Monday, September 3, 2012

How could Japanese flower arranging be so different, you may wonder, from the Western style. After all, flowers are flowers, and you just try to place them attractively in a vase, right? Well, no. If that's all there were to it, there wouldn't be anything called ikebana and the (at least) tens of thousands of people around the world practicing it.

Please keep in mind that this blog is being written by a beginner. So I have no answers about anything. All I offer are some observations about various aspects of this art form (and yes, ikebana is an art form). I hope they will be of interest to other floral designers. Also I'm sure that many people can (and will) argue with my observations.

  • Western flower arranging is, when compared to ikebana, relatively uncomplicated. Sure, one can study it and learn different styles and types of floral design and develop certain skills over time. But it is nowhere near so articulated and complex as ikebana, which has spiritual connections both to Buddhism and Shinto, as well as being part of a distinctive Japanese aesthetic.
  • Western flower arranging plays a completely different cultural role than does ikebana in many respects. For instance, if you read a book (for Westerners) about Japanese society, ikebana is likely to be mentioned or even discussed at some length. If you read a general-audience book about Europe or the English-speaking nations, flower arranging will likely not be mentioned at all.  Ikebana is one of the distinctive arts that developed hundreds of years ago in Japan. It has thrived and been widely and continuously taught. Western flower arranging is more of a commodity today, more the product of a business than an art, or a competitive activity for a relatively few hobbyists. 
  • Western flower arranging is more about color and profusion, while Japanese flower arranging is more about line and restraint. One of the things I love the most about a beautiful ikebana arrangement is its representation of sculptural line and space. 

  • Western flower arranging tends to emphasize flowers, while ikebana--especially some forms of it, such as ikenobo--emphasizes branches and foliage as much or more than flowers. Some of the classic forms of ikebana, like rikka, resemble small trees more than they do bunches of flowers. As a tree lover, I find that very appealing. For instance, the top photo above is a rikka design I photographed at the Ikenobo Ikebana Society office in San Francisco. The design below it is a Western-style design I created for Laura, my daughter-in-law, when she gave birth to my first granddaughter, Skye.

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