, kindness—Tulip
Courage, hardiness, loveliness—Plum
Destiny, fortune—Castor-oil plant
Elegant spirit—Iris ensata (Japanese Iris)
First love, friendship—Lilac
Good Fortune—Iris laevigata (rabbit-ear iris)
Happiness and long life, endurance—Pine
Happiness returning—Lily of the Valley
Joy of youth, pleasure—Crocus
Love, sincere, true—Magnolia lilliflora
Nobility—Cherry, Clivia, Enkianthus
Noble spirit—Kerria vine
Patience—Ornamental onion flowers
Pure heart—Baby’s breath (Gypsophila)
Purity of heart—Water lily
Recovery from illness—Cattail, Kudzu Vine, Pussy Willow
Tender Memory-Sweet Pea
Thoughtfulness—Patrinia, Bush Clover
Undying love—Globe Amaranth (bachelor’s buttons)
Vanity, vainglory, ostentation—Silk tree
Waiting for success—Hawthorn
Japanese Flowers and Plants of the Four Seasons
Japanese Flower and Plant Calendar
Seven Grasses of Autumn (Bush clover, Chinese bellflower, dianthus superbus, patrinia, kudzu vine, miscanthus, throughwort)
Mandina Domestica (sacred bamboo)