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Ikebana (Japanese: 生花, literally "living flowers") is the Japanese art of flower arrangement, also known as kadō (華道 or 花道)--the way of flowers.

The origin of Ikebana is the ritual flower offerings in Buddhist temples, which began in the sixth century.  In these arrangements, both the flowers and the branches were made to point toward heaven as an indication of faith.  A more sophisticated style of flower arrangement, called Rikka (standing flowers), appeared in the fifteenth century.  The Rikka style reflects the magnificence of nature and their display.  For example, pine branches symbolise rocks and stones, and white chrysanthemums symbolize a river or small stream.  The Rikka style became popular in the seventeenth century, and it was considered as a decoration for ceremonial and festive occasions.

The most significant changes in the history of Ikebana took place during the fifteenth century, when the Muromachi shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436- 1490) ruled Japan.  The large buildings and small houses that Yoshimasa had built expressed his love for simplicity.  These small houses contained a tokonoma, or alcove, where people could place objects of art and flower arrangements.  It was during this period that the rules of Ikebana were simplified so that people of all classes could enjoy the art.

Another major development took place in the late sixteenth century.  A more simple style of flower arrangement called nageire (meaning to throw in or fling in) appeared as part of the tea ceremony.  According to this style, flowers are arranged in a vase as naturally as possible, no matter what materials are used.  Because of its association with the tea ceremony, this style is also called cha-bana (茶花, literally "tea flowers").

In the 1890s, shortly after the Meiji Restoration, that led to the modernisation and Westernisation of Japan, there developed a new style of Ikebana called moribana (piled-up flowers).  This style appeared partly to the introduction of western flowers and partly to the westernisation of Japanese living.  The moribana style, which created a new freedom in flower arranging, is used for a landscape or a garden scene.  It is a style that can be enjoyed wherever it is displayed and can be adapted to both formal and informal situations.

Along with tea ceremony and calligraphy, Ikebana was one of the arts in which women were traditionally schooled in preparation for marriage.  Today, flower arrangement is venerated as one of the traditional arts in Japan.  It is practised on many occasions like ceremonies and parties, and modern people are still choosing to study the art.

Ikebana Today

As is true of all other arts, Ikebana is creative expression within certain rules of construction. Its materials are those of nature - living branches, leaves, grasses and flowers.  The heart of its design is the beauty resulting from colour combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines - these are the real essence of Ikebana, these and the people who love them.

Use of Space in Arrangement

In Western arrangements, the focal point of the arrangement is the heart, where the most beautiful flowers are placed. In Ikebana, the focal point lies outside the arrangement.  It is the point from which the arrangement is viewed - you, looking at the arrangement, are its focal point.  The three main lines representing 'heaven', 'man' and 'earth' are placed so as to reach out towards you.  Invisible lines run from them to your right and left shoulders and to the top of your head, enclosing the space between them.  It is this that gives the arrangement the feeling of size, despite the small amount of material that has gone into its making.  It is important to recognise that the spaces so enclosed are an integral part of the arrangement.  Some people unused to looking at Ikebana arrangements are disturbed by the spaces, but like the moment of silence in a piece of music, or of stillness in a dance, it may contain the essence of the work, so 'empty' spaces in an Ikebana arrangement are full of meaning.