We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to spend a day at Ikenobo in Kyoto.  Ikebana and Ikenoba are inseparable, this place being the birthplace of ikebana.  It was fantastic to study this art form in such a prestigious place.  We were given a tour of the grounds and building.  The history of Ikenobo, culminating in the current 45th master was explained.  The grounds are astonishing, juxtaposing a high rise building built by the architect who designed the modern sumo hall in Tokyo, with that of ancient temple.  Swans swam in small canals, an aviary greeted us in the lobby.

We were shown upstairs to see Ikenobo’s private museum, containing artefacts and historic texts, which showed the lineage within ikebana.  Later we were shown floristry section where the plant material was kept.  This had an amazing wealth of material, and interestingly the workers are encouraged to create ikebana upstairs, and those studying upstairs are encouraged to see the techniques for preserving the materials downstairs.  We were shown the workshops, and saw works from teachers from around the country who have come to ikenobo to refine their skills.  All works were beautiful, from the miniature to the extravagant.  In between these tours we had a lesson with an ikebana sensei who showed us the creation of 2 arrangements and then we were allowed to have a go ourselves.  Our teacher was calming and instructive, and taught us much.  The skill, precision, thoughtfulness and complexity used to create the elegance and beauty of ikebana was made clear to me.

I thank all involved for this opportunity, particularly our teachers from Ikenobo whose hospitality and instruction was warm, friendly and thought provoking.  Below I have tried to include a history of Ikebana and Ikenobo as to me it formed a large part of what I learnt, particularly as ikebana is representative and connected to so many other parts of Japanese culture.

Within the grounds of Ikenobo is the Rokkakudo Temple (hexagonal). It is said that Buddha spoke to the Prince Regent Shotoku in a dream.  The Prince then built a six-sided temple enshrining the amulet Nyoirin Kannon (the goddess of mercy) he was carrying.  This shape is also representative of 6 important parts of the body, the 5 senses and the heart.  We were shown a 6 sided stone outside of the temple, said to mark the historical centre of Kyoto.  The temple was rebuilt in 1874, following a fire.

The word ikenoba comes from the name for the Buddhist priests who made floral offerings morning and evening at the temple, having lived near a pond (ike) the prince bathed in, and in small huts (bo).  The beginnings of ikebana stem from these offerings from circa 587 ad.  Flowers are important in buddhist sutras, particularly the lotus.  Japanese monks placed Mitsugusoku, a set of three ceremonial objects: a flower vase, incense burner and candle holder for the buddha.  Their use of seasonally available flowers and materials, and the gradual formalisation of these offerings over time became the foundations of ikebana.  The importance of pine to the Japanese stems from the sensation of life’s fleetingness in the change of seasons, thus reverence was felt for evergreen trees and the longevity these specimens hold. The understanding of the trees as Yorishiro, trees to which divine spirits are summoned, is also important in this regard.

The introduction of much Chinese art to Japan saw traditional vase shapes copied from these artefacts in the 13th and 14th century.  This meant shoin-zukuri was developed as an architectural style suitable for display of these.  Oshiita, precursor to the tokonoma (alcove), and chigaidana (bi-level shelves) were created and flower vases were displayed in these spaces.  This style of decoration called zashiki kazari and tatehana, a formal flower arrangement with upright form, was refined.  Straight stems were used due to the limited space of these vases.   Decoration within the tokonoma was placed here to show hospitality and to entertain, particularly from the 15th century.  Like gardens, ikebana has changed with changes in japanese architecture.

In Hekizan nichiroku, a diary of a zen monk at Tofukuji in 1462,  Senkei Ikenobo is mentioned as being celebrated by a warrior who asked him to arrange flowers.  Kao irai no Kadensho is believed to be the oldest extant manuscript of ikebana teaching. It shows various arranging styles of ikebana such as tatehana, kakebana (hangings from a tokonoma post or wall) and tsuribana (hanging arrangements).

