The Japanese Influence In Flower Arranging

The Japanese Influence In Flower Arranging

Today’s styles are more influenced by the Japanese than many of us realise or perhaps appreciate. To take one simple instance, as we have seen in the west we have up to now been mostly concerned with the true flower of a plant, its colour and, particularly in times past, its scent. This is what most people mean by a flower. In the Japanese language of flower arrangement the word hana, which we translate loosely as a flower actually means, and has meant for centuries, much more than this. It embraces all manner of materials, anything that forms or once formed part of a plant. These are those materials which are now recognised everywhere as suitable components for flower arrangements.

So much is said and written about the philosophy of Japanese arrangement and so much attention is paid (even by those who live western lives) to the ritual and etiquette which accompanies it that it is often overlooked that like many other things that have lasted for centuries it is based on plain common sense and experience. For instance, one reads, ‘In arranging flowers the instruments are placed with the flowers on a tray to the right of the operator, the vase in front and the water pot to the left.’ Essentially practical, surely, and just the way one would expect an efficient person to work.

Early examples of Japanese floral art reveal that they resemble those early styles made in other countries. But once ways in which stems could be held exactly and securely were devised, the old, original style, Rikkwa, was dropped in favour of controlled arrangements. As time went by these became more and more stylised, not only as more types of holders were introduced but as more people interpreted the basic rules in their own way.

Practical underlying the spiritual: Originally, as in all parts of the world, the arranged flowers were linked with religious ceremonies and life. In Japan they continued this way, invested with religious symbolism and spiritual interpretation. Wondering why this should be so, I can imagine how as the arranger, in this case originally a priest, became more and more successful he would seek to conceal the practical reasons for his success, a case of professional jealousy! But as a teacher he would need to pass on his methods, though probably only to a chosen few. It was essential that such simple matters should be given importance. One can see how gradually this minor art would have become invested with a shroud of mysticism.

Others followed the example and the time came when it was impossible to separate the practical from the spiritual. The Japanese evolved more and more complicated ceremonies of flower arrangement for the favoured elite and associated these with tea-making ceremonies. In time each had its own ritual, philosophy and language. In flower arrangement the supports which held the stems, the containers, the bases on which these are set, the settings in which the completed arrangements were placed, had names known only to the initiated. It was said that this mystical art could be undertaken only by those who had engaged in long periods of training, and even before making any arrangement it was necessary to meditate for a long period.

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