Flower Arranging

Japanese flower arranging up to 1600

Godai Katsunaga


Japanese flower arrangements strives to create a harmony of linear construction, rhythm, and color. While many western tends try to emphasize the quantity and colors of the flowers, devoting their attention mainly to the beauty of the blossoms. The Japanese have developed the art to include the vase, stems, leaves, and branches, as well as the flowers. The entire structure of a Japanese flower arrangement is based on three main points that symbolize heaven, earth, and humankind.


Ikebana began as a kind of ritual flower offering made for Buddhist alters at temples.  It was imported into Japan from China in the early 600’s.  Adapted by the Kuge, rules began to be formalized and it evolved into a formal standing style know as Tatabana, which would eventually became Rikka.  In these arrangements, both the flowers and the branches were made to point toward heaven as an indication of faith.

During the 1400’s flower arrangements, moved from the temple to the home and began to be appreciated for their own sake.  Tetabana was described in “Sendensho”(1445-1536), the earliest know book of Ikebana, comprised of rules made by several master over years. In the early forms, a tall upright central stem had to be accompanied by two shorter stems; the three stems represented the trinity of heaven, man, and earth.

Vase shapes popular with Ikebana, late 1400’s.

Vase shapes popular with Ikebana, late 1400’s.

Between 1460 and 1470, Ikebono Senkei, formalized the rules for Ikebana and established it as an art form or Rikka.  Rikka symbolized the mythical Mt.Meru of Buddhism and reflects the magnificence of nature in its display. For example, pine branches symbolize rocks and stones, and white chrysanthemums symbolize a river or small stream.  There were also three styles of arrangments; “shin”, formal, “gyo”, semi-formal or “so”, informal. The influence of Zen and naturalness is exemplified in each style.  In 1545, the IkenoboSchool, now well established, formulated the principles of rikka arrangements by naming the seven principal branches used in that type of arrangement.  It was used as a decorative technique for ceremonial and festive occasions.

A significant change took place during the sixteenth century, during the Momoyama period of ostentation and lavishness.  With the popularity of the tea ceremony and its rustic nature a new style of flower arrangements came into practice, called “chabana”.  The simplicity of the tea houses combined with a small alcove or tokonoma, where a small object of art or flower arrangement could be placed.  It was also during this period that ikebana was simplified so that people of all classes could enjoy the art and a more simple style of flower arrangement called nageire (meaning to throw in or fling in) appeared.  According to this style, flowers are arranged in a vase as naturally as possible, no matter what materials are used.



Rikka can trace its roots to the oldest Ikebana style of tetabana.  It is difficult to say when rikka became a distinct, recognized form, because it evolved over several centuries. The first rules for tetebana arrangements may be traced back as far as the early 7th century, to the formulations of the Buddhist priest Ono no Imoke, in this basic style of Ikebana arrangement uses tall vase and highlights vertical lines. The best feature is the emphasis on bringing out the flowers’ natural beauty and arranging them in a tasteful and elegant manner.


Rikka/Tetabana styles from the early 1500’s


 Rikka arrangements were originally seven-branched structures symbolizing the mythical Mount Meru of Buddhist cosmology; the branches represented its peak (ryō), waterfall (), hill (qaku), valley behind the mountain (bi), and the town (shi), and the whole structure was divided into in (“shade”) and (“sun”). Rikka later became a nine-branched, then eleven-branched, style with a basic three-element structure characteristic of all Japanese floral arrangements. The three main branches, shin (“truth”), soe (“supporting”), and nagashi (“flowing”), were placed so that their tips formed a scalene triangle.

The huge arrangements (5 to 15 feet [1.5 to 4.5 m] high) were constructed of evergreens, foliage, flowers, and bare branches representing the natural landscape; e.g., white holly blossoms symbolized snow-capped mountains, and cascades of white chrysanthemums stood for waterfalls.

The vase in rikka usually is 20-30cm in height and should open out at the top.  The stems should appear as a clean, single, vertical line rising from the centre of the kenzan.  This is called Mizugiwa, literally translated as water’s edge.




Chabana (literally “tea flowers”) is the simple but elegant style of flower arranging for Japanese tea ceremony. It has its origins in the Ikebana style of flower arranging as a counter to the large and formal arrangements of rikka.

Examples of Chabana arrangements, late 1500’s.

Examples of Chabana arrangements, late 1500’s.

The chabana arrangement is a seasonal expression of flowers placed in a simple vase or basket. The materials for the vases range from bronze to both glazed and unglazed ceramics as well as bamboo, glass and other materials. When arranging chabana the host first selects the flowers and then an appropriate vase. No props are used as in other Ikebana and the finished arrangement of flowers should evoke a feeling similar to what one feels in the natural garden setting.



Some of my arrangements.



One of my first attempts.



The Masters’ Book of Ikebana, Background and Principles of Japanese Flower Arrangement.

By Donald Riche and Meridith Weatherby                Bijutsu Shuppan-sha, Tokyo, 1966


The History of Ikebana

By Kudo Masanobu                                                    Shufunotomo, Tokyo, 1986


Rikka, The soul of Japanese Flower Arrangement

By Fujiwara Yuchiku                                                  Shufunotomo, Tokyo, 1976


Encyclopedia Britannica


Tetebana for Autumn, 1552.

Tetebana for Autumn, 1552.