Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It is more than simply putting flowers in a container. It is a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is a living thing where nature and humanity are brought together. It is steeped in the philosophy of developing a closeness with nature.

As is true of all other arts, ikebana is creative expression within certain rules of construction. Its materials are living branches, leaves, grasses, and blossoms. Its heart is the beauty resulting from color combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines, and the meaning latent in the total form of the arrangement. Ikebana is, therefore, much more than mere floral decoration.

The growing appreciation of Japanese art and architecture in the West has extended to the Japanese way with flowers. Ikebana is an art, in the same sense that painting and sculpture are arts. It has a recorded history; it is backed up by articulate theories; and it is concerned with creativity. In Japan, flower arrangements are used as decorations on a level with paintings and other art objects.

Ikebana and the Japanese love of nature
The remarkably high development of floral art in Japan can be attributed to the Japanese love of nature. People in all countries appreciate natural beauty, but in Japan, the appreciation amounts almost to a religion. The Japanese have always felt a strong bond of intimacy with their natural surroundings, and even in contemporary concrete-and-asphalt urban complexes, they display a remarkably strong desire to have a bit of nature near them. Foreign visitors to Tokyo are often surprised to notice that their taxi driver has hung a little vase with a flower or two at the edge of the windshield. The Japanese house that does not at all times contain some sort of floral arrangement is rare indeed.

Nature is always changing. Plants grow and put forth leaves, flowers bloom, and berries are borne regularly and repeatedly throughout the seasons. Nature has its own rhythm and order. The awareness of this is the first step in involving oneself in ikebana.

In principle, ikebana aims not at bringing a finite piece of nature into the house, but rather at suggesting the whole of nature, by creating a link between the indoors and the outdoors. This is why arrangers are likely to use several different types of plants in a single arrangement, and to give prominence to leaves and flowerless branches as well as blossoms. Even when a single type of flower is used, an attempt is made to bring out its full implications as a symbol of nature.

Do men also do ikebana?
Both men and women study this art form. Indeed, in the past, ikebana was considered an appropriate pastime for even the toughest samurai. Currently, the leading flower arrangers are, for the most part, men. Ikebana is not only an art, but an occupation for men and women alike.

Is ikebana difficult?
To say that ikebana is a full-fledged art does not mean that it is esoteric. The greatest creations in the field are apt to be made by the most highly skilled experts, but, as in painting and sculpture, there is plenty of room for amateurs. Almost anyone with a little time and inclination can acquire sufficient skill to make beautiful arrangements. Still, as in the other arts, it is necessary to master certain fundamental techniques before proceeding to free creation.

Spiritual aspects of ikebana
Many practitioners of ikebana feel that the spiritual aspect of ikebana is very important. One becomes quiet when one practices ikebana. It helps you to live "in the moment" and to appreciate things in nature that previously had seemed insignificant. One becomes more patient and tolerant of differences, not only in nature, but more generally in other people. Ikebana can inspire you to identify with beauty in all art forms -- painting, music, etc., and to always expect the best in yourself.

What are ikebana arrangements made of?
The varying forms of ikebana share certain common features, regardless of the period or school. Any plant material -- branches, leaves, grasses, moss, and fruit -- may be used, as well as flowers. Withered leaves, seed pods, and buds are valued as highly as flowers in full bloom.

Whether a work is composed of only one kind of material or of many different kinds of materials, the selection of each element in the arrangement demands an artistic eye. An arranger with considerable technical skill combines materials to create a kind of beauty that cannot be found in nature.

How is ikebana different from flower arrangement?
What distinguishes ikebana from other approaches such as "flower arrangement" is its asymmetrical form and the use of empty space as an essential feature of the composition. A sense of harmony among the materials, the container, and the setting is also crucial. These are characteristics of aesthetics that ikebana shares with traditional Japanese paintings, gardens, architecture, and design.