I was first introduced to the tradition of ikebana from a Japanese friend. Her eyes lit up when I asked her about her culture, but it was the topic of ikebana where she would speak so earnestly.
Ikebana is a Japanese word which translates to “the art of flower arrangement”.
The origins can be found dating back to 6th century Japan where there were ritual flower offerings in Buddhist temples. It became a practice that was developed more in the 14th century as patterns and styles of the arrangement of flowers evolved.
My friend explained to me that underneath the obvious implications of aesthetic value, there was a lot of technical and mathematical principles that made up the whole process of ikebana. It’s a disciplined art which emphasises the harmony of nature and humanity. Some forms of ikebana utilise the approach of minimalism, a technique that is a stark contrast from the arrangement of flowers you would normally see in your every day flower boutiques.
It’s like yoga — but with plants and flowers. Ikebana is a disciplined art form, and some would find it therapeutic when working in silence. The practice encourages us to have a temporary escape from hectic schedules, stressful meetings, and the chaos of the world. It offers you a window of opportunity to be completely at peace and be lost in the moment.
Much like any other art form, you take control on what to create and what you would like to express from your creation. The final outcome of an ikebana takes on a spin of an individual’s emotions at the time of creation, which makes each arrangement different every time.
Although there is self-expression, there are also rules of ikebana that are highly complex. Other than the Golden Ratio, which is pretty much a rule of thumb for every artist out there, ikebana highlights the rule of having three main branches: the longest branch which stands for heaven, or spiritual truth; the middle branch, representing man, or the harmoniser; and the shortest, for earth, or material substance.
Ironically, with this main rule, it is also aimed to liberate the creativity of the artist, by assimilating freedom of innovation within and around the rules. It sounds paradoxical as there are two opposing ends of ideas of discipline and creative liberation — but it’s not an uncommon concept. A simpler comparison would be the iambic pentameter in English poetry.
Ikebana is different from the western perception of flower arrangements, where the flowers are appreciated because of the flowers. Ikebana has underlying expressions which are hidden so subtly that it’s ingenious.
Owning a final outcome of an ikebana can really bring a statement of life to your house. It is a living entity which continues to grow and change as time passes by, something that other art forms won’t be able to do. In the right setting, ikebana is able to demonstrate the intricate balance we need in life, harmonising with nature and earth as a human being.