What Is Ikebana? + [Rules, Symbolism, and How To Get Started]

What Is Ikebana

From the bright and boisterous to the dark and recessed, nature abounds with plants. According to 2016 reports, over 390,000 plants are on record, putting the number at roughly 100,000 more than those recorded five years earlier.

Ikebana commences with an emotional interaction in nature that includes selecting suitable materials from this vast, ever-growing plant catalog. The Japanese were the first to try creating profound beauty with flowers and foliage giving rise to this artistic arrangement.

The arrangement’s history dates centuries back when people showed their faith using flowers.

But, what is ikebana, and how do you do it?

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What Is Ikebana?

Ikebana is an intriguing Japanese way of arranging flowers that originated around the sixth century.

Directly translated, ikebana means “living flowers,” but if looked at deeper, another meaning pops up. That is “breathing new life” into the flowers, branches, and components you work with.

Unlike western flower arrangements, where many flowers bloom in their best form and creators play with different colors, ikebana relies on elegance. The style emphasizes lines and shapes.

Some arrangements focus on a single flower with bare branches, while others include wood, stones, fruit, leaves, moss, and more.

The designs should have a purposeful harmony of the heavens, ground, and humanity while honoring seasons or events.

What Is the Origin of Ikebana?

Based on ancient Japanese beliefs, plants had a divine spirit. They also believed that a deity of agriculture resided in fruitful clouds. This belief underpins many local festivals where individuals pray for rich harvests.

Buddhism spread to the Japanese around the early sixth century, and they started creating flower offerings for the Buddha. This was the birth of ikebana, which combined the folk’s historic faith in blossoms with the Buddhist concept of paradise.

Aristocrats of the 14th century enshrined Buddha visuals in their dwellings, beautifully organizing bouquets before the shrine. Religious opinions were still the foundation for flower offerings back then. This gradually transformed until flowers were acknowledged for their simple beauty.

Rikka, which means standing arrangement, was founded as the first structured form of ikebana within the 15th century.

Rikka grew more prominent during the 16th and 17th centuries due to architectural style changes. Building designs provided larger spaces for these arrangements.

Rikka compositions at the time celebrated memorable events like weddings and the attainment of adulthood. Rikka is made up of seven major branches that represent the Buddhist view of the universe’s hierarchy.

One distinguishing feature of rikka is that the arrangement’s base rises upright from the vessel.

Ikebana has been so strongly aligned with the tokonoma alcoves since the onset that some consider one to be incomplete without the other.

Today, moribana is one of the most used styles. It was created in the 19th century for people from the Western world to practice ikebana in their homes.

What Are the Rules of Ikebana?

Ikebana uses rules to improve designs, add symbolic value, and sustain flowers on display. The guidelines vary based on style, though many cut across the board.

Ikebana floral designs use hanakotoba concepts. Different species, colors, thorns, stem heights, and flower combinations have symbolic meanings in this practice.

Red represents death, mourning, and funerals in hanakotoba. Therefore, red isn’t popular in ikebana designs.

Using even flower numbers is also unpopular, as they don’t exemplify nature’s asymmetry and are considered unlucky. Ikebana designs celebrate the beauty of imperfection (wabi-sabi).

The container’s shape should be pleasing and balanced with the overall design.

One of this art’s concepts is to depict plants flourishing in nature as near as possible while accomplishing a visually appealing form. So, some leave the water’s surface visible.

What Are the 3 Symbolism of Ikebana?

The three symbolisms of Ikebana are: Japanese floral arrangements exemplify the heavens, earth, and humanity through asymmetry, space, and depth, which form ikebana’s three pillars.

The highest element, Shin, symbolizes the sky. At the center is Soe, which represents the human, and the third element, Hikae, embodies the earth.

  • Skies: Choose a branch or rigid flower to represent an upright shape. It’s the composition’s climax.
  • People: These are at the center of the art. You can use a delicate flower or textured vegetation.
  • Earth: It’s expressed by foliage positioned at the bottom, sometimes horizontally.

How Do You Make Ikebana?

You need to relax while processing the relevant twigs, plants, and flowers as you perform the art. Calming down offers you time to express yourself better in your compositions.

It isn’t a must you have many flowers in ikebana. Every flower symbolizes something. So this is an art requiring thought in every arrangement.

Ikebana champions create asymmetrical 3D compositions that occupy space.

