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Two women in kimono are practicing Ikebana (traditional Japanese flower arrangement). The woman on the left is making an arrangement in a square vase, while the other woman is using a round one. Flowers yet to be arranged are kept on a tray, while a pot with water is kept near the knees of the woman on the right.
Especially during the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) periods, many urban young women practiced Ikebana to make themselves more desirable brides-to-be, a custom that could still be observed until quite recently. But this wonderful art of flower arrangement reaches back much further in history.
It has been practiced for more than 600 years and originated in the Buddhist ritual of offering flowers to Buddha. Buddhism was introduced into Japan during the 6th century. While in Buddhism’s birthplace, India, petals were strewn or flowers were placed casually, Japanese Buddhist priests developed ways to present their altar offerings in containers.
The oldest school of Ikebana is Ikenobo (池坊), which traces its origins to a buddhist priest of the Rokkakudo Temple (六角堂) in Kyoto. He was especially skilled in arranging flowers for altars and taught many other priests.
At first, Ikebana was only practiced by priests and members of the nobility, but by the late 15th century it had evolved enough to be appreciated by ordinary people.
Over the years many schools were born, all with their own fixed styles. This naturally gave birth to a large number of texts. The oldest extant manuscript is the Kao Irai no Kadensho (花王以来の花伝書) and dates from 1486.1
Kao Irai no Kadensho (花王以来の花伝書)
1 池坊。初期のいけばな。Retrieved on 2008/06/26.
2 Ikebana International (I.I.) is a non-profit cultural organization dedicated to the promotion and appreciation of ikebana.