Thoughts on Flower Arranging & Ikebana

Thoughts on Flower Arranging & Ikebana

A very brief, amateur intro to the Japanese art of arranging flowers.


A vase is very important. Please, let me tell you why. Arigato. I have developed deep respect and love for Ikebana since I learned about this ancient Japanese art of flower arranging at a mall in San Francisco’s Japantown. My monthly ritual was to go to Kabuki, a Japanese bath house, do the regular rotation of steam room to sauna, over and over, for hours, with some cold dunks in-between, then in my damp and hazy stupor go to this cute mall for ramen, wherein I found the fluorescently lit and sparse storefront of the Ikenobo Ikebana Society of America after-hours, with dated interiors, save the few intensely striking flower arrangements in the otherwise empty window. I know that sentence was breathtakingly long, but I’m very excited!

After I found that intensely striking storefront, I immediately did a bunch of research on Ikebana. It is so much more than just sticking a flower in a vase all willy nilly. The practice is full of rules, limits, and symbolism, all steeped in a broth of spirituality and a reverence for nature and life. Ikebana is a serious tradition, it is artistic and creative, but it possesses a rubric for success. There are things you need to say with the flowers and different species of flowers mean different things. White plum blossoms in Winter, chrysanthemums in the Autumn, cherry blossoms in the Spring. Shape, line and form of arrangement, while free and easy, is meticulously planned. There are no-no's (i.e.: red, the funeral color) and there are components to the plants that need to be highlighted. The final composition should relay whatever you are trying to relay with clarity, punch, depth, and minimalism.

To understand the gravity of this ancient art, in old times, the generals of Japan were devout practitioners and experts in Ikebana, claiming that the timely and thoughtful process of it helped them make decisions on the battlefield. In the same way, our hectic, modern lives could benefit from a little time-out to focus in on something as arbitrary seeming as arranging flowers. I think the theories behind Ikebana can be widened to apply to a lifestyle outside of positioning stems. I guess that's the thing with many zen practices.

For example, odd numbers of flowers are lucky, while even numbers that invoke ideas of symmetry are unlucky and considered ugly, since symmetry is rarely represented in nature. Lesson being: Imperfection is perfect. Formally and visually, I personally think imperfection and asymmetry is actually easier on the eyes. Another fundamental teaching of Ikebana is to focus as much attention on the plants leaves, water, thorns and stems as on the bloom. Lesson being: enjoy the rough parts of yourself and others, appreciate the structural elements of life, the sturdy parts that hold us up, not just the moments of obvious beauty. Because, what is the flower without the stem that raises it up for us to see?

And what are we without our stems of food, water and love? And ah, the thorn! Respect it, or else. 

Small Egg Vase in Utah

In closing, many of the schools of Ikebana teach that the vessel that hold the arrangement is crucial to clarifying the message/emotion/instance you are trying to express. When and where do you use your contour vase? How about your egg vase? Or the shapes vase? All of these vessels can communicate so much in a space.

With unwavering confidence, I can say this: the greatest and simplest accessory to a table is flowers. There is nothing that makes a room like a little bouquet. I am not an Ikebana master, but what it taught me is to take the time to make something beautiful and meaningful. To choose with careful thought and to honour nature with a beautiful vessel. My opinion? I love our curvy Contour Vase with her dips and waves. I like her best with playful arrangements of a few brightly-colored stems. I also love our uncomplicated Egg Vase. I think she looks stunning with an earthy nose-gay or some elegant stalks. And lest we forget, our Mars Shapes Vases, made by our potter Amanda Hollomon-Cook to raise funds for RAICES? They make a quiet and powerful statement with a single bloom. Everyone’s message is different. What will yours say?

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.