Ikebana is a Japanese art of arranging flowers. Ikebana florists formally display their branches, stems, blossoms, petals, and other live materials to show the flower’s inner qualities and create a certain emotion. Historians believe that the art originated from the practice of making flower offerings by followers of Buddha from around the 6th century.
Ikebana experts, just like sculptors, pay attention to forms, lines, colors, and functions in coming up with an appealing arrangement. Unlike the habit of Western florists of casually dropping flowers into a vase, Ikebana prescribes strict rules on flower arrangement.
You’ve guessed right; learning the art requires time and tutorship in a school. Thus, there are hundreds of Ikebana schools teaching the art. Let’s find out the best Ikebana schools.
What Is Taught In Ikebana Schools?
Before we sample the best Ikebana schools, it’s important to know what Ikebana experts generally teach in such schools.
Although they agree on the basics of Ikebana, each school has its own “DNA” in that it specializes in certain styles and approaches. This is crucial when choosing the school that matches your expectations.
Before experimenting with the various styles of Ikebana art, it’s important to master the basics. For instance, the schools teach basic technical skills to beginners, like properly cutting flowers and branches and using geometry tools to measure angles for precise placement of stems and branches.
Additionally, beginners learn to preserve live materials and maintain a clean and clutter-free workstation.
Ultimately, teachers take you through the different Ikebana styles on the advanced levels of the training. There are instructions to follow to create arrangements appropriate for a certain season or occasion.
In Ikebana, you don’t just place flowers in a vase, just like you don’t throw tomatoes on the ground when growing them! Lol. There’s a balance and harmony you should bring out.
The Best Ikebana Schools
If you’re interested in Ikebana, there’s no shortage of options for a good school to join. Although Japan hosts the largest training centers, some have branches worldwide.
Let’s have a look at the best Ikebana schools.
Historians believe a Buddhist priest founded the Ikenobo school in the mid-15th century. Its headquarters are at the Rokkakudo temple in Kyoto, Japan.
Interestingly, the Japanese refer to it as the “origin of Ikebana.” It’s the oldest and largest school of Ikebana and the most disciplined in adhering to specific Ikebana rules and arrangement of materials.
On the other hand, the Japanese used the term “Ikenobo” for the Buddhist priests who gave flower offerings to their god, Buddha. Senkei Ikenobo is the oldest name in the Japanese Ikebana history records. He emerged around 1462 as the “master of arranging flowers.”
However, Senno Ikenobo also emerged approximately a century later and compiled the philosophy of Ikebana, followed by the Ikenobo school.
Ikenobo, which stands until today, holds strong traditions and has trained Ikebana artists for over five hundred years in traditional and modern Ikebana styles.
Ikenobo School specializes in Ikebana’s major styles: Rikka and Shoka. However, Ikenobo also teaches the freestyle method of arranging flowers.
Rikka is the oldest style in Ikenobo and Ikebana. It’s specially themed to capture the natural beauty of natural landscapes.
Rikka is a formal and upright arrangement of flowers that involves a large variety of plants. It borrows the arrangements of the floral offerings in Buddhism.
In the Rikka style, trees represent mountains, and flowers(or grasses) symbolize water. It thus becomes possible to express a natural landscape in a single flower vase.
Shoka means “live flowers.” in Japanese. The arrangement is linear(straight line) and aims at displaying the beauty and unique character of the plants used.
Ikebana experts make such arrangements on symmetrical containers resembling bowls but with smooth rims.
Florists have a wide range of expressions in freestyle. Experts just throw the flowers in the vase without following strict rules of form and shape.
Ohara Ikebana School earned its name from Ohara Unshin, an Ikebana expert who invented the Moribana style of arranging flowers.
It was founded in 1912 but has several branches in Japan and beyond today. However, the school’s headquarters is in Aoyama, Tokyo.
Although it’s in a Japanese environment, it offers English lessons weekly. The lessons have both theory work and trials.
Ohara’s vision was to use flower arrangements to capture the beauty of natural scenery and show seasonality.
In his creativity, he devised a new floral arrangement known as Moribana, where florists arrange flowers in a flat rectangular or round container.
Moreover, the Ikebana master sought ways of creatively arranging Japan’s brightly colored western flowers.
Moribana forms a central part of Ohara’s curriculum. The tutors consider the art an innovative way of ” fitting a natural landscape in a tiny space.”
