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Ikebana (Literally "living flowers" in Japanese) is the Japanese art of flower arrangement, also known as the "way of flowers".
In contrast to the decorative form of flower arranging in western countries, the Japanese flower arrangement creates a harmony of linear construction, rhythm, and color. While westerners tend to emphasize the quantity and colors of the flowers, devoting their attention mainly to the beauty of the blossoms, the Japanese emphasize the linear aspects of the arrangement. They have developed the art to include the vase, stems, leaves, and branches, as well as the flowers. The entire structure of a Japanese flower arrangement is based on three main points that symbolize heaven, earth, and humankind.
Ikebana began as a kind of ritual flower offering made in Buddhist temples in Japan during the sixth century. In these arrangements, both the flowers and the branches were made to point toward heaven as an indication of faith. A more sophisticated style of flower arrangement, called "rikka" (standing flowers), appeared in the fifteenth century. The rikka style reflects the magnificence of nature and its display. For example, pine branches symbolize rocks and stones, and white chrysanthemums symbolize a river or small stream. The rikka style became popular in the seventeenth century, used as a decorative technique for ceremonial and festive occasions, though today it is regarded as an antiquated form of flower arrangement and is rarely practiced.
The most significant changes in the history of ikebana took place during the fifteenth century, when the Muromachi shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436–1490) ruled Japan. The large buildings and small houses that Yoshimasa had built expressed his love for simplicity. These small houses contained "tokonoma", where people could place objects of art and flower arrangements. It was during this period that the rules of ikebana were simplified so that people of all classes could enjoy the art.
Another major development took place in the late sixteenth century. A more simple style of flower arrangement called "nageire" (meaning to throw in or fling in) appeared as part of the tea ceremony. According to this style, flowers are arranged in a vase as naturally as possible, no matter what materials are used. Because of its association with the tea ceremony, this style is also called "cha-bana" (茶花, literally "tea flowers").
In the 1890s, shortly after the Meiji Restoration (a period of modernization and westernization in Japan), there developed a new style of ikebana called "moribana", or "piled-up flowers". This style appeared partly due to the introduction of western flowers and partly due to the westernization of Japanese living. The moribana style, which created a new freedom in flower arranging, is used for a landscape or a garden scene. It is a style that can be enjoyed wherever it is displayed and can be adapted to both formal and informal situations.
Modern ikebana dates from 1930 and goes by the transliteration zen'ei ikebana or zen'eibana. This form of ikebana is more expressive than the classic style. Along with tea ceremony and calligraphy, ikebana was one of the arts in which women were traditionally schooled in preparation for marriage. Today, flower arrangement is venerated as one of the traditional arts in Japan. It is practiced on many occasions like ceremonies and parties, and modern people are still choosing to study the art.
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