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“I wish I could do whatever I liked behind the curtain of ‘madness.’ Then: I’d arrange flowers, all day long.” –Frida Kahlo

“Ikebana” is the Japanese art of arranging flowers or “making flowers alive.”  It can also be translated to mean “living flowers.” There are three main branches of this art form; or its “shushi”:  These are the Soe, the Shin, and the Hikae.  There are rules, too, but don’t be intimidated because anyone can do it!  Some people actually go to special schools to learn this ancient art form.  Sofu Teshigahara recognized ikebana as a creative art and founded the Sogetsu School in 1927.

“Ikebana is not just about sticking a flower into a vase: it is about the love and need of the artist to create beautiful forms…Ikebana is not just about flowers, it is about the person who arranges them.”

–Sofu Teshigahara, Founder of the Sogetsu School

Ikebana (Japanese Floral Arranging) Explained:

According to Kasen Yoshimura, grandmaster of the Ryusai School of Ikebana, “The art of ikebana is to listen to the spirits of flowers and plants. It is how to make the voice or sentiment of the flower a visual combination with your feelings. Ikebana allows the heart of the arranger to touch the heart of the viewer.” Ikebana is like poetry: it’s very personal and individual.

It is a form of meditation that is constantly moving, changing, wilting. For many it’s a spiritual practice. Can you think of anything more Zen than arranging flowers? 

 “The Japanese art of flower arranging has been described as being at once more subtle, more sensitive, and more sophisticated than the methods of arranging flowers usually employed in other cultures.” It makes sense that this form of art would be more thoughtful than simply putting a bunch of mixed flowers into a vase; it’s seen as a meditative act. 


“Simple floral arrangements were made as early as the 7th century, when Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China.”

The roots of Ikebana “can be traced to around 1400 A.D., when the intricate offerings were placed on Buddhist altars. The placement and selection of seasonal flowers and branches is meant to express emotions through plants.”

Helpful Tips

When you begin to practice the art of Japanese floral arranging or Ikebana, there are some important tips to keep in mind. 

  • Become accustomed to the different types of flowers you’re going to use. Ikebana is all about proportion, lines, movement, and energy.
  • “It is important to give the feeling of the energy of the plant growth so toward the tip it becomes almost straight. An imaginary line from the tip of the shin to the very bottom should be perpendicular to the rim of the vase.”
  • Add water to a shallow container. The person practicing Ikebana should use a “kenzan” to “prepare a basic Moribana arrangement.” A kenzan is a “small, pin-covered object that keeps flowers in place.” This allows for precision and is ideal for the meticulous flower lover.
  • Choose two branches: “one for shin and one for soe, and a flower, for hikae. Next, each stem is measured and cut to precise and fixed, one at a time, on the kenzan, at different angles. To complete the arrangement, supplementary jushi stems are added to hide the kenzan and fill out the arrangement. These principles can be repeated over and over, shifting the placement and angles to achieve different shapes and effects.”

Different Styles 

  • Rikka is a synonym for Ikebana and was once a formal arrangement with nine branches and, now, by today’s standards, has eleven. 
  • Seika is a type of arrangement that is best appreciated by sitting on the floor directly in front of the flowers.
  • Moribana literally means “piled up flowers.” Moribana is simply an expression of Ikebana and is used to create small gardens or miniature landscapes in dishes (think of a dish garden or something including a bonsai tree). 

Ideal Flowers to Use: 

  • Something with a woody stem for the center or the “soe” 
  • Bamboo
  • Irises
  • Cherry blossoms
  • Chrysanthemums 

To learn more about Ikebana and to access information used in the creation of this blog post, check out the links below: 

For orchids from Chelsea Flowers, check out the links below: 

(All images used in this blog are courtesy of Japanese Flower Arrangement: Classical and Modern; Published by Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland, Vermont, 1960 and Chelsea Flowers)