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Kado - The Art of Ikebana Flower Arrangement

Text & Images - Copyright © 2009 Kevin Hulsey

The traditional art of Japanese flower arrangement is known as kado, or "the way of flowers" from the root ka, or "flowers" do, or "the way of." Kado is an offshoot of ceremonial Japanese tea culture known as sado, or "the way of tea", and the art of calligraphy known as shado.

The art form of Japanese cut-flower arrangement is also known as Ikebana, which loosely translates to "living flowers."

Ikebana Flower Arrangement
Various styles of ikebana flower arrangement

Ikebana flower arrangement utilizes the same minimalist design principles that govern much of early Japanese art, culture, and design; following the Zen Buddhist philosophical traditions of simplicity and harmony with nature.

Ikebana Flower Arrangement
Moribana shallow-style 'natural-line' ikebana arrangement

The basic ikebana form utilizes three main vertical lines of varying height (short, tall, and medium) to symbolize the harmony between heaven, earth, and man.

Ikebana History in Kyoto

It is believed that the art of ikebana originated at the Rokkakudo Temple in central Kyoto, during the early Heian period (794-1192). Beginning with the practice of Buddhist monks placing offerings of flowers upon the alter, the art form was expanded into its modern incarnation by the samurai aristocracy during the Kamakura period (1192-1333).

Ikebana Flower Arrangement
Two vertical-line arrangements: Nageire 'upright-style' (left), Moribana 'shallow-style' (right)

In modern Japan, ikebana is designed to be displayed in a tokonoma, which is an alcove used for displaying shado calligraphy scrolls and Ikebana arrangements in the home's zashiki (greeting room) or adjacent cha-shitsu, or teahouse.

Chabana "Tea Flower" Arrangement

When used in the tokonoma of a teahouse, Ikebana is referred to as chabana, or "tea flower." Within the tokonoma, the theme of the calligraphy scroll and Ikebana flower arrangement harmonize with the changing seasons.

Ikebana Flower Arrangement
Moribana 'natural-line' (left), Nageire 'horizontal-line' arrangement (right)

Ikebana flower arrangement utilizes the same minimalist design principles that govern much of early Japanese art, culture, and design; following the philosophical Zen Buddhist traditions of simplicity and harmony with nature.

Moribana & Nageire Ikebana Styles

Ikebana design, form, and layout falls into two basic categories based on the container shape: Nageire, or upright, and Moribana, or shallow basin form.

Ikebana Flower Arrangement
Rimiko Ogura (left, right), Ohara School of Ikebana

Using the Moribana, or "stacked up" form, flowers are held in place using a Kenzan support also known as a "frog," or needlepoint holder. Flowers, twigs, and bamboo are also held in place using florist's wire, glass marbles, rocks or pebbles, and floral foam.

Ikebana Flower Arrangement
Nageire 'vertical-line' arrangement (left), Moribana 'vertical-line' arrangement (right)

Using the Nageire, or "thrown into" form, a kabin, or upright vase is used as a container, and flowers are loosely arranged within the narrow opening.

Rikka, & Seika Ikebana Styles

The rikka style, or "standing flowers," was created by Buddhist monks from the Ikenobo school, and uses a minimalist symmetrical composition consisting of three stems.

The seika style, or "live flowers," is another formal form that utilizes a a three-branch composition based on an asymmetrical triangle. Both the rikka and seika styles have their origins in China.

Ikebana Forms: Horizontal, Vertical, Curved, & Free-Style (Gendaika)

Within the two basic forms governed by container shape, ikebana falls into six sub-forms based on the arrangement of the three lines. These forms are referred to as the curved line, geometric line, horizontal line, natural or random line, manipulated line, and vertical line arrangements. So called "Free-Style Ikebana" arrangements do not follow any rigid, conventional, or formal form, and are also referred to as "Modern Ikebana" or "Contemporary Ikebana."

Mizukiri (Water Absorption)

When cutting fresh flowers for ikebana, the Japanese technique called mizukiri is employed, re-cutting the flower stems while they are submerged under water. This technique extends the "life" of the cut flowers.

Books on Japanese Ikebana Flower Arrangement

Ikebana Flower Arrangement Books

Japanese Ikebana Schools

Ikebana International

Ohara School of Ikebana


Ikenobo School

Kozan School

Shofu School

Sogetsu Foundation

Wafu School

Ikebana Supplies

Samadhi Japanese Arts


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