Ikebana Overview

On May 23rd 2015 an Ikebana show was held to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Vancouver Ikebana Association. Traditionally an aspect of the annual show is the 4 demonstrations done by each of the various schools. This year, in the spirit of the collaboration within the association there was only one demo done, but it consisted of the four schools doing simultaneous arrangements in their own styles using the same materials.  It was unprecedented and was received very well. While the arrangements were being made the following commentary was made. Teachers, (sensei in Japanese), of four different Ikebana schools were Rose Scott from Ikenobo, Barbara James from Kado Sumi, Joan Fairs from Sangetsu and Hollis Ho from Sogetsu.

In the 6th century with the arrival of Buddhism Ikebana was introduced to Japan. Asymmetrical arrangements, done by monks and priests, were place on either side of the Buddha.  Over time it was practised also, first by members of the nobility, and then by the general population. By the 15th century it had developed into a true art form and the first Ikebana School- IKENOBO was established.

Predominantly in the 20th century significant changes in styles and philosophies occurred and as result new schools were formed.  Today a number of schools exist from the very traditional to the very modern and though similarities in philosophy and technique still exist in each school, it is distinguishing features and expressions that make each school unique. There are four main elements of Ikebana that apply to all schools.


The inspiration, dedication, and the ongoing practise and study of Ikebana all come about as a direct result of the love and appreciation of nature; and all aspects of it, both the perfect and imperfect. In Ikebana, works of art are created as a result of human imagination being stimulated by contact and experience with nature. The KADO SUMI School was founded here in Vancouver primarily as a result of the impact that the vegetation of the Lower Mainland had on Sumi sensei.

IKENOBO  philosophy states that ‘rather than simply recreating the shape of a plant as it exists in nature we create, with branches, leaves and flowers a new form which holds our own impression of a plant’s beauty as well as the mark of our own spirit’.

Mokichi Okada, the founder of the SANGETSU School stated that ‘he firmly believed that flowers are an inseparable part of bringing out the beauty within people and inspiring them to build a better world.’

Sofu Tesigahara of the SOGETSU School, which is the most modern of all the schools, insisted that teachers must encourage students to be individual and imaginative.


All true art forms and creative expression have rules governing the process, so too, all schools of Ikebana have detailed curricula that students must follow and complete. Line, shape, composition, form, texture, depth, movement, colour and space are only few of the criteria that apply to all art forms, and are also elements that must be mastered by those that practise Ikebana. KADO SUMI teaches that the line is the most important element in a design and that the flowers are the focal point. The container is also an integral part of design.

Another feature of true art is that it is constantly evolving and so too is Ikebana. This can especially be seen in the style of work of the SOGETSU school. Teshigahara broke away from a very traditional school because he did not want to be restricted by ridged guidelines and he stated that Ikebana could be done by any type of person, that one should be able to use any type of material and container, and that the arrangement could be place in any location. Sofu sensei encouraged Ikebana to be displayed all over the world rather than being limited to Japan or the Japanese people. As a result he and other masters of the school have created very modern and unusual pieces in addition to some sculptural type pieces that were of epic proportion. He also showed his artistic genius by making many of his own beautiful ceramic containers. As a result this art has been critically acclaimed and recognized, and has spread world-wide.  Artists are inspired by other artists and so these days, the term ‘free style’ arrangements are becoming common in most schools.

Okada sensei, who inspired the SANGETSU school collected all forms of art and opened art Museums because he believed all people should have access to it, and that beauty in all its forms has the power to transform and purify the spirit and to evoke the highest qualities of character from within.



Another key element that is true for all Ikebana schools is the symbolism reflected in the material used. For example, a basic arrangement will consist of three main lines and these can represent heaven, earth and man in one school and the sun, moon and earth in another. In Ikenobo arrangements artists prefer to use buds over open blooms because these have already spent most of their energy while the bud is still full of life and ready to burst.  They consider the flower bud most beautiful for with the bud is the energy of life opening toward the future. Another example in the Sogetsu School is the traditional New Year’s arrangement, “The 3 Friends of Winter”, which usually will include pine branches symbolizing long life, and bamboo symbolizing flexibility and blossoming plum branches for venerable old age/tenacity.


The Ikenobo school is the first and most traditional, and is known and recognized for three main types of arrangements, the Rikka, Shoka and Free Style.

Kado Sumi focuses on nature and how to represent it in a fresh and individualistic style.

Sangetsu instructs students to arrange flowers naturally, quickly, with joy and in harmony and ‘as if you were painting a picture.’

Sogetsu is the most modern of the schools, and is often described as avant- garde. Sogetsu encourages students, through study, to make works of art, while using any type of plant material as the medium; as well as unconventional materials that may inspire the individual.