The Japanese flowerare described by Sir Josiah Conder in his book The Flowers of Japan and the Art of Floral Arrangement. These early were based on a style of composition named Shin-no-hana, meaning central flower arrangement. ‘Branches of blossoming trees or foliage were employed in their natural state, without artificial bending or trimming, to form a vertical central mass; and other or bunches of foliage were disposed on either side in balancing ’. Without the guidance of prints depicting the central flower arrangement, one would be inclined to imagine from this description something closely approaching the Victorian idea of profusion. But this is far from the case, and Sir Josiah’s remark about a ‘central mass’ is obviously based on a comparison with the severity of later developments. He adds, however: ‘Even in this comparatively early form of the art, the proportion which the floral composition held to the vessel which contained it, was fixed by a rule, a practice which was followed in all later arrangements’.
The whole theory of Japanese flower arrangement is intermingled with Chinese philosophy and traditions. Virtues are attributed to the professors of flower arrangement themselves, and a certain goodness is said to emanate from the practice of, ‘a religious spirit, self denial, gentleness and forgetfulness of cares’.
Male and female personalities are given to different flowers, colours and compositions. Earth, Heaven and Mankind are names given to a tri-lineal group, and wood, fire, metal, water and earth to a five-lined design. The male and female principle is also applied to colours and contrasting forms, blue, yellow and white are female and red, purple and pink are male. Sometimes a part of an arrangement will be considered male — the right hand side, and the other female—the left hand side.
Some flowers are given precedence over others. For example white flowers are always regarded as being of the highest rank, with the single exception of the yellow. The evergreen of the camellia is held in very high regard because ‘it is recorded ‘that in the time of the gods, one of the gods and his consort built a palace and as a token of unchanging felicity for eight thousand years, planted a camellia tree.’ This tree is still said to exist in the province of Izumo, and is called the camellia tree of eight thousand years.
Various flowers should only be used in certain positions and at certain times of the year. The morning glory, for instance, should be attached to a twig or stump ’round which it should be wound in the direction turning the flowers to the left side.’
The Peony (the king of the flowers in China) ‘when used in combination with other flowers is entitled to the most important’.
There is the charming tradition of the water diving plum. ‘With regard to these special arrangements it is related that Soho upon a certain hunting expedition saw in the mountains a large plum tree. One of the branches of which bent into the stream below, the extremity again rising upwards clad with blossoms. Being struck with the effect. He applied it to artificial arrangements of plum branches in shallow water vessels’. Theory of Japanese Flower Arrangements—J. Conder.
The whole subject of Japanese flower arrangement is fascinating, and worthy of years of study and research. It should be treated with respect. Love and interest. The people who study it do so over a long period of time.
Perhaps it was the foundations of legend and tradition, religion and philosophy which helped to make Japanese flower arrangement an art so worthy of respect and an art of such high artistic order. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Japanese flower work developed through the different stages of artificialities and unnatural curves and finally emerged in its purest form. Towards the end of the seventeenth century. The Nageire School supplanted the more complicated patterns of the Rikkwa School, and took over the name of Ikebana (the Japanese word for living flower arrangement).
The aim of the Japanese has always been to reproduce as far as possible the character of the plant, tree or shrub being used. Some schools would not allow the use of a flower unless the arranger knew its habit and growth. Flower arrangement is studied in Japan in the way that other nations study music or painting—it is a creative art, so enriching that it defies description. Whoever is arranging the flowers is called a ‘composer’.
The Japanese approach to flower arrangement is intellectual and serious and their art has reached its high standard through many centuries of study and application.