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What are the Best Tips for Ikebana Flower Arranging?

By Marlene de Wilde
Updated May 16, 2024
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Ikebana flower arranging, a Japanese technique, is very different from the arrangements popular in the West. The Japanese tend to favor simplicity, balance and harmony over more abundant arrangements, with an emphasis on reflecting nature. There are many different ikebana schools and styles of flower arranging, but they all stress the three elements of heaven, man and nature. There are also rules on stem heights, vase shapes, and the placement of the elements. Adhering to these rules is key to ikebana flower arranging.

The first step in ikebana flower arranging comes with the selection of the vase, which is considered just as important as the selection of the flowers. The choice is between a tall vase or a short wide one, and the shape and color of it should complement and reflect the arrangement. The Heika style uses tall vases, while the Moribana style, which is a newer school, uses shallower containers.

Next comes the placement of the primary flower called Shin, which represents heaven and so will be the tallest flower. Some Japanese flower arrangements consist of one flower only and a placement of leaves, stems or branches. If there is to be more than one flower, then the second, called Soe, represents man, and it should be about two-thirds the height of the first flower. The third, Hikae, represents nature or the Earth, and is the shortest flower, usually placed opposite to or in front of the heaven flower.

These are the basic elements of ikebana flower arranging, but additional ones can be added in the form of greenery, branches or more flowers. These are referred to as Juushi. The basic rule to remember is that the arrangement needs to be asymmetrical and triangular in general form. There needs to be an odd number of elements, and the end result should be open and airy in style.

The length of the flower stems are chosen according to a formula that will depend on the size of the vase being used. The size of the container is calculated by adding the diameter to the height. Then, according to the size of the arrangement, the stems of the three main components of the arrangement are measured. For a large arrangement, for example, the length of the Shin will be twice the size of the container, the Soe will be three-quarters of the Shin, and the Hikae will be half as long as the Soe.

Not only are the length and placement of the flowers complicated by rules in ikebana flower arranging, but the angle of the elements are also important. The very possibilities inherent in the angles of the branches go a long way in determining the arrangement. Each part of the Japanese flower arrangement is based on philosophy, and ikebana takes a long time to master due to the myriad rules. The best tip for ikebana flower arranging is to learn by following the philosophy of the craft.

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