Ikebana: more than just a hobby of flowers!
It looks like every hobby in Japan has a deep cultural root and can be upgraded to an artisan level.
The tea ceremony is a word that always goes together with Japan whenever someone mentions this country. Each year, thousands of visitors go to Japan for a cup of tea. That’s why I feel a little bit unfair for Ikebana – the art of flower arrangement in Japan.
Though it might look like a hobby for women, today even men can try and practice Ikebana as a zen activity to relax.
In this article, I will tell stories about my experience with Ikebana, how I first learned about it, how I practiced on my own, and how it transformed me.
1. It is about flowers, and it is not.
I always have a strong passion for flowers, which is a hobby passed on from my mother and grandmother. They use to arrange flowers for worshipping, for special days in our families, or family gatherings.
However, when I came to Japan, I soon discovered that our family-style is something more "Western" and not preferred by traditional Japanese. Western flower arrangement focuses on symmetrical composition and masses of colorful flowers. It took me a while to fully understand Ikebana and how the Japanese see flowers.
Ikebana is more than just a recreational activity for women.
It has its roots in Shintoism, Confucian, and Buddism. There is a saying that fully describe "Ikebana":
One line being symbolic, two lines harmonious, and three lines bringing fulfillments.
Simply explained, Ikebana is more about asymmetry and irregularities, which overtimes, I learn to appreciate. Coincidentally, when I started learning to paint the landscape, it has a similar rule: always make the landscape asymmetrical.
Landscape paintings and Ikebana have one common character: represent nature in an unbalanced composition. Because it is how nature always presents itself.
Thus, if you try Ikebana, you will see that it is not just putting flowers in a vase but also representing the environment around you.
2. It is simple, and it is not.
Ikebana looks simple at first sight with the minimalism in the number of branches and foliages. However, sophistication and elegance are about the process. It turns out that there are so many things to learn and remember.
Apart from the fundamental group of branches (Shin, Soe, and Tai or Hikae), I have to learn about the symbolic meaning of each flower as well.
For example, Camellia means "waiting" or "longing", Daffodil means "respect", Hydrangea is "pride", and Peony represents "bravery".
I also need to consider the seasonal factors in my Ikebana. For New year, I should include a Japanese plum branch for autumn, a chrysanthemum is essential, and a cow lily represents summer.
A finished Ikebana is a balanced combination of the surrounding environment and the message I want to send to the world.
Even I learn Ikebana as a relaxing activity, it still requires focus and patience for achieving satisfaction and fulfilment.
3. It is an art, and it is not.
Being an artist, I feel Ikebana similar to sculpture, which requires me to care about the overall shape and form more than colors. It is about composition, forms, and creativity.
However, you do not need to be an artist to try it.
Of course, there are Ikebana professionals who work as artisans in Japan, yet today several people learn it for joy (and me too!).
One Japanese woman used to tell me that Ikebana is like cooking for her. It is something she does for the beauty of her own home and family, something she does for the sake of herself, and she does not care who thinks it is beautiful or not. What she wants to reach through Ikebana is the balance of the surrounding environment and her mind as well as the joy of creating something beautiful.
That’s why today, Ikebana has Neigeire and Jiyuka styles for "naturally effortless" flower arrangement.
In this world, there are already so many rules to follow, if you want to keep flowers arrangement free of order, fun and recreational, keep it a hobby. If you want to convey a meaningful message through your flowers, make it an art.
Whether Ikebana is an art or not will be the question I leave here for you to answer.
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