Written by Ramona Taranu
Ikenobo Style Ikebana Exhibitions - Flowers Mirroring The Seasons
Ikebana is the traditional art of flower arrangements. This article features one of the exhibitions held by Ikenobo - the ikebana school with the longest tradition, whose style aims to express the harmony of nature and its seasons.
Flowers are present in all aspects of Japanese culture, from tea ceremony and performing arts to kimono patterns or decorations on swords. Each flower represents the season it blooms in, and the rules about this are strict - in Japan, you will never be served sweets reminding of sakura in autumn. Instead, you will be given sweets in the shape of autumn leaves, which will be so irresistibly charming that you won't be longing to see sakura until next spring.
The sense of seasons is so common in Japan, that it has become part of the Japanese behavior. You will best experience it by seeing an exhibition of ikebana - the Japanese art of flower arrangements. Ikebana exhibitions are held very frequently, celebrating each season with arrangements made with flowers that bloom during that time of the year.
This article will introduce an exhibition of this kind, its highlights, as well as information on when and where can such exhibitions be seen.
What is Ikebana?
Originating in the flower offerings at temples, ikebana has been practiced for hundreds of years as a dialogue between humans and nature. It is an endeavor of the human spirit to bring out the most beautiful side of the flowers, to make them “immortal” for the short time before they wither and die. This is the original meaning behind “ikeru” (“to bring life to”).
According to the Muromachi period (1336 - 1573) diary known as "Hekizan nichiroku" written by a Zen monk of Tofukuji Temple, it was in 1462 that the monk Ikenobo Senkei of Rokkakudo Temple was invited to a noble's residence to arrange flowers and that his work was highly acclaimed by the citizens of Kyoto. Because floral arrangements decorating the interior of a room and the arrangements by Senkei have a different purpose than the usual flower offerings presented at temples and shrines, it can be said that the art of ikebana began through Senkei's works.
Next year we will celebrate 555 years since the first historical mention of Ikenobo. An art reserved to professionals who worked for the high ranked officials, ikebana eventually spread, diversified and became accessible to anyone. It is nowadays known and practiced worldwide.
Ikenobo Exhibition in Tokyo
Although local ikebana exhibitions are frequent all over Japan, exhibitions organized officially by the Ikenobo Headquarters are held once a year in major cities.
Headmaster Ikenobo Sen'ei and the Secretary-General of the Ikenobo Headquarters, Ikenobo Masafumi, visiting the Tokyo exhibition on the opening day.
The 2016 exhibition in Tokyo was held at Nihombashi Mitsukoshi from September 7th through the 12th and featured works by ikebana artists from the Tokyo area, as well as Shizuoka, Nagano, Yamanashi and Niigata prefectures. The flower arrangements one could see on display reflect the present season - the time when summer makes way for autumn, when the last traces of the heat still linger in the air in anticipation of the sight created by the beautiful red leaves.
In the section dedicated to classical arrangements, visitors could see the type of elaborate arrangements called rikka, which suggest the beauty of a whole natural landscape. Each element of the arrangement has a very clear role in the ensemble, according to rules that have been handed down for generations. The aim in rikka is to create an ascending perspective, expressing the natural disposition of plants to grow vertically.
The arrangement above uses wood and the yellow flower of ominaeshi, which are both representative of autumn, the season anticipating dryness and stillness. It also uses pine tree, the evergreen symbol of longevity, as well as small, vivid flowers reminding of the summer that's drawing to the end.
Another type of classical arrangement is shoka, designed to highlight the defining features of the flowers. In order to show the "personality" of the flowers at their best, only one or two types of plants are used, keeping the number of branches to a minimum. The main character in the shoka pictured above is a branch with no leaves but full of fruits, backed up by small, self-effacing chrysanthemums. Not only the plants, but also the flower bowl used reminds one of autumn, for it is the season when the moon shines most beautifully.
The following section was dedicated to jiyuka (free style), the newest type of ikebana, created with consideration to the features of contemporary spaces. In comparison to rikka and shoka, there are no rules regarding the relationship between the flowers brought together in the ikebana arrangement.
Although the concept is left to the artist's choice, one should pay heed to the characteristics of the flowers, and to the features of the surrounding space, not to mention that the vase itself is part of the work. By making full use of one's sense and imagination, one can "join forces" with the flowers to create charming works.
At the Ikenobo exhibitions visitors can enjoy seeing many works, each showing the individuality and the enthusiasm of the artists and disciples who strive to master the art of communicating with flowers through ikebana.
This arrangement by Headmaster Ikenobo Sen'ei himself, entitled "Dream, Dream, Dream" was one of the highlights of this year's exhibition. A dream of peacefulness in the warm embrace of a starry night, it is a work showing the degree of freedom one can reach as an ikebana artist, after mastering both the stages required by classical training and exploring new possibilities of expression through ikebana.
The last section of the exhibition comprised works by the youngest ikebana learners - students in elementary schools from the Tokyo area. The most vivid colors of the season, gathered in unusual containers, speak out for the joy of having flowers as playmates in a creative game about life, nature and their rhythms.
Where To See Ikebana Exhibitions
Local small scale ikebana exhibitions are held all throughout the year around Japan. However, large-scale official Ikenobo exhibitions can be seen at twice a year in Kyoto, at the Ikenobo Headquarters in Rokkakudo Temple or once a year in various other cities. The large-scale exhibition held in Tokyo at Nihombashi Mitsukoshi is followed by the Nagoya exhibition held at Matsuzakaya department store between September 14th - 19th, and the Fukuoka exhibition which will be hosted by Iwataya department store from October 5th through the 10th.
The most awaited event of the year is the Ikenobo Autumn "Tanabata" Exhibition held in Kyoto between November 9th - 14th, titled "The Power of Flowers". The most experienced masters and teachers of Ikenobo from all around the country will put their works on display in two sites - the Ikenobo Headquarters building and Takashimaya department store. If you happen to be in Kyoto during that time of the year, do visit this exhibition. It will be a memorable encounter with one of the most precious elements of Japanese culture.
If you have ever wondered what ikebana is and wanted to find out more about this Japanese traditional art, then take the next chance to see an ikebana exhibition. More than an impressive display of creativity, ikebana is one of the best examples of Japanese aesthetics at work - an enriching encounter between flowers and humans.