What Is Ikebana?

Discover the ancestral Japanese art of arranging flowers and the best-known styles

Ikebana, also known as Kado, is an art form that uses floral arrangements as a medium, following pre-established rules and symbolism.

In Japanese, the term means both "to give life to the flowers" and "floral arrangement". The other denomination, Kado, means "the path of flowers."

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Linh Le

A little bit of history

Considered one of Japan's traditional arts, Ikebana became popular during the Muromachi period, between 1338 AD and 1573 AD, when monks started using this discipline as a tool for meditation and relaxation. However, its origin is older, and intertwined with the history of the country, its religion, and the ritualistic importance of plants.

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One of the tenets of the Shintō religion is the belief that the world is full of divinities that inhabit natural elements such as plants, stones, etc. To welcome them in sacred places, the priests selected the trees they considered appropriate to act as a kind of spiritual antenna (yorishiro). They also offered them tamagushi, cuttings of a sakaki branch decorated with strips of paper, silk, or cotton, still present in religious ceremonies today.

However, the most probable origin is the Buddhist floral offerings, known as kuge, a habit born, according to legend, from Buddha Gautama himself. It is said that, upon seeing a broken branch of roses, he would have been moved by the state of the flowers and asked a disciple to put them in a glass of water, so that they could live longer. Since then, Buddhists began to decorate the altars with floral arrangements, spreading the custom to China, Korea, and, finally, Japan.

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Anna Cicognani


The classical structure of the arrangements is based on three main points, symbolizing heaven, earth, and man (Taiso Fuku), and not only uses flowers but also branches, leaves, seeds, and fruits.

During the process, the flowers are fixed to a kenzan (a base with countless pointed bristles), which is then put in a container full of water. The composition is made to last a short time: in about twenty-four hours, it will begin to wither.

However, anyone who thinks that this brevity is a weakness is wrong, since it is one of Ikebana's virtues. As in many other oriental arts, the most essential part is the process, not the result.

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James Kern


There are many. Some of the best known are:

Hana Isho

A free and more straightforward style of Ikebana and, therefore, the most recommended for beginners. Its size is small, so it adapts to small spaces.

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Hana Isho, Ikebana Ohara school, La Rochelle


This is one of the most common styles, and it means "stacked flowers". A flat, satin base, known as suiban, is used to create a water mirror.

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Moribana, Ikebana Ohara school, La Rochelle


Hanamai explores the beauty of plants through their interaction with space. There is no difference between the principal elements and the auxiliary ones, of which there cannot be more than two.

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Hanamai, Ikebana Ohara school, La Rochelle


Heika literally means "vase flowers". Uses tall and deep containers.

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Heika, Ikebana Ohara school, La Rochelle


This style is based on the decorative paintings of the Rimpa school from the Edo period. The idea is to reproduce the atmosphere of these works with floral arrangements.

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Rimpa, Ikebana Ohara school, La Rochelle


The so-called "literate arrangements", created by Japanese intellectuals. In reality, the term bunjin is Chinese and refers to the retired scholars who used to lead a simple life, appreciated poetry and painting, and collected objects such as bonsai and small insect sculptures.

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Bunjin, Ikebana Ohara school, La Rochelle

If you want to learn more about other types of floral arrangements, don't miss the Domestika course Design and Creation of Floral Compositions by ORA The Floral Agency.

English version by @angeljimenez

You may also like:

- What is Amigurumi?
- Ukiyo-e: the Beauty Behind the Classic Japanese Woodblock Prints
- How to decorate with plants

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