On How I Discovered Ikebana

The word Ikebana refers to the Japanese art of flower arrangement which has become increasingly popular all over the world since World War II. Instruction in this art form finally made its way to Vernon in the mid-eighties. The Okanagan Ikebana study group was affiliated with the Vancouver  Ikenobo Ikebana Society.

I first discovered Ikebana in church on one of my first visits to the Unitarian Fellowship of Kelowna. This discovery in church was indeed befitting since the origin of Ikebana can be traced back to the introduction of Buddhism into Japan in the 6th century. It wasn’t until the middle of the 15th century, however, that it became recognized as a formal field of study.

The first arrangement I ever saw was a shoka and I was greatly moved by its simplicity and inherent beauty. It not only appealed to my senses but it also seemed to elicit a spiritual response which I could not immediately understand. Fortunately, the arranger was present and I was introduced to the intrinsic symbolism in this form. The shoka, I was told, is composed of three main elements, shin, soe, and tai which represent respectively humanity, heaven and earth. Shin occupies the central position representing human beings floating between heaven and earth.

It became immediately obvious that there is more to Ikebana than simply arranging flowers even when one has followed all the rules pertaining to the particular arrangement being practiced. This may be why Japanese Ikebana practitioners sometime refer to their art as kado meaning the way of the flowers. In that context, one pursues the study of an art form as a path symbolizing the way of life. In arranging flowers, one seeks to become one with nature, one with life. This can obviously only be achieved after years of practice. One of the students I meet when I attend the Vancouver bi-yearly workshops is well into her nineties. What matters then is not so much getting there, but the experiences one lives on the way.

As a former professor of language and literature, I am reminded of an homonym to the Japanese word kado. The word is cadeau which is French for gift. Ikebana has been for me a gift, one that members of my Ikenobo chapter have shared with me. One that hopefully I will be able to share with you. As I sign off today, I will leave you with a quotation from our Headmaster, Sen’ei Ikenobo.

Like a poem or painting made with flowers, Ikenobo Ikebana expresses both the beauty of flowers and the beauty of longing in our own hearts.


2 thoughts on “On How I Discovered Ikebana

  1. Dear Jean-Marcel,

    You write about flowers the way I feel about them. And I love the Japanese aesthetic.

    Yesterday, quite unexpectedly, I discovered the Metropolitan Museum was hosting an Ikebana Exhibition. It would have been such fun to view it with you!

    The quotation is lovely.



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