Low vessels are famous in moribana. These low vessels are the Suiban.

You need kenzans to create your compositions. Kenzans come in different shapes and sizes.

There are round, rectangular, triangular, and oblong. Since they come in many sizes, you can get one that corresponds to the size of your vessel.

One of the most popular is the “Moon-Sun” kenzan. It consists of two parts:

  • The central part, “Sun.”
  • The “Moon,” which is used to extend the kenzan

There are various techniques to support heavy branches when creating your composition. For instance, with the “Moon-Sun,” you can position the moon higher than the sun to support them.

You also need Hasami (Japanese scissors for ikebana) to create your pieces.

Add water to your container and place your kenzan in the vessel to create your piece. Then, position your flowers and plants based on your preferred design, mood, and inspiration.

What Kind of Flowers Are Used in Ikebana?

Plants chosen for ikebana send a message. For instance, bamboos represent prosperity, yellow camellia nostalgia, peach blossoms femininity hymn, narcissus respect, and peony courage.

Top flowers used in Ikebana include:

  • Iris: This one symbolizes heroism. The flower is vital to the Japanese Boy’s Festival. Irises are believed to ward off typhoons and demons.
  • Chrysanthemum: This flower in Japan represents the sun. Its orderly blooming embodies natural perfection. A chrysanthemum petal in a wine glass symbolizes wellness and long life.
  • Camellia:  As it’s one of spring’s earliest blossoms, camellias denote renewal. It signifies longevity, love, a good marriage, incredible luck, victory, and happiness.
  • Peony: This flower symbolizes riches, opportunity, and courage. It’s mostly popular with the affluent.

Why Ikebana Is Considered an Art

Ikebana is considered art due to the elements that guide its creation. These include:

  • Shape and line: All forms and lines need natural placement. Straight-lined branches show rigidity while slanting arrangements add motion and grace.
  • Beauty: The arrangement’s aesthetics should reflect traditional Japanese qualities. For instance, the rikka style has seven levels, some symbolizing nature’s beauty like waterfalls and hills.
  • Minimalism: Natural elements in arrangements should have an intent, like sculptures. Leaves should complement each other and the overall style of the display.
  • Structure: Traditional arrangements use a scalene triangle. Shoka’s arrangements symbolize the spiritual world using structure. Shin, the tallest, represents heaven. Soe represents humans, and Tai, the shortest, represents earth.
  • Form: The final version of the arrangement should be ‘found,’ not planned. Typical ikebana arrangements use available space, odd numbers, and few blooms to convey imperfection and asymmetry.
  • Mood: Ikebana embodies the creator’s humanity and silence. It reflects the creator’s mood and nature journey. You shouldn’t talk during ikebana. This should be a deliberative process where you focus on nature’s elements.


Can You Use Any Bowl for Ikebana?

Different vessels have different meanings. Still, you can approach ikebana uniquely. If you only have a porcelain bowl or vase, use it. The key thing is maintaining the values of the ikebana flower arrangement.

How Many Styles of Ikebana Are There?

Four main flower arrangement styles exist in Ikebana today:

  • Moribana (piled-up)
  • Rikka (standing style)
  • Nagarie (throw-in)
  • Shokai (living flowers)

How Long Do Ikebana Arrangements Last?

Some last weeks or months. Others live only a day or even hours. How long your ikebana arrangements last depends on the flowers, water, environment, and arrangement technique, among others.

To keep your setup alive longer, cut a flower stem twice at a slope, making an “x.” This design exposes more area to the water, improving the room for absorption.

Also, consider cutting the stems under water to avoid air pockets that may lower absorption abilities, hence the arrangement’s duration.

Do You Add Water to Ikebana?

Yes, you add water to Ikebana – Ikebana masterpieces require water. The composition should be alive, hence the need to include water and ensure all the flowers and stems are submerged at the bases to tap into the water and guarantee longevity.


Ikebana brings you closer to nature. It allows you to pay attention to every plant, twig, and bud and discover their beauty. Hence, it’s an excellent technique if you’d wish to embrace mother nature while making a beautiful composition in your space.

Ikebana can be part of any interior where you’d like to enjoy the beauty created by you.

While there were limited dimensions at its onset, this art is an evolving piece.

Today, you have more freedom to play with lines, vessels, and nature. You can express yourself in countless ways using various styles, provided you keep the core rules and symbols as you enjoy this art.