The History of Ikebana and the Meiji Restoration

The History of Ikebana and the Meiji Restoration

       Ikebana, the traditional art of flower arranging, has been practiced in Japan since Buddhism was introduced in the early 6th century. As an art form, it has evolved as Japan has evolved through the centuries.  Ikebana has seen multitudes of changes of government, from a feudal society to that of an empire to a democracy, and has adapted alongside. These adaptations have resulted in many styles of ikebana, the first of which is called ikenobo. There are many parallels between the political and cultural shifts of Japan and the evolution of ikebana.

Buddhism became an established religion in Japan in 621, bringing the practice of leaving flowers at altars in honour of the Buddha along with it. (“Shintoism and Buddhism”) In the birthplace of Buddhism, India, flowers were never placed in containers; however, as Buddhism spread and evolved throughout Japan, the Japanese took to formal flower placement. The first styles were rare and were used only for the royal family. By the 1400s, ikebana had become quite common and could be found in commoners’ homes as well as the imperial court. At first, only men practiced the art of ikebana. There are many rules in ikebana; the art form emphasizes asymmetry, simplicity, and harmony. Natural shapes are most common, and the core of the practice is the use of three stems of different lengths. In ikebana, the longest stem is called “shin” and represents heaven. The medium length is called “soe” and represents man. Lastly, the shortest stem is called “hikae” and represents Earth. These are sometimes placed alongside “jushi”, which are any flowers or leaves that aren’t a part of the main three components. (“History of Ikebana”) This art form is based upon respect for nature and natural beauty.

In 1868, Emperor Mutsuhito Meiji came into power and Japan began to prosper while focusing on international relations.  Innovation came from abroad in the form of technological advancement and economic opportunity. As citizens gained money, they gained political influence. These merchant princes’ influence on society increased. (“Meiji Japan”) At the same time, women began to take lessons in ikebana and many new schools and styles of ikebana began to appear. These adaptations manifested themselves, for example, in a style in which one cuts the stems of the flowers at an angle, rather than straight, and another in which curves are exaggerated by cutting slits in branches, bending them, and sealing the slits with triangular plugs to maintain the curve. Ikebana became more and more popular, becoming a standard activity for a Japanese lady. At the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, Western flowers had been introduced to Japan. An Ikenobo professor in Kobe created a new style using these short-stemmed flowers, but was not allowed to teach this style in the Ikenobo school. He taught this style at his own school, and it became popular almost immediately. This style is called “moribana”, and it is still practiced today. (“History of Ikebana”)

Japan’s political and social environments have gone through countless changes over time. As these environments changed, Japanese culture adapted alongside, in all aspects. Ikebana has not been immune to change; in fact, it has developed as an art form because of these changes, and is still an important part of Japan’s complex culture today.

Works Cited

Glowacki, Phoebe. “Meiji Japan.” Prezi, 8 Feb. 2013. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.        <;.

“History of Ikebana.” Ikebana International. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.    <;.

Seger, Tiana C. G. “Shintoism and Buddhism as Coexisting Religions.” World Wide         Walkers. World Wide Walkers, 7 Feb. 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.    <       buddhism-as-coexisting-religions/>.


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