Japanese flower arrangement/Chapter 1

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TO those interested in Japanese art there is no better means of following its progress than through the history of Japanese flower arrangement. No other art is so distinctively their own, bearing so few traces of foreign origin.

It is curious that Ike-bana, which is undoubtedly of religious birth and in Japan an outcome of Buddhism, should have left no impression in India, Ceylon, or Korea, where Buddhism was a national creed long before it reached Japan. Although the Japanese like to credit India with the origin of their flower arrangement, in its present form it would not be recognized by the land from which it is thought to have sprung. In fact, what Captain Brinkley so aptly wrote in regard to the tea ceremony—"although the embryo of the tea ceremony came from India, its full-grown conventions as practised by the Japanese could not be recognized by the land of their origin"—applies as well to Ike-bana.

China alone shows a faint impression left by its influence in its hideous funeral bouquets—masses of brilliant flowers on short stems, crudely and tightly put together much as our bouquets were arranged several generations ago. The Chinese also lay claim to an exquisite basket for holding flowers. But this basket is so Greek in outline that there is considerable doubt as to whether it is Grecian or Chinese.

By natural outcome from the Buddhist desire to preserve animal life came the desire to preserve plant life. It thus came to be one of the occupations of the priests to arrange and care for those plants and flowers which were the most popular of all offerings to the gods.
Japanese flower arrangement p023.png

Showing how the Arrangement of Ornaments is influenced
by the Rules of Flower Arrangement

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. Again quoting Captain Brinkley, "What the Buddhist imported from India was based on equality of distribution—what the Japanese conceived was a method based on balance of inequalities."

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. The general form was symmetrical, and this is what we find in Japanese religious pictures of the fourteenth century. It was the first attempt to represent natural scenery. The large tree in the center represents distant scenery; plum or cherry blossoms middle distance, the little flowering plants the foreground. The lines of these arrangements were known as center and sub-center.

The art developed very slowly, and the many schools now so popular did not spring into existence until the end of the fifteenth century. This was the awakening in Japan coinciding with the Elizabethan period in Europe. In this later part of the fifteenth century architecture as well as art underwent great reformation. As the kakimono (scroll picture) and arrangement of flowers were generally the only ornaments in a room, it was natural indeed that the flower arrangement influenced the interior decorations, which became more simple and more exquisite.

Yoshimasa (1436-1490), eighth Shogun of the Ashikaga Dynasty and a munificent patron of the arts, was the greatest promoter of Cha-no-yu, the ceremonial tea, and Ike-bana, flower arrangement. Yoshimasa finally abdicated the throne 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 Soami, a contemporary and friend of Yoshimasa, that the Japanese attribute the new development, for it was Soami who conceived the idea of representing the three elements of Heaven, Man, and Earth, from which have grown the principles of the arrangements used at the present day. It was at Yoshimasa's Silver Pavilion in Kyoto, where the cult of Cha-no-yu, the tea ceremony, and Koawase, the incense ceremony, may be said to have been evolved that the art of Ike-bana received its great development.

If we follow the taste of the artists of this day, known as the Kano School, Sesshu (1421-1507), Sesson, Masanobu, Motonobu (1477-1561), and Shugetsu of the sixteenth century, we will find them all lovers of nature, so that Ike-bana advanced in this period a step farther than temple and room decoration and commenced in a crude way to consider natural beauty in floral arrangement. At this time Ike-bana was known as Rikkwa.

This same age conceived another form of Ike-bana called Nageire. Rikkwa and Nageire are the two branches into which Ike-bana has been divided. National favor has vacillated between these two for centuries. In the beginning Rikkwa was stiff, formal, and the more decorative; whereas Nageire was simple and nearer to nature.

Although Nageire began to come into favor in the Higashiyama Age, Rikkwa was still preferred, and Nageire did not truly gain popularity until the Momoyama Age, about one hundred years after Yoshimasa. It was at this period that Cha-no-yu, the Tea Ceremony, reached its highest development and strongly influenced the flower art: an adept in Cha-no-yu was pretty certain to be also a follower of Ike-bana.

