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In Focus

This section features the topic of the month which covers general information & culture of Japan.

Ikebana is Japan's art of flower arrangement. While most Westerners arranged their flowers symmetrically in a vase, Japanese Ikebana is more complex. Western people have always emphasized the quantity and colors of the materials concentrating mainly to the beauty of blossoms. However, the Japanese give emphasis to the line of the arrangement. They have developed the art to include the stem, leaves and branches as well as flowers.

The underlying principles in Ikebana are indicated by three main lines which are symbolic of Heaven, Man and Earth. These form the framework upon which the whole structure of Ikebana is built.

There are many schools of Ikebana. The most popular are Ikenobo, Sogetsu and Ohara. There are also different styles depending on the school and the plants and vase used.

Ikenobo is the oldest school founded in 15 th century by Ikenobo Senkei, a Buddhist priest. He introduced the rikka style (standing flowers) as a Buddhist expression of the beauty of nature, with seven branches representing hills, waterfalls, valleys arranged in a formal way. Among the priests and aristocrats, the rikka styke became more and more formal until in the 17 th century, the growing merchant class developed a simpler style called shoka. Unlike the rikka, shoka uses only three main branches known as ten (heaven), chi (earth) and jin (man). It is designed to show the beauty of the plant itself. Another old form of Ikebana is nageire which is used in the tea ceremony. The Ikenobo School is now on its 45 th year with Ikenobo Senfei as the head.

In the late 19th century one of the members of the Ikenobo School , Ohara Unshin, left the school to form the first of the modern school, the Ohara School . The school generally uses a formal style called moribana which means piled-up flowers, in a shallow, flat container. The school started at a time when Western culture was heavily influential in Japan and the moribana style made good use of Western plants.

However, because of the influence from the artistic movement s of the early 20 th century, the jiyuka or free style of arrangement was developed. Despite all the changes in style, Ikebana was only for the nobility.

In the 1930s and during the postwar period, many people became interested in Ikebana, Schools opened which attracted people of all social classes. Teshigahara Sofu, founder of the Sogetsu School introduced new materials such as plastic, plaster and steel.

Today there are about 3,000 Ikebana schools in Japan and thousands around the world.