What is the history of flower arrangement|A thorough explanation of the profound history of more than 500 years!



Motenas Representative
Motenas Representative

Kado, or flower arrangement, is a traditional Japanese culture.

Ikebana has a history of more than 500 years, and has developed with change, being tossed about by the currents of the times.

In this issue, we will thoroughly explain such a profound [history of flower arrangement]!

While feeling the charm and splendor of flower arrangement, let’s delve deeper into the [history of flower arrangement], which is also useful for entertaining foreign guests.


The appeal of flower arrangement and its historical background

The appeal of flower arrangement and its historical background

Ikebana is a traditional culture that originated in Japan, but how was it born and how has it been handed down to the present day?

First, we will introduce the historical background of flower arrangement as well as its appeal.

What is flower arrangement?

Ikebana flower arrangement is a traditional Japanese culture of arranging seasonal flowers and plants and enjoying their beauty.

This is an art form that was born in Japan, a country with four distinct seasons.

Kado, the art of flower arrangement, expresses the “preciousness of life” of these seasonal flowers and plants.

Flower arranging is a similar art form to Western flower arranging, but the main difference is that flower arranging emphasizes the individuality of the arranger, whereas flower arrangement focuses on the flowers and plants used as materials.

Another important characteristic of flower arrangement is the importance of the “beauty of space” between the flowers and plants.

If flower arrangement is an aesthetic of addition, then flower arrangement is an aesthetic of subtraction.

The Place of Kado in Japanese Culture

The art of flower arrangement has a history of more than 550 years, but its techniques, style, and positioning have been passed down through the ages, changing with the times.

Originally an artistic culture enjoyed only by the nobility, it spread to the common people as time went by and became a part of school education as “culture.

Today, hundreds of schools have sprung up and are supported overseas as well.

Origins and Early Development

Such historical flower arrangement originated from the Asuka period to the Nanbokucho period.

There are various theories, but it is believed to have originated as a religious ceremony.

Flowers were not yet arranged as an “art form” but rather as an offering or a symbol of respect for a deity.

From here, it developed as aristocratic culture toward the Muromachi period (1333-1573), and let’s see how it really evolved into art.

Origins of Kado: Beginning as a Religious Ritual

Origins of Kado: Beginning as a Religious Ritual

With the introduction of Buddhism to Japan, the practice of offering flowers to Buddha, or “butsumae hana,” became widespread.

This is thought to be [the origin of flower arrangement].

In Japan, there is an ancient belief that “God resides in nature,” and even plants and flowers were objects of worship as if they were inhabited by God.

While the typical flower offerings in Buddhism are the lotus flowers that are common in India, the birthplace of Buddhism, in Japan seasonal flowers are chosen as the flowers for offerings.

Flower arrangement in the Heian Period: Development as aristocratic culture

In the Heian period (794-1185), flowers came to be enjoyed as part of aristocratic culture.

Some aristocrats enjoyed flowers at hanami (cherry blossom viewing), foliage viewing, and banquets, and some even decorated their homes with “nageire,” a flower arrangement in which flowers are arranged as if they were thrown into a vase.

Heian-period documents also include a painting of a table with lotus flowers in a vase on a tabletop, and a poem that indicates that a banquet was held to enjoy plum blossoms and cherry blossoms.

Muromachi Period: Diversification of flower arrangement and the birth of schools

The Muromachi period can be said to be a period of great development for flower arrangement.

This is because it is during this period that the diversification of flower arrangement and the birth of new schools of flower arrangement occur.

It was during this period that the original founder of flower arrangement, Ikenobo, was born.

Ikenobo is a school of flower arrangement that continues to this day and is considered the oldest school in Japan.

Let’s take a look at how flower arrangement was born and how it came to be handed down as a traditional Japanese culture.

Social changes and flower arrangement in the Muromachi period

Social changes and flower arrangement in the Muromachi period

The Muromachi period was a time when many traditional Japanese cultural traditions were created, such as Noh plays and the tea ceremony.

