In the sixth century, Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China. Along with Buddhism came the custom of floral offerings to the Buddha and the souls of the dead. The arrangements were simple and symmetrical and were composed of three stems. By the early seventeenth century a style called “rikka” had evolved. These elaborate arrangements were created in tall bronze vases and required a high degree of technical skill. The main branch symbolized heaven or truth and was usually asymmetrical, bending out to the right or left and then bending back to its vertical axis. Other branches, each with its own symbolic meaning and decorative function, emerged from the core or central mass.
In the sixteenth century a form of Ikebana called “chabana” which literally means tea flowers, originated as part of the tea ceremony. Only one or two flowers or branches were used in a small container. Rikka and chabana, both Ikebana, are so totally different in style; one is elaborate and on a grand scale, the other small, simple, delicate, and spontaneous. The start differences between these two styles would lead to all future innovations in this art form.
The Edo period (1600-1868) was a time of peace and economic growth for Japan. Ikebana which was once only practiced by the Buddhist monks was now being practiced by samurai, wealthy merchants and women. The style became more simplified and a new style called “nageire” or “throne-in” style came into being.
In the 1860s western culture as well as western flowers reached Japan. The new western flowers had shorter stems and the colors were unfamiliar. The “moribana” style which means “flowers piled up” was developed which required shallow containers and kenzans (pinholders) to keep the flowers and branches in position.
Today, there are about 3,000 Ikebana schools in Japan and thousands more around the world. Ikebana is widely practiced in Japan and its popularity continues to grow around the world.