Safe At Home: Ikebana and the Art of Flower Arranging

Ikebana, also known as kadō, is the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging.

The characters in the word ikebana mean "living" and "flower," referring to the fact that arrangements in Ikebana are supposed to make the flowers come alive.

Unlike western flower arrangements, where flowers are put in a vase, in Ikebana, flowers are very intentionally placed. Additionally, while western arrangements are often densely packed, in Ikebana, emphasis is put on empty space and asymmetry. There are various different styles of Ikebana, such as rikka, seika, nageire, and moribana. The demonstration performed by Debbie Tsuyuki in Sally Ito's Safe at Home video alongside a reading from her memoir, The Emperor's Orphans, was done in the moribana style. [Scroll down to view the video.]


In Ikebana, hasami are the scissors used to cut the flowers. The kenzan is a weighted metal holder used to fix the flowers in position. The kenzan can come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit the needs of a particular arrangement. A variety of containers can be used in Ikebana. While any type of container can be used, in moribana style, low, shallow containers known as utsuwa are frequently used, while in rikka style, which has more focus on vertical lines, taller, more vase-like containers are used. For the containers, neutral colours are good as they match all flowers, but bolder colours can be used to either compliment or contrast.

In Ikebana, it is preferred to use seasonal flowers (though in Manitoba's winters, that is not possible). The arrangement composed by Debbie Tsuyuki in Sally Ito's Safe at Home video uses sea holly, roses, and baby's breath.

The traditional Ikebana arrangement done in the moribana style consists of three parts: shin, soe, and hikae, or "heaven," "man," and "earth." Shin is the longest branch, soe is the middle branch, and hikae is the lowest branch. Supporting materials are added to add interest to the arrangement, but space is also consciously incorporated.

Historically, flower arranging arrived in Japan from Chinese Buddhist monks offering ceremonial floral arrangements on altars. Their desire to preserve and prolong the life of flowers led to Ikebana. The representation of nature lead to an aversion to symmetry and equal balance, therefore even numbers are avoided. Western arrangements concentrate their focus on beautiful flowers, but Ikebana gives equal focus to branches, leaves, and even the still water in the broad containers. In essence, an Ikebana arrangement represents plants growing in nature.

Ikebana achieved its peak in the 16th century, where the arrangements were placed in tokonoma alcoves commonly found in Japanese houses. Additionally, inspired by Ikebana, chabana—literally “tea flowers”—was also developed. This style of flower arranging was used in sado, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Sen no Rikyū, an important historical figure in the development of sado, also played a large role in the development of chabana. As Sen no Rikyū was most associated with a form of tea ceremony known as wabi-cha, in chabana the concept of wabi-sabi is important and arrangements are more minimalist than those found in Ikebana. Particularly in chabana, seasonal flowers must be used, arrangements should resemble flowers growing naturally in the wild, and showy flowers, artificially coloured flowers, and flowers with no clear seasonality are avoided.


In the first part of the Edo period, Ikebana became a refined art and was practiced by military samurai generals to calm their minds and make clear their decisions. Over time, it became a cultural practice for all and teachers opened a variety of schools representing different styles.

Since then, many schools of Ikebana have flourished, both in Japan and internationally. The original Ikebana school—Ikenobō, founded in the 8th century—still exists and many other schools have opened over time, such as Enshū-ryū or Senke-Koryu, started by Sen no Rikyū, the famous tea master. Most of these schools still adhere to the rule of three elements of heaven, man, and earth.

 Ikebana, and the Art of Flower Arranging was written for Debbie Tsuyuki by Niina Dubik

Produced with the support of the Safe at Home program and the Province of Manitoba.

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