The art of flower arrangement was also born in this period and has been handed down to the present day.

First, in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), many “karamono” vessels were imported to Japan from mainland China, and when such vessels increased, the “shoin-zukuri” architectural style, with tatami mats and different shelves, was born.

The shoin-zukuri style is also the basis of today’s Japanese-style architecture, and in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), it was used as a room for welcoming guests and as a residence for powerful figures such as shoguns.

Flowers and Chinese vessels were used to decorate this shoin-style building.

During that period, a flower arrangement by a monk at Rokkakudo named Senkei Ikenobo became popular, and was said to transcend the previous concept of flowers as offerings to the Buddha or gods.

Of course, this Senkei Ikenobo is the founder of Ikenobo, the oldest remaining school in modern times.

From this point to the late Muromachi period (1333-1573), the art of flower arrangement developed greatly.

Establishment of major schools and their characteristics

In the late Muromachi period (1333-1573), the ikebana style practiced by Senkei Ikenobo was reorganized by a flower arrangement master named Sen’o Ikenobo, and the “ikebana theory” was established.

This “ikebana theory,” including its philosophical aspects, was compiled into a floral transmission book called “Ikenobo Sen’o Kuchiden,” which was passed down to his students.

As mentioned above, Ikenobo is the oldest remaining school of ikebana as the original founder of ikebana, and teaches the idea that “Ikenobo does not merely appreciate beautiful flowers as in traditional flower arranging, but expresses the natural form of flowers on a vessel, taking into consideration the customs of plants and trees and sometimes using dead branches” (source: “Establishment of Ikebana Theory” on the Ikenobo Iemoto official website ). (Reference: “Establishment of the Theory of Ikebana” on the official website of Ikenobo Ikebana School).

In other words, the emphasis on the “preciousness of life of plants and flowers,” which is still considered the philosophy of flower arrangement even today, was already established in this period.

The idea of flower arrangement that remains today was born in the Muromachi period (1333-1573) and has been passed down to the present day while being carefully protected.

Edo Period: Flourishing of flower arrangement and its spread to the general public

In the Edo period (1603-1867), ikebana spread to the townspeople.

Flowers began to be arranged in koma (small rooms) and tea rooms, and many books on ikebana were produced and published.

It was also a time when the size of the ikebana population expanded greatly, as it began to produce many apprentices.

Until then, ikebana had been mainly practiced by aristocrats and warriors, but from this period onward, ikebana became the main form of flower arrangement for the townspeople.

Edo Period Culture and Kado

Edo Period Culture and Kado

The Edo period is the longest in Japanese history.

The Edo period, which lasted for 265 years, was actually a period of great development in printing technology and the birth of ukiyo-e prints and other multicolor works of art.

This development of printing technology led to the dissemination of many books, including one on ikebana.

Through books, the townspeople were able to gain access to knowledge of ikebana, and ikebana spread as “the manner of the townspeople.

In the Edo period (1603-1867), the variety of flowers used in flower arrangement increased, and the works of art changed dynamically.

Among them, a pupil of Ikenobo created a huge rikka (standing flower) that reached a height of 9 meters, and this work became a topic of conversation in the Ryukyu region (Okinawa at that time), attracting newcomers.

New Schools and Styles in Ikebana

Until the early Edo period, flower arrangement was performed by men.

In the mid-Edo period, however, ikebana began to spread to women as a “culture for entertaining guests,” as well as to the daughters of samurai families and merchant families, and to courtesans.

Due in part to these changes, the number of Ikenobo pupils has skyrocketed to the tens of thousands.

As the art of flower arrangement expanded, many schools that have been handed down to the present day, such as the Koryu and Misei-ryu schools, were born, and the Iemoto system emerged during this period.

From Modern to Contemporary: Tradition and Innovation

In the late Edo period (1603-1867), the techniques of ikebana began to change.

The technique, which until then had focused on utilizing the branches of natural plants and trees, was transformed into “trunk making,” in which the trunk is cut and sewn to create the desired tree shape.