 In the first half of the 16th century Senno Ikenobo compiled a theory of ikebana.  This kadensho, generally known as Ikenobo Senno Kuden, shows the importance of observing inner essence and the expression of natural form.   The Ikenobo Senno Kuden complicated the form of ikebana following a skeletal form of a style composed of seven yakueda.  This style later began to be called rikka.

Senko Ikenobo II refined the style of expressing the beauty of a natural landscape.  His links with Imperial Court and to the warrior class, notably in the understanding of arrangement for the tea ceremony, established ikenoba in society.   The development of large tokonoma spaces in powerful residences meant Ikenobo was asked to create large flower arrangements to be displayed in these spaces.

In Kyoto, Emperor Gomizuno-o often organized rikka gatherings with princes, aristocrats and monks, and Senko Ikenobo II  was an instructor on these occasions.  Rikka began to permeate into the wealthy societal classes and wider society with the establishment of the Tanabata rikka gathering held at the Rokkakudo temple.

Publishing disseminated the theory of ikebana further into society, for example the Kokon Rikka Taizen, Rikka-zu narabini Sunanomono in 1673 and Shinsen Heikazui in 1698.  In 1692 Ikenobo disciples created 9 meter-tall rikka arrangements for the ceremony marking the completion of restoration of the Great Buddha at Todaiji temple in Nara. At this time Ikenobo had spread throughout the country.

Rikka uses standing flowers, and more complex expressions of nature, that is expressions of the whole life cycle of the plant material.  Core concepts remain static but refinement of early texts continues.  By the 17th century, rikka matures seeing the samurai being influential in changes in style as power moves away from the emporer.  Also in this century, the influence of the merchant group seeking refinement becomes apparent.  Florists emerge to supply growing demand, and ikebana becomes linked more to the state of the environment.

 Senjo Ikenobo innovated the mikizukuri methods for cutting branches and piecing them together to create ideal forms of rikka.  Mechanisms of manipulation are always hidden. A collection of rikka arrangements known as Shinkoku Heika Yodoshu were published.  Rikka reflects change and diversity within the environment, and the addition of new flowers to natural scenes.   Mountain plants may form the upper levels of arrangement, unopened buds the middle, stream flowers the lower, and spring flowers the base.  Flow and progression are vital to the creation of arrangements.
Next, arrangements that were lighter in feeling were developed called nageirebana.  In the mid-18th century, nageirebana was formalized into the dignified shoka style, simplified and elegant.  The traditional teachings of shoka were formalised into the Gokajo (five teachings) and Shichishu (seven teachings).
In 1804, Hyakkashiki the first published collection of Ikenobo shoka drawings was available.  Texts begin to show the influence of disciples outside of kyoto.  In 1820,  Senjo Ikenobo published the Soka Hyakki”collection of 100 shoka drawings.

Shoka centres on the the natural form of the material, with only 1 or 2 plants being used.  Essence is a universal idea of the life force and energy of all things.  Shoka is condensed simplicity.  The arrangement gives the illusion that the material is growing harmoniously from 1 stem.  Arrangements are seen as the use of space within a sphere from the central stems, balancing the used and free space.  The free space occurs on the right side of the display as one faces it.  Ratios are used in terms of heights and volume, following a 7 5 3 scheme.

Viewing persepective must be kept in mind at all times.  The european style of arrangement was full with little unfilled space.  Japanese philosophy incorporates empty space, particularly to balance the arrangement with the wall hangings often used as backdrops within the tokonoma.  Shoka has at its heart the creation of natural spaces in the heart of the city.  Essence being condensed due to limited space.  Shoka shofutai had slight refinements by succesive masters over time, whereas shoka shimputai has more freedom, and form a basis for the creation of jiyuka, or freestyle arrangement.

In freestyle the idea must be kept in mind at all times.  Balancing the materials, and reasoning the involvement and placement of each material is key to developing these relationships.  Freestyle has developed with influences of western art.  Nageirebana and moribana were established as ikebana responded to westernization of lifestyles brought about by adoption of Western culture during the Meiji period.

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