Ikebana (生け花, 活け花, “arranging flowers” or “making flowers alive”) is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It is also known as Kadō (華道, “way of flowers”). The tradition dates back to Heian period, when floral offerings were made at altars. Later, flower arrangements were instead used to adorn the tokonoma (alcove) of a traditional Japanese home.

Ikebana reached its first zenith in the 16th century under the influence of Buddhist tea masters and has grown over the centuries, with numerous distinct schools extant today.

Ikebana is counted as one of the three classical Japanese arts of refinement, along with kōdō for incense appreciation and chadō for tea and the tea ceremony.

“Ikebana” is from the Japanese ikeru (生ける, “to arrange (flowers), have life, be living”) and hana (花, “flower”). Possible translations include “giving life to flowers” and “arranging flowers”.

The pastime of viewing plants and appreciating flowers throughout the four seasons was established in Japan early on through the aristocracy. Waka poetry anthologies such as the Man’yōshū and Kokin Wakashū from the Heian period (794–1185) included many poems on the topic of flowers. With the introduction of Buddhism, offering flowers at Buddhist altars became common. Although the lotus is widely used in India where Buddhism originated, in Japan other native flowers for each season were selected for this purpose. While in China the Buddhist priests were the first instructors of flower arrangement, in Japan they only introduced its crudest elements. For a long time the art had no meaning and was merely the placing in vases, without system, of the flowers to be used as temple offerings and before ancestral shrines. The first flower arrangements worked out with a system were known as shin-no-hana, meaning “central flower arrangement”. A huge branch of pine or cryptomeria stood in the middle, and around the tree were placed three or five seasonable flowers. These branches and stems were put in vases in upright positions without attempt at artificial curves.

Generally symmetrical in form, the arrangements appeared in Japanese religious pictures of the 14th century. It was the first attempt to represent natural scenery. The large tree in the center represented distant scenery, plum or cherry blossoms middle distance, and little flowering plants the foreground. The lines of these arrangements were known as centre and sub-centre. Later on, among other types of Buddhist offering, placing mitsu-gusoku became popular in the Kamakura (1185–1333) and Nanboku-chō periods (1336–1392). Various Buddhist scriptures have been named after flowers such as the Kegon-kyo (Flower Garland Sutra) and Hokke-kyo (Lotus Sutra). The Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga (Scroll of Frolicking Animals and Humans) depicts lotus being offered by a monk(ey) in front of a frog mimicking the Buddha.

With the development of the shoin-zukuri architectural style starting in the Muromachi period (1336–1573), kakemono (scroll pictures) and containers could be suitable displayed as art objects in the oshiita, a precursor to the tokonoma alcove, and the chigaidana, two-leveled shelves. Also displayed in these spaces were flower arrangements in vases that influenced the interior decorations, which became simpler and more exquisite. This style of decoration was called zashiki kazari (座敷飾). The set of three ceremonial objects at the Buddhist altar called mitsugusoku consisted of candles lit in holders, a censer, and flowers in a vase. The flowers in the vase were arranged in the earliest style called tatebana or tatehana (立花, “standing flowers”), and were composed of shin (motoki) and shitakusa. Recent historical research now indicates that the practice of tatebana derived from a combination of belief systems, including Buddhist, and the Shinto yorishiro belief is most likely the origin of the Japanese practice of ikebana that we know today. Together they form the basis for the original purely Japanese derivation of the practice of ikebana.

The art developed very slowly, and the many schools did not come into existence until the end of the 15th century following the period of the civil war. The eighth shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436–1490), was a patron of the arts and the greatest promoter of cha-no-yu, the ceremonial tea, and ikebana flower arrangement. Yoshimasa finally abdicated the office in order to devote his time to the fine arts. It was he who said that flowers offered on all ceremonial occasions and placed as offerings before the gods should not be offered loosely, but should represent time and thought. Rules then commenced to be formulated.

It is to the celebrated painter Sōami, a contemporary and friend of Yoshimasa, who conceived the idea of representing the three elements of heaven, human, and earth, from which have grown the principles of the arrangements used today. It was at Yoshimasa’s Silver Pavilion in Kyoto, where the art of cha-no-yu, the tea ceremony, and ko-awase, the incense ceremony, may be said to have been evolved that the art of ikebana received its great development.

Artists of the Kanō school such as Sesshū Tōyō (1420–1506), Sesson, Kanō Masanobu, Kanō Motonobu (1476–1559), and Shugetsu of the 16th century were lovers of nature, so that ikebana advanced in this period a step further than temple and room decoration and commenced in a rudimentary way to consider natural beauty in floral arrangement. At this time ikebana was known as rikka.