The style of Nageire, after a long, hard struggle for existence as a dependent of Rikkwa, branched off, became independent and very popular. It was welcomed by the people of the sixteenth century for its freedom of line and natural beauty. So that while these two branches both started in the Higashiyama Age, Rikkwa better represents the taste of that time, while Nageire gives us a truer idea of the taste of the Momoyama Age. In short, Rikkwa was slighted in the Momoyama period, but in the first part of the Tokugawa Age (1603-1668) it was revived and became more popular than ever before.

In the Higashiyama Age Rikkwa was used only as room decorations on ceremonial occasions, but it now was followed as a fine art and looked upon as an accomplishment and pastime of the upper classes.

It 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 men like Hideyoshi and Yoshimasa, two of Japan's most famous generals, found benefit in the practise of Ike-bana shows that it is valuable training, even for the masculine mind. Rikkwa reached its greatest popularity during the Genroku Age.

There were many works on Ike-bana published in the centuries from Kenei (1206-) to Genroku (1668-1704). The first was a book called Sendensho, published in the early part of Kenei, 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. They were all founded on Soami's idea of the three elements. Although these books were valueless as far as instruction is concerned, they were all fully illustrated, and by these pictures one can see the gradual progress of the art. Finally a most valuable book was written by Ikenobu, called Kandensho. This was carefully written and very instructive, with rules and principles freely given.

In the Kenei Age Rikkwa was simple and natural, with no extreme curves, but in Genroku the lines of the arrangement 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 later part of the seventeenth century Korin, the famous lacquer artist and essentially a creator of exquisite designs, strongly influenced Ike-bana. At this period the combination of a pattern or design in flower arrangement, with lines which followed the natural growth of the plant, produced the most pleasing and graceful results.

It was in this later part of the seventeenth century that Ike-bana was most practised and reached its highest degree of perfection as an art. Still there were occasional back-slidings into unnatural curves and into artificialities. This occurring at the end of the period caused a feeling of disgust with Rikkwa, and Nageire again revived. Until then only one branch of Ike-bana had been taught at a time, and this followed the taste of the day; but now rival teachers in both Rikkwa and Nageire existed.

Rikkwa reached its greatest popularity in the Genroku period, and also then commenced its decline. From the decline of Rikkwa, Nageire, the origin of the present Ike-bana, grew in power. From this time on it ceased to be called Nageire and took the name of Ike-bana. In the Tenmei Age (1781-1789) Nageire or Ike-bana advanced rapidly in favor and developed great beauty of line. At this date the exponents of the art not only studied nature freely, but combined this knowledge with that of Rikkwa, the result bringing Ike-bana to a very perfect state of development. After Tenmei the purest and best taste in Ike-bana began to diminish and a formal and artificial form of arrangement came into existence. This is the present form, which has a fixed rule or model known as Heaven, Man, and Earth.

The most popular schools of today, Ike-nobu, Enshiu-Ryu, Misho-Ryu, etc., adhere to these principles, but there still exist in Tokyo and Kyoto many masters of Ike-bana who teach the simpler forms of Ko-Ryu, and Ko Shin-Ryu of the Genroku and Tenmei ages. They feel that the rule of Heaven, Earth, and Man, too obstinately adhered to, gives constraint and spoils naturalness of arrangement. It is absolutely necessary to use these fundamental principles in order to achieve a well-balanced arrangement, but to accentuate and exaggerate these lines is looked upon as poor taste by the admirers of these more natural schools. Therefore these lines must not be made so strong as to obliterate the natural form of the plant.

I feel most strongly that the styles of Ike-bana practical for use in the Western world are those which combine the pattern or rule with following the natural lines of plant growth. In doing this we are able to enjoy not only an exquisite composition, but also a bouquet in which one sees and feels the surroundings from which the flowers were gathered.

Japanese flower arrangement p034.jpg