The History of Ikebana

Ikebana, one of the traditional arts of japan, is over 600 years old and emerged as an independent art during the Muromachi Peiod (1338-1573). However, many factors prepared the way for this development.  Most important among them was the natural setting. Japan is a nation of islands and mountains. Much of the country is covered with dense green forests and laced with rivers, ponds and lakes. The vegetation, especially the trees, are a uniquely East Asian mixture of shiny broad-leafed varieties, such as camellia, chestnut and oak, in addition to evergreens and conifers.  There is also a wide variety of flowers and water plants. 
 
The four seasons, each with its own distinctive beauty, are the great background that has nurtured all of Japanese culture.  The varied appearances of nature and the changing pageant of the seasons have strongly affected the feelings of the Japanese people, and those feelings eventually found expression in ikebana.
 
The ancient Japanese believed their world was filled with deities that could dwell in all things ― in flowers, trees, stones, and even rain and wind.  There were ceremonies to welcome such deities to sacred places (kami-mukae); trees were specially selected and set up to invite them (yorishiro). Noble evergreens that were tall and straight were the most favored, and the earliest records show that many flowers and plants have also played and important part in native religious retuals and festivals.  Even today, tamagushi, a branch of a green tree that is considered sacred, is used at shrine rituals.  Also, customs related to yorishiro persist in the present as in the New Year decoration called kadomatsu, a pine bough erected at the front gate of a house, which is ubiquitous holiday sight. 
 
 
The introduction and spread of Buddhism during the Asuka (552-710) and Nara Periods (710-794) had a profound impact on the future development of ikebana.  Buddhist floral offerings, called kuge, were religious in nature and not used for decoration or for the appreciation of the beauty of the flowers themselves, but the form of the offering was of great significance. The most representative was called the sanzon style, which derives from the Buddhist triad image of a large central Buddha flanked by two smaller ones. The offering consisted of three stems in one container.  They were gathered closely at the base, and rose from the water as one.  The three stems became the basis of the styles called tatehana and rikka.  A form created from three branches also set the pattern for floral forms of all ikebana schools.  Eventually, the three-branch, asymmetrical scalene triangle became the basic form underlying the styles of most schools both classical and modern.