ikebana and life in japan

a blog about ikebana and life in japan


Space and Ikebana

It's another cold and snowy day here in Hanamaki. Watching the snow fall quietly to the earth is very peaceful and relaxing. It covers everything up in a blanket of white softness that always looks magical to me. This winter has been a long one -- very cold with lots of snow. And I love it. Anyway, back to the ikebana. . .

One of the most important materials in ikebana is "space." Using space wisely creates a larger arrangement that has a feeling of movement and helps to bring out the beauty of the materials.

For this arrangement, I used three branches of yuki-yanagi, or spiraea thunbergii, and three stems of snapdragon. A single branch is placed high in the arrangement, filling up the vertical space. Another branch is placed low in the arrangement, stretching out to the front, giving the yuki-yanagi and snapdragons a chance to interact. The tall branch was pruned back quite a bit to give the arrangement some space. The open space helps to show the beautiful and interesting curve of the branch and also creates a place for the snapdragons to be showcased.

And did you notice how all of the points of the snapdragons are pointing up? In Ohara-ryu ikebana, it is important to do this. It makes the flowers or branches that you arrange feel as if they are growing up towards the warmth of the sun. Their energy is going up. They feel "genki", or lively. If the tips of the snapdragons were facing down or off to the side, they would not look happy, but sad. These little things also add to the understated beauty of the arrangement.
The Japanese name of the branch is Yuki-yanagi. Yuki is the Japanese word
for snow. When these branches are in full bloom, they are covered
in small white flowers, making the branches look as if they are
covered in snow.

This view from the side shows how far forward the arrangement reaches out towards the viewer. Reaching out forward helps to bring the viewer closer to the flowers and makes for a friendly arrangement. But when it is viewed from the front, you don't notice the angle of the flowers. You can also see one small branch in the rear of the arrangement. It is placed in the back to counterbalance the weight in the front of the arrangement. 

Doing arrangements in a vase can be a little tricky, because there is no frog or kenzan that the flowers and branches are pushed into. When doing an arrangement in a vase, you use special cutting techniques and also add some extra "stoppers" to the branches to keep them in place. I'll have to do another post on that another time. These techniques are what set Ohara-ryu apart from other schools of ikebana.

Space. Another important material for Ohara-ryu ikebana.

Having a little "nothing" gives the arrangement "something".

(I hope to be off of my crutches by next week. I have been working on building the muscle back up in my left leg and walking with a little weight on it. My knee feels better each day and it has a greater range of motion with each passing day. I will be running before you know it! Well, probably not, especially since I never ran before. But, it is a good thought, nonetheless!)


Nora Kay said...

Your explanation of the arrangement makes is much easier to understand and it is very interesting to know. Beautiful arrangement and I look forward to more blogs in the future. Very good to hear that your knee is better. Thanks for sharing all the great information. Mom

Anonymous said...

What a gorgeous composition! You say that "space" is a material in ikebana that can be used to make the arrangement larger and more dynamic. Well, if that's the case, you've certainly succeeded. THe composition seems to have an inner force that can fill up a whole stage in an auditorium. Like a flamenco dancer! Or like a gust of strong wind in the spring that brings back life to the world. Your work has That Much vigor and energy to it.

Speaking of snapdragons.... Aaah, I have fond memories of snapdragons from when I was a kid. They used to cover the garden in the backyard, and we used to play with them, like toys, you know, opening their mouths.

In a sense, I guess you could say that snapdragons were flowers that we took for granted, because we had them in such abundance, and they were easy to cultivate. But, BUT!!----your ikebana has made me appreciate these flowers from a totally new perspective. What gorgeous flowers they are!!----they can easily hold their own among clusters of the most exclusive orchids in the world! Also, it seems like they are totally unaware or forgetful of their humble origins in the backyard garden---they live in the present and exude joy in what they have to offer to the world. Again, this is in contrast to orchids that seem to "KNOW" how exclusive and precious they are.

I guess the decontextualizing (or recontextualizing?) aspect of ikebana (ie the juxtaposition with the amazing branches) gives flowers a new stage to perform, gives them a new chance to be who they are, to become what they can truly be. That's a liberating thought. If only human beings could live like that, too, living fully in the present, always with hope.


PS: Good luck with your knee. HOpe it gets better soon!

Stephen Coler said...

Glad you liked the explanation. I always enjoy it more when I know what I am looking at. More blogs to come : )

Stephen Coler said...

Thanks, John for the wonderful comment!

I think I am going to have to start sending my pictures to you, and have you write the text for the blog!

By the way, where did you grow up?

The FitzWilliams said...

Stevie - I can't believe that I missed the post about your surgery. I would have felt much better had I been saying special prayers for you. Did you have it done in Japan?!?!? That's crazy. We're in the middle of our renovation/playroom addition, and I'm just now catching up on the blog. I love the space arrangement - it's beautiful. ML

Anonymous said...


....in a small town in Southern Ontario, Canada. The provincial flower---the trillium!! Do you have anything that resembles the trillium in Japan?


Stephen Coler said...

yeah, i had it done here in japan. i was a little nervous about it, but it all ended up going wonderfully! and it was much, MUCH cheaper to do it here. they have universal health care here,and the prices are set for each and every operation, procedure, etc. i have been going to PT and it has helped a lot. i am trying to go as mush as i can right now before the new school year starts, so that means 3 times a week -- each time only costs me $7. can you believe that?
looking forward to seeing your new laundry room turns out!

Stephen Coler said...

there is something like that here called "enreisou", but the flowers are much smaller than the pictures i found when i googled trillium. i've never used them for ikebana, but i'm sure they could be used for a landscape arrangement.
here's the wikipedia link, of course all in japanese, but you can see the picture here.

hopefully the link will work for you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, the "enreisou" really looks like it's part of the trillium family. Sort of fascinating to learn that trilliums are more wide-spread than I had thought. From what I've heard, though, they don't last long in water once they're picked, but I don't know for sure, because we weren't allowed to do that in Ontario.

Thanks again for the info. And stay well, spring is just around the corner!