This blog is about ikebana; the process I, a novice, am going through to learn an ancient and complicated art form; and the simultaneous process of becoming fascinated by and learning about Japan.
When you walk into an American living room, you are likely to notice first a fireplace and mantel or a conversation area with couches and chairs around a coffee table or maybe a giant TV screen or, at this time of the year, seasonal decorations. If you were to walk into the traditional Japanese counterpart of a living room, you might first notice the tokonoma. One of the very first things I learned about ikebana is that it is placed in the tokonoma, an alcove in a room in a Japanese home or in a teahouse.
The photograph below left shows such an alcove. I took it of the Sekka-tei Tea House near the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. A tokonoma is intended for the display of art--usually a scroll, and to the left of the scroll, an ikebana arrangement. Unfortunately I don't read Japanese, so I don't know what the plaque to the left of the scroll says, but it is located where one would expect to find an ikebana design. Note the natural wood post on the left side of the alcove; it's called a tokobashira. It's made of nandina wood.
The image to the right is entitled "Guest room in Hachi-Ishi" from Japanese homes and their surroundings by Edward S. Morse, first published in 1886. Again, you can notice the alcove with its hanging scroll, ikebana arrangement, and tokobashira. (I'm indebted to Wikipedia Media Commons for making this image available.)
So what can we western practitioners of ikebana learn from this?
We can recognize that ikebana was intended to be a prominent feature in the decor of the room where guests were welcomed. It had a special place of honor in the home or during the tea ceremony. It was considered an art form. I think this helps us to understand better how ikebana has developed and the importance it has in its native culture.