Ikebana means “the arrangement of living material in water.” Ikebana arrangements can be simple and small and they can also be very large, bold and theatrical. When we look at a western flower arrangement, they are often symmetrical. Flowers are predominant with an emphasis on color. The Japanese approach is different. Symmetry, the western ideal of perfection, is not practiced in Ikebana. Asymmetry is more interesting and natural; nature itself grows in an asymmetrical way. In addition to asymmetry, Ikebana differs from Western arrangements by its emphasis on line and the use of space as an important component of the arrangements. These are the three key characteristics of Ikebana.
Ikebana arrangements use as few flowers and leaves as possible to create elegant contours that highlight the flowers’ beauty. Flowers are often symbolic. For example, a flower in full bloom, a half-open bud, and a tight bud may be used to symbolize the past, present, and future. Other flower meanings: lotus stands for purity, sincerity, and nobility; iris stands for patriotism; plum blossom stands for courage; chrysanthemum stands for immortality; and pine symbolizes longevity.
As in all art forms, Ikebana has certain rules of construction which aim at achieving perfect harmony, beauty and balance. Plant materials are arranged in such a way that each part plays a role representing heaven, earth and man. The Japanese have a saying, “if we take the life of a flower, we have an obligation to make it look more beautiful.” The Japanese take flowers into their living space and give them a new environment (arrange them in beautiful containers), but they preserve the natural traits of the materials.
Many people who practice Ikebana feel that the spiritual aspect of Ikebana is very important. It is a very peaceful art that helps one appreciate nature and is the perfect counterbalance for our fast-paced stressful modern life.