This same age conceived another form called nageirebana. Rikka and nageirebana are the two branches into which ikebana has been divided. Popularity of the two styles vacillated between these two for centuries. In the beginning, rikka was stiff, formal, and more decorative while nageirebana was simpler and more natural.

Although nageirebana began to come into favour in the Higashiyama period, rikka was still preferred, and nageirebana did not truly gain popularity until the Momoyama period, about a hundred years after Ashikaga Yoshimasa. It was at this period that cha-no-yu reached its highest development and strongly influenced the flower art. A practitioner of tea was most probably also a follower of ikebana.

After a long, hard struggle for existence as a dependent of rikka, nageirebana branched off and became independent and very popular. It was welcomed by the people of the 16th century for its freedom of line and natural beauty. So, while these two branches both started in the Higashiyama period, rikka better represents the taste of that time, and nageirebana more reflects the taste of the Momoyama period. Rikka lost some of its popularity in the Momoyama period, but in the first part of the Edo period (1603–1668) it was revived and became more popular than ever before. In the Higashiyama period rikka had been used only as room decorations on ceremonial occasions, but now was followed as a fine art and looked upon as an accomplishment and pastime of the upper classes.

Ikebana has always been considered a dignified accomplishment. All of Japan’s most celebrated generals have been masters of this art, finding that it calmed their minds and made clear their decisions for the field of action. That warriors like Hideyoshi and Yoshimasa, two of Japan’s most famous generals, found benefit in the practise of ikebana shows that it is valuable training, even for the masculine mind. Rikka reached its greatest popularity during the Genroku era.

Many works on ikebana were published in the centuries from the Ken’ei (1206–1207) to the Genroku (1668–1704) eras, all founded on Sōami’s idea of the three elements. The first of these works, published in the early part of the Ken’ei era, was a book called Sendenshō, and there were many others, but none of much value to the student of flower arrangement. They gave few rules and their chief object seemed to be to withhold all information. Although of little instructional value, these books were fully illustrated, thus documenting the gradual progress of the art. During the early Edo period (17th century) publications in Japan’s developed rapidly. Books about ikebana were published in succession. During this time the Sendenshō (仙伝抄) was published and is the oldest published manual. The Kawari Kaden Hisho (替花伝秘書) came out in Kanbun 1 (1661). This was carefully written and very instructive, with rules and principles freely given. In the Edo period, it was the second publication after the Sendenshō. Although the text is similar to the contents of commentaries of the Muromachi period, the illustrations showed how to enjoy Tachibana. Tachibana had spread from monks to warriors and further on to townspeople. The Kokon Rikka-shu (古今立花集) was the oldest published works on rikka in Kanbun 12 (1672). The Kokon Rikka-taizen (古今立花大全), published in Tenna 3 (1683), was the most famous rikka manual. The Rikka Imayō Sugata (立華時勢粧) came out Jōkyō 5 (1688).

In the Ken’ei era, rikka was simple and natural, with no extreme curves in the arrangement, but in the Genroku era, the lines became complicated and the forms pattern-like. This was an age of utmost elegance. All the fine arts were highly developed, above all pattern-printing for fabrics and decoration. In the latter part of the 17th century, Korin, the famous lacquer artist and essentially a creator of exquisite designs, strongly influenced ikebana. In this period, the combination of a pattern or design with lines that followed the natural growth of the plant produced the most pleasing and graceful results.

It was in the latter part of the 17th century that ikebana was most practised and reached its highest degree of perfection as an art. Still, there were occasional departures into unnatural curves and artificialities that caused a shift, and nageirebana again revived. Until then only one branch of ikebana had been taught at a time, following the taste of the day, but now rival teachers in both rikka and nageirebana existed.

Rikka reached its greatest popularity in the Genroku era, and then commenced its decline. From the decline of rikka, nageirebana, the origin of the present ikebana, grew in power and popularity. From this time on, it ceased to be called nageirebana and took the name of ikebana. In the Tenmei era (1781–1789) nageirebana, or ikebana, advanced rapidly in favour and developed great beauty of line. The exponents of the art not only studied nature freely, but combined this knowledge with that of rikka, the result bringing ikebana to a very perfect state of development.

After the Tenmei era a formal and artificial form of arrangement developed. This form has a fixed rule or model known as “heaven, human, and earth”. Is it known as Seika (生花), or Oseika, in many schools, or pronounced Shōka at Ikenobō. At Mishō-ryū the form is called Kakubana (格花).

The most popular schools of today, including Ikenobō, Enshū-ryū, Mishō-ryū, among others, adhere to these principles, but there are in Tokyo and Kyoto many masters of ikebana who teach the simpler forms of Ko-ryū, and Ko-Shin-ryū of the Genroku and Tenmei eras.

The oldest international organization, Ikebana International, was founded in 1956. Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado is the honorary president.

Read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ikebana