Ikebana Schools

As ikebana gained popularity from one era to another, steadfast practitioners who wanted to realize a more well-balanced form developed new styles of arrangements with different shapes and designs. Eventually these dedicated souls established different ikebana schools with new styles that reflected the school’s specific sensibilities. As these new styles became popular, they would be adapted and changed once again by other practitioners who had their own perspective on what an ikebana arrangement should reflect.

Today, there are more than 3,000 ikebana schools, but the largest and most popular include Ikenobo, Ohara, Sogetsu, and Chiko. In some of the “classical” schools, lines and nature are of prime importance, while in some modern schools, individual creativity reigns supreme.

The school’s head master is called the iemoto, and he/she is the supreme authority of the school. Their iemoto title is passed down along with a hereditary name and is commonly transmitted as part of a familial generation, or by adoption.

Within most schools are two basic types of arrangement—moribana and nageire. Each is based on the basic shape of the container. Moribana, meaning “mounds of flowers,” has a natural look with flowers that appear to be piled up in a basin-like container. With the invention of the kenzan (a heavy spiked device that holds flower stems in place), large flowers could be arranged in flat shallow vases called suibans. The traditional moribana style focuses on the colors of the floral materials and how they depict the growth pattern and character of the specific plants. Moribana arrangements are usually set off to one side of the suiban so that the expanse of water becomes part of the arrangement’s appeal.

Nageire is another basic type of arrangement, but it uses a tall cylindrical vase instead of a suiban. Its meaning “to throw in” evokes a spontaneous look. A kenzan is usually not used, but support methods that use sturdy branch segments inside the vase can be constructed to hold the floral stems in place. The result is a look of natural beauty.

Ikenobo School

Founded by the Buddhist priest Senkei Ikenobo in the mid-15th century, the Ikenobo School is the original school of ikebana. Its beginning is tied to the early emergence of ikebana, where meaning and personal expression were conveyed in the arrangements and placed in the tokonoma,a recessedspace, in a traditional Japanese home. Of all the schools, Ikenobo is the most disciplined, engendering very specific rules and placements of materials.

Rikka Style

Rikka, the school’s earliest style, tries to capture the beauty of a natural landscape. The complex upright style is usually made with a large variety of plants and can be composed of stems having seven different elements.

Traditional Rikka

Shoka Style

The shoka (also called seika) style is less complex than rikka and focuses on the essential beauty and character of the plants used. The composition of a shoka arrangement is linear and designed to show the beauty of the plant itself. Shoka literally translates to “live flowers.”

A shoka arrangement is usually created in a symmetrical bowl-like container with a smooth rim. Shoka follows specific rules. Mizugiwa (the water line) is at the heart of shoka where placement of the stems is in a straight line. A few inches above the water line, stems of the arrangement should be free of any leaves or debris. A shoka arrangement can employ just one kind of material and is called isshuike, whichbest expresses the characteristics of the chosen plant or flower. Using two kinds of plant material is called nishuike, which emphasizes the beauty of contrasting materials. Using three kinds of materials is called sanshuike, and shows the plants’ harmony.

Ohara School

The Ohara School was founded in 1912 by Unshin Ohara, who wanted to develop a style of ikebana that would express the beauty of natural scenery and emphasize seasonality. He also searched for ways to display the brightly colored Western flowers that were being cultivated in Japan. The result was a new style of arrangement called moribana, which is displayed in a flat round or rectangular container. The more traditional upright style called heika is presented in a tall vase.

The moribana arrangements in the Ohara School often reflect natural landscape in a limited space. Another type of Ohara arrangement is called Hana-kanade and is often three dimensional in nature with main line materials that move inward from their insertion points and cross each other to highlight the color, form, and season of the plants.

Sogestsu School

In 1927 Sofu Teshigahara established the Sogetsu School, a revolutionary approach that broke with the traditional ties of flower arranging. Sogetsu was designed to get ikebana out of the tokonoma and into modern Japanese homes. At the heart of his philosophy was that anyone can enjoy Sogetsu Ikebana anytime, anywhere, using any material. The Sogetsu School practices ikebana for contemporary times.

Although Sogetsu derives from Japanese tradition, it embraces the evolving requirements of a modern age and promotes an ikebana without limits. It does not imitate nature, but encourages students to use lines, hues, and masses provided by nature to express their own interpretation.

It is the arranger who decides what to express, how to express it, and what materials to use, which are unrestricted. The arranger may choose not just floral materials but other items such as paper, plastic, and metal. Alternative elements from nature, such as driftwood, rocks, and even bird’s nests, make interesting materials.  

Wiring or modifying leaves by cutting or bending them to different shapes are all allowed. The vase is an important element of the arrangement and often includes free-form shapes. Sometimes two containers are used at the same time to create a single arrangement.

In this style of ikebana, the artificial materials support the arranger’s expression, but the Japanese aesthetics remain strong.

Chiko School

In 1927, Kao Naruse founded the Chiko School of ikebana. Dissatisfied with the traditional ikebana schools of that era, she originated the style of morimono, in which flowers and plants are incorporated with inanimate objects to create a unified and integrated arrangement that tells a story. The one characteristic that is paramount in the Chiko style is harmony. It is an art form in which both imagination and innovation are unlimited.

Morimono Style This style combines the beauty of flowers and sometimes fruits and vegetables with non-floral materials such as dolls and folk art to present a harmonious “scene.” In most Chiko arrangements, the floral and non-floral materials usually sit atop a thin oblong base called a kadai. Sand is often artistically spread over the kadai with a feather to give the arrangement a sense of cohesiveness.

This Chiko arrangement captures an autumn scene