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The Roots of Japanese Flower Arrangement

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Roots of Japanese
Flower Arrangement

By Ann Kameoka
and H. E. Davey


Flower Arrangements and Photos
by Ann Kameoka

Kado is one of the most ancient Japanese art forms. It is often called ikebana, literally "living flowers," and it is the classical art of floral arrangement that originated in Japan. (We favor the term "kado" in this online article, to emphasize that Japanese floral art is actually a Way of studying the essence of life itself and, as such, it is more than simply the skill of arranging living flowers.)
The fact that Japanese flower arrangement can, and should, function as a Way pointing toward realization is the primary focal point of this article. Many people may wonder how kado differs from Western floral art. Even more may question why you would even want to spend years studying the Japanese art of arranging flowers, when you could just grab a fist full of daisies and stuff 'em in a vase. Issues of culture and art aside, the primary difference between Western flower arrangement and kado is the Do ("Way") concept itself. This is not to say that Western-style floral art can't be practiced as a Do, or "Way of life." Indeed, any activity can become meditation and function as a Way. (In this sense, it isn't so much what you do, but how you do it that's meaningful.)
Still, kado has a long history as a Way, which is important and which will be covered in this article. Even more vital is the simple fact that from the moment it received the designation "kado," Japanese flower arrangement has directly aimed at comprehension of the Way (of the Universe). And while some critics may say kado has missed this target as often as it has hit it, this clear-cut statement of purpose, as well as the purpose itself, is what separates kado from the Western version of arranging flowers. In short, Western flower arranging does not have a history as a Way, and such a subject is infrequently a topic of discussion in the West. (Yet it is a topic of fascination for many people outside of Japan; and in fact, quite a few Japanese and American teachers of various Do forms have surmised that it is often more common for Westerners to be devoted to the Do concept than it is for their Asian counterparts.)

Kado is said to have been initially born in China, where it became popular in connection with the decoration of Buddhist temples. When Buddhism came to Japan many centuries ago, flower arrangement came with it. Over time it evolved to become a Japanese spiritual path. In this sense, it is similar to other Japanese arts such as budo (the martial Way) and shodo (the Way of calligraphy) which have also evolved to become methods of personal growth. Today, however, it is no longer the exclusive specialty of the priesthood, and it is enjoyed by vast numbers of people throughout the world.

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