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IKEBANA: JAPANESE FLORAL ART

L'IKEBANA : L'ART FLORAL JAPONAIS

It is likely that you have already heard of ikebana, this somewhat mysterious Japanese floral art which features flowers and branches of all kinds to form elegant floral arrangements. However, it is a safe bet that you have not yet discovered all the facets of this ancestral art. So let's take a moment to immerse ourselves in the world of Japanese flowers and discover the codes that govern its compositions.

What is ikebana?

ikebana-yellow-flower

Definition of ikebana

Ikebana is also called kadō, which literally means “the way of flowers.” It is an ancestral art which consists of creating different floral arrangements while following formatting rules. We can see this as a way of giving a second life to flowers, it is an art practiced by many influential artists in Japan.

However, ikebana flower arrangements are not limited to their decorative aspect. They are also a real means of expression for the master who composes them. Each composition conveys above all a state of mind and feelings that are specific to it based on its technical details.

Origin of ikebana

The first traces of the development of flowers date back more than 3000 years on Egyptian frescoes, Greek vases and Sumerian mosaics. In Asia, floral art arrived a little later since it was not until the 8th century that it was introduced to Japan from China. However, for a very long time this art would remain something reserved only for Japanese aristocrats.

vases-ikebana

It was not until the 15th century that the practice of ikebana spread among the people everywhere and it was mainly thanks to shōgun Ashikaga  Yoshimasa (1436-1490) . Indeed, during his reign he built many houses equipped with tokonoma and the Japanese took to heart to install floral arrangements there. It did not take long for this practice to be completely adopted into Japanese Zen culture.

Symbolism of Ikebana

As we mentioned when defining ikebana, this art is not limited to its decorative aspect. Ikebana floral arrangements symbolize above all:

  • Sky
  • Earth
  • Humanity

This symbolization is a way of making an offering to Buddha. But the practice of ikebana is not limited to religious dimensions. A floral composition, as we will see, is for the master who composes it a means of reflecting his state of mind through the different details of his work.

The way of flowers: a means of expression and a philosophy in its own right

ikebana-white-flower

Far from our traditional standards which highlight the flowers by adding them together to obtain a voluminous and colorful bouquet. Ikebana is based on the subtraction of flowers and arranging them in a more subtle way.

Beyond its elegant visual appearance, ikebana is for the master a way of achieving a zen lifestyle and expressing his state of mind through a floral arrangement. It is a way of achieving a kind of harmony with ourselves. But this is not the only path that Japanese culture offers. A tea master or a master of ukiyo-e, for example, achieves Zen but by a different route.

Ikebana was thus integrated as compulsory learning in the education of young women, as was also the art of perfumes (kōdō) and the art of tea . But to fully understand what ikebana really is, the best way is to listen to the definition given by a real master:

“Japanese ikebana is a philosophy, a form of thought. We work on the marriage between flowers and plants. We seek to purify the composition to highlight each of the flowers. The flowers change appearance over time, which illustrates the passing seasons. All this forms a kind of balance that can be disrupted at any time. In fact, we can see in these compositions a kind of metaphor for life. »

We understand well that for those who have decided to become a master, ikebana is seen much more as "a path of life" where we find a way to let our heart and our creativity speak, than a simple activity entertaining.

How to make an ikebana flower arrangement?

ikebana-pink-flower

The tools of a floral arrangement

In order to create an ikebana floral arrangement, it is necessary to have several elements. The first to choose is the ikebana vase in which the composition will reside. There are all kinds of them but we can group them into three different families:

  • Nageire : large vase about twenty centimeters high
  • Moribana: flat vase which sometimes takes the form of a plate or large dish
  • Yubana: modern vase which can take quite varied shapes

There is no right answer as to the choice of vase, your choice will mainly depend on your personal tastes and the composition you want to create.

Then, whatever your choice, you will need to equip yourself with a kenzan , a flower stick which will allow the flowers and branches to stand upright in the composition. It will subsequently be hidden by auxiliary plants.

kenzan

Finally, to be able to prune the flowers and branches you will need to equip yourself with pruning shears, as well as a pair of scissors to be able to cut the leaves. When it comes to choosing flowers, there are several choices available to you, here are some ideas to give you inspiration:

  • Chrysanthemums (the white ones symbolize a river)
  • Branch of bread (symbol of rocks)
  • Roses
  • willow branch

However, be careful not to choose too many elements in your composition. Two will be enough to symbolize the sky and the earth, however, do not deprive yourself of adding what we call auxiliaries which are secondary elements such as bark or foliage. This helps hide the kenzan and make the composition more natural.

The rules of ikebana

The ideal to follow when creating a floral arrangement is perfect harmony between all the elements of the composition. In addition, it is very important to try to do something natural, asymmetrical, so that our composition is as natural as possible.

As mentioned in the elements, your floral arrangement must have at least two elements which will symbolize the earth and the sky. The size of the large branch (shu), symbolizing the sky, will differ from one composition to another but on average you can take twice the width of the vase. Take for the smallest branch (kyaku), the one symbolizing the earth, half the size of the large branch/flower.

Also be careful to keep only one bud per flower in your arrangement and finally remember that the branches and/or flowers in your arrangement should be slightly inclined. This is a way of telling Buddha that the composition is an offering for him.

Practicing Ikebana

ikebana-rose

Let's briefly recap the equipment you need:

  • Ikebana vase (in which you can place the kenzan)
  • Kenzan
  • 2 floral elements at least (branche or flowers)
  • Auxiliaries (additional foliage to hide the kenzan and make the composition more natural)
  • Shears
  • Scissors
  • Water (to fill the vase at the end)

Once you have gathered all these elements here is a guide in 7 quick steps which will allow you to create your first floral arrangement:

  1. Determine where the kenzan will be positioned in the vase
  2. Cut the flowers/branches to the desired length (large for shu and small for kyaku)
  3. Cut the ends of the branches at an angle so that it is easier for you to push them into the kenzan
  4. Place the floral elements in the composition by pressing the branches/stems onto the kenzan and remembering to tilt them slightly
  5. Prune the elements, leaves and branches, in order to make the whole composition harmonious. Do not hesitate to twist the branches and remove foliage in order to make your composition breathe.
  6. Add auxiliary foliage to hide the kenzan in the composition
  7. Pour water into the vase
  8. Admire the masterpiece 👏

As you will have understood, creating a composition is not something fundamentally complicated. However, there are great nuances between the color of the flowers, the curvature of the branches and the inclination of the stems in a composition and it is the harmony that emerges from all these details that will differentiate a successful floral arrangement from a failed one. .

We will therefore conclude this article with a few sweet words from Charles Cros related to our topic of the day.

Don't say anything bad,

don't say anything nice,

be flowers.

Charles Cros

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