help save Japan’s visual heritage of daily life
70613-0003 - Japanese Women Doing Ikebana, 1890s

Women Practicing Ikebana

Artist Unknown
Publisher Unknown
Medium Albumen Print
Period Meiji
Location Inside
Image No. 70613-0003
Purchase Digital File

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 Rokkaku-do Temple (六角堂) in Kyoto. He was especially skilled in arranging flowers for altars and taught many other priests.

160301-0030 - Rokkaku-do Temple, Kyoto, 1870s
Rokkaku-do Temple (六角堂) in Kyoto, ca. 1870s. The temple is believed to have been established in the early Heian period (794 to 1185).

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

Rikka zu Flower arrangements (1673)
Rikka style flower arrangements, 1673. The style aims to reflect the magnificence of nature. Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library.


1 池坊。いけばなの成立(室町時代[前期])。Retrieved on 2021/08/28.

2 Ikebana International (I.I.) is a non-profit cultural organization dedicated to the promotion and appreciation of ikebana.


Leave a Comment

Reader Supported

Old Photos of Japan aims to be your personal museum for Japan's visual heritage and to bring the experiences of everyday life in old Japan to you.

To enhance our understanding of Japanese culture and society I track down, acquire, archive, and research images of everyday life, and give them context.

I share what I have found for free on this site, without ads or selling your data.

Your support helps me to continue doing so, and ensures that this exceptional visual heritage will not be lost and forgotten.

Thank you,
Kjeld Duits


Reference for Citations

Duits, Kjeld (). 1890s: Women Practicing Ikebana, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on April 24, 2024 (GMT) from

Explore More


Kobe, 1906
New Year Celebrations 10

The first aisatsu (greetings) of the year. Out of this custom, the more convenient modern custom of sending New Year cards (nengajo) was born.


Kobe, 1906
New Year Celebrations 16

Girls play hanetsuki (羽根突き, battledore and shuttlecock) in front of their home. This was one of the traditional games that was played during the New Year celebrations.


Kobe, 1906
New Year Celebrations 22

Firefighters in happi coats perform acrobatic stunts on top of bamboo ladders. The ladder stunts were the main event of Japanese New Year celebrations.

Add Comment

أنا شاب من سوريا – دمشق سمعت عن تنسيق الزهور بروح الأيكيبانا وأردت أن اتعلم من هذا الفن الرائع فهل بالأمكان إرشادي الى مكان التعليم في بلادي
لكم مني جزيل الشكر



Translation of the above: I am a young man from Damascus, Syria, and have heard about the coordination and the spirit of Ikebana flower arrangement. I want to learn this art in my country. Thank you very much.


Hello, This image was taken at Kajima Seibei’s Genrokukan
Studio in Tokyo about 1895/96. The woman on the left is Geisha Oen, the woman on the right is Geisha Ponta. Both were acclaimed Geisha in their day. Oen was the lover of Seibei’s brother, Seizaburo, who was the studio manager and a photographer in his own right. Ponta was the lover (and later, wife) of Seibei. Kajima Seibei was an important, professional photographer. He was no amateur. He was heir to the Kajimaya Sake Distribution fortune, and funded other photographers like Ogawa Kazumasa. From 1895 to 1897, his studio funded and provided the collotype photos for “Kabuki Shinpo” magazine, one of the first Japanese theatrical publications to include photographs. The National Diet Library in Tokyo has some of Genrokukan’s publications online:
Enter 玄鹿館 in the search engine. This image appears in the various editions of “Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese,” Edited by Francis Brinkley (Boston: J.B. Millet Co.; 1897/98 and 1904). There is also a postcard version of this photo. You have a great website- keep up the fine work!



Thank you for the background information, Jim. I wasn’t aware that this was a photo by Kajima Seibei. As it happens, late last year I went to an exhibition and lecture about Kajima Seibei. I have been interested in his work for many years, but hadn’t realized I had some of his photographs.

I am pretty sure this photo is actually from the version of “Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese” in my own collection. I am away from the office at the moment. Will check when I get back. If so, I should update the publisher information for this article!

I have more photographs of Ponta. Will share them when I get the chance.

Thank you for your kind words and your comment!


Hello Kjeld,
The other Kajima photo that appears in the Brinkley set is “Teaching Songs,” which is in Volume 5.

I stumbled across Kajima’s photography and his Genrokukan
Studio by accident. Two years ago, I bought a three-volume
set of “Kabuki Shinpo” magazine from The set
was ¥2000. I knew from their site that there was at least
one ukiyo-e cover in one of the volumes. When they arrived,
I was very surprised to find that a lot of the issues have
color ukiyo-e covers and the later ones have kuchi-e, all of which were designed by Utagawa Yoshiiku. The photographs were the real surprise- they’re collotypes. Many of them are credited to Genrokukan Studio. It was time for some research and homework….what did I buy?? Since then, I have come to appreciate Kajima-san’s efforts and contributions to Japanese Photography. I think he’s as important as Ogawa Kazumasa. I’m still trying to figure out how Kajima came to be involved with “Kabuki Shinpo” magazine. I know he was friends with Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro IX, who had a connection to the magazine. The magazine itself is quite a story- it was published from 1879 to 1897, in a total of 1669 issues, often appearing as often as 10 times per month!
OK! Thanks for writing back, and keep in touch. If you check my Flickr site, you can see the postcards of Ponta and Oen that I’ve found. I have found some albumen prints by Kajima and will post them soon.



@Jim Clinefelter Thanks for all the information, Jim, and apologies for the extremely slow response this time.

I was working on a very complicated project and then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Still playing catch-up with all the missed messages…


My uncle is the son of Seisaburo. His daughter (my cousin) was a shamisen player. My mother lived with them after the war and was also taught ikebana. She became an ikebana teacher. I heard that my cousin’s grandmother was a famous geisha. It’s lovely to see these photos and the connections to my family. My uncle was not wealthy but his home was a hub of learning traditional arts.


@Sonoko What wonderful memories. Thank you for sharing them with us!