Discover the principles behind the centuries-old Japanese art of floral design.
‘Ikebana is often translated to Japanese floral artor flower arrangement,’ says Tomoko Sempo Yanagi, an ikebana professor and the chairperson of Ikenobo UK & Ireland, ‘But, in my view, ikebana isn’t just an artistic arrangement of flowers and plants, the practice is as spiritual as it is technical.’ Tomoko, who was born in Japan and is now based in the UK, has been practicing ikebana for more than thirty years and was trained at the oldest school of ikebana, known as Ikenobo.
Dating back to the 7th century when Buddhists started offering flowers at temple altars, ikebana was later formalized in the 16th century by emperors and aristocrats. The practice also has roots in the ancient Shinto religion – a belief system that conceives ‘god,’ or ‘spirits,’ as residing in natural phenomena such as trees, flowers, and wind. Today, the art form is practiced by professionals and amateurs alike. At its core, ikebana involves carefully selecting plants and flowers to create a form that honours natural characteristics when placed in a new environment.
For Fumiya Yamamoto, a florist and researcher living in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan, the paradox of ‘killing flowers’ to use them in an ikebana arrangement creates a tension in the practice. ‘It takes a great deal of determination to take the life of a flower,’ explains Fumiya, who studies how ancient, flower culture intertwines with divinity, transcendence, and metaphysics. ‘In a way, my flowers are a form of prayer.’