In this style, the arranger piles flowers on wide, flat, shallow vases or baskets to create naturalistic landscapes.
Ohara Unshin developed the new style to break away from the rigid rules of the traditional Ikebana
Sofu Teshigahara founded the Sogetsu Ikebana School in 1927 and spearheaded a wave of change in the historical traditions of Ikebana.
Sogetsu school introduced the Ikebana style, Zenei (“avant-garde”). In this new style, florists had freedom of expression instead of the original rigid rules of Ikebana.
The school’s headquarters in Japan is at the Sogetsu Kaikan building in Minato-ku, Tokyo. However, the school has 49 branches across Japan but around 120 branches outside Japan.
Besides the revolution of breaking the traditional rules on flower arranging, Sogetsu’s Sofu Teshigahara ended the conservative practice of keeping Ikebana only in the tokonoma(alcove).
Furthermore, he felt Ikebana should find its way into modern Japanese homes. According to him, everyone should enjoy Ikebana anywhere and anytime.
Apart from the tokonoma(alcove), you could now place Ikebana in your living room, kitchen table, or even at the entrance of your house.
Ultimately, Sogetsu Ikebana matches the demands of modern times by removing all limits but encouraging Ikebana learners to use lines, colors, and masses given by nature to express their ideas.
Sogestu’s Zenei Ikebana Style
The Zenei style of arranging flowers appeals to modern tastes by abandoning the classical rules of Ikebana.
Strikingly, the style doesn’t prescribe any container or material shape. Besides, manmade materials stand alongside flowers and plants.
Furthermore, the freedom of expression broke the established Ikebana rules governing the choice of flower vases and the placement of materials. Masters of the Zenei Ikebana used an even number of branches to disregard the odd numbers prescribed by classic Ikebana rules.
Kao Naruse founded The Chiko School in 1927, inspired by her discomfort with the traditional Ikebana schools. She brought a positive dimension to ikebana by introducing the morimono style.
In this style, flowers and plants are arranged with non-living objects to create a unified arrangement that communicates a story.
One major characteristic of this Chiko style is harmony. Interestingly, creativity and innovation are unlimited.
The school is famous for flower arrangements decorated with ornaments and figurines.
Let’s dig deeper into Chiko’s morimono style.
Morimono is a creative style that uses fruits and vegetables in Ikebana arrangements. The classic ikebana didn’t have such freedom, but the morimono goes ahead and adds fruits, vegetables, and non-floral materials like pebbles and folk art to the arrangement.
A good example is using a well-curved watermelon as a flower vase.
The Chikos Ikebana philosophy suggests bringing living and non-living things together to create “harmony.”
Misho Ryu (Misho School)
Ippo Mishai founded the Misho School of Ikebana in 1807. It’s popular for making floral arrangements for spiritual purposes.
The headquarters of the school is in Kita-Ku, Osaka(Japan).
One peculiarity of Misho is that it uses driftwood in its floral arrangements. The school’s founder used it in his Ikebana art to connect with the spirits of his kindred.
The eighth head of school, Koho Hihara, introduced a modern ikebana style known as Shinka in 1930. Misho school focuses on two ikebana styles, namely, Shinka and Kakubana.
The Kakubana style expresses a harmonic balance between nature and human beings through a simple but strict geometric design.
In the setup, a circle expresses the infinite nature of heaven. In contrast, the square resting inside the circle symbolizes the four directions and seasons of the earth.
Two triangles are formed by bisecting the square shape.
Shinka is the contemporary style of Misho School and comes in two designs; Moribana and Heika.
Moribana is known for its wide and shallow flower vases. On the other hand, the Heika style uses long and narrow vases.
Nevertheless, both styles promote the free expression of the florist’s emotions and have fewer restrictions than the traditional ikebana.
Learners hail Ikenobo, Ohara, Sogetsu, and Chiko as the best ikebana schools due to their immense learning facilities and the number of teaching Ikebana styles. Rich traditions and skilled leaders (especially at their budding stages) propelled them to their glory. Although the first set dwarfs Misho, it has still found its niche in teaching the ikebana art.
I must admit that this article highlighted the best and the most equipped schools. However, hundreds of other Ikebana schools are spread across the globe where you can learn the basics of Ikebana.