Furthermore, innovations were made in ikebana while continuing the tradition, such as the change from seven to nine “yaku-branches,” which are the materials used for flowers.

You can see that the Edo period was a time of great changes in technique and style due to the development of technology and the rapid spread of flower arrangement.

Changes in Kado (the art of flower arrangement) since the Meiji Restoration

Changes in Kado (the art of flower arrangement) since the Meiji Restoration

When the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo during the Meiji Restoration, flower arrangement underwent even greater changes.

The increase in the female ikebana population was due in part to the introduction of ikebana into the education of women’s schools.

Today, flower arrangement is associated with a large female population, but in fact, until the Meiji Restoration, there was still a large male population of ikebana practitioners.

This introduction of flower arrangement into the education of girls’ schools changed the position of flower arrangement to that of “women’s taste.

Around this time, flower arrangement and ikebana became popular among the masses, and many ikebana classes began to be held.

The Role and Challenge of Ikebana in Modern Times

With the arrival of Western culture, modern flower arrangement has undergone further changes.

In addition to Japan’s own flower arrangement, foreign flower cultures such as flower arrangements and blizzard flowers were introduced, and people’s lifestyles also underwent major changes.

For example, houses that had previously been dominated by Japanese-style rooms and tokonoma (alcove) rooms are now mainly Western-style rooms, and shoe closets have appeared at the entrance.

In response to changing times, ikebana is becoming unconventional and out of place today, and in recent years it has been combined with projection mapping, painting, and theater.

Another significant feature of the changing times is the increase in the number of dual-earner families.

In the busy lives of both men and women, enjoying nature and the seasons is a luxury item, and many people find it relaxing.

Originally enjoyed as a form of hospitality, flower arrangement has also been repositioned as a “special luxury” in the changing times, and more and more people find comfort and healing effects in arranging flowers, and it is attracting renewed attention as a form of learning.

The Technique and Philosophy of Kado

After the arrival of Western culture, “free-style flower arrangement,” which respects individuality, took root in flower arrangement.

However, even if individuality is respected, the philosophy of flower arrangement is that the star of the show is the flower.

It is also said that “a small number of flowers is a search for the heart,” and one thing that has not changed is that they put a lot of hospitality into each flower and take pride in creating beautiful works of art with a small number of materials.

This is the philosophy and technique of flower arrangement that has remained unchanged even after the arrival of Western culture and changes in the times, and has gained support from abroad as well.

Acceptance and influence of flower arrangement abroad

Acceptance and influence of flower arrangement abroad

Today, flower arrangement has spread overseas, and Ikenobo, the original founder of flower arrangement, has more than 120 overseas branches.*As of January 2024

In addition, the company is also supported overseas by publishing flower biographies in English and Chinese.

The reason for the international popularity of flower arrangement is not only the philosophy, but also the difference between flower arrangement and flower arrangement.

In flower arrangement, the main difference is that flower arrangement uses fewer materials to show the beauty of space, which seems to be fresh and attractive to people from overseas.

The Future and Possibilities of Ikebana

How will flower arrangement change in the future?

It is said that the flower arrangement of the future will change to a more stripped-down style of arranging flowers.

And it will change into an unconventional art form that emphasizes the individuality of the living person.

The locations of the exhibitions will be varied, and they will be more accessible to us through collaborations with technology and art forms such as video, music, and theater.

We hope to pass it on to the future as a healing and inspiring presence in the busy lifestyles of modern people.

Summary|Kado, a timeless tradition of beauty

Summary|Kado, a timeless tradition of beauty

Kado, or flower arrangement, is a traditional Japanese culture that we should be proud of, but it becomes even prouder and more attractive when we learn about its history and the efforts our predecessors have made to pass it down to this modern age.

Ikebana has continued to develop over the past 500 years, absorbing the trends of the times while continuing to inherit the techniques established in the Muromachi period (1333-1573).

The changes and challenges of flower arrangement still continue to change with the changing times.

Let us, as Japanese, watch the challenge and carry on the tradition.