JF Cairo Library’s theme for April is “Ikebana” or Japanese flower arrangement. Ikebana is the most popular art among the traditional Japanese arts, because, if you want to cook a Japanesedish, or learn Cha-no-yu (tea ceremony) or Hogaku (Japanese music) etc. you need special materials, tools, instruments or their substitutes, but as for Ikebana which uses plants to reproduce nature, it is an art which can be practiced anywhere on earth since any type of plant can be used.
What is Ikebana?
Both Japanese style flower arrangement, namely Ikebana, and western style flower arrangement use the beauty of plants to ease people’s souls. So what is the difference between them? Generally, in the western style flowers are arranged in a bouquet which looks nice whichever way we look at it, but the Japanese style uses not only blooms and leaves, but also twigs and sometimes even dead plants and moss, and the arranged is meant as a reproduction of nature with a specific orientation or proper direction for viewing. When Ikebana was established as a high art form it was highly influenced by Zen Buddhism and Cha-no-yu, the Japanese way of tea, was also formed at that time. The words of Sen no Rikyu, the founder of Cha-no-yu embody the idea of Ikebana perfectly: “feel the beauty and dignity as they are.”
Ikebana’s Origins and History
Human beings have been enjoying the beauty of the flowers, giving them as offerings and gifts since the beginning of history. In Japan, there are important roles for plants in ancient religious services and festivals. Ancient people believed that a branch from long-lived strong trees or evergreens could summon and hold divine spirits.
In the 6th century, with the introduction ofBuddhism to Japan from China, the custom of offering flowers on the Buddhist altar was also introduced. In the middle of the 15th century, the position of “Ikebana Master” appeared. The Master was someone who arranged flowers in the pure style of Ikebana. In the 16th century, a theory of Ikebana was compiled and systematized by successors of the Master of Ikebana. The Masters of Ikebana were usually monks at Ikenobo, so till now, “Ikenobo school” is regarded as the main current of the Japanese flower arrangement.
For the same reason, pupils of Ikebana used to be men only. But in the latter half of the 18th century women were accepted as students of Ikebana. Ikebana and Cha-no-yu also began spreading among the middle classes after it had been limited to the high classes only.
In the 19th century people’s interest in western culture increased due to the increase in diplomatic and economic exchanges thereby ushering in a new phase in Ikebana, leading to the appearance of a new style in the Ogasawara school (Ogasawara was one of the best pupil of Ikenobo school) called Moribana. This form is regarded as the typical Ikebana form to the present.