Errico Lupi

For Zen Buddhism, any human activity, especially manual activity, can be used as a “path”, a Way that leads to “awakening”/satori or enlightenment.

The purpose of the specific activity chosen as the Way is not the goal but the “process” that leads to it.

This means doing something not for the result but to commit ourselves because doing the specific acts of that activity helps to change ourselves in the ways indicated by Buddhism in general and Zen in particular.

If any manual activity can potentially be used as a medium to pursue this Way, even more

a discipline (artistic or ‘sporting’) can be used for this purpose.

Since the time of the first shogunate of Kamakura (1185-1333) a group of traditional arts have been influenced by Zen Buddhism and, in the Edo period, used by seculars as a Way ( Dō ) to enlightenment; these disciplines are recognizable by the suffix -dō (= Tao = way):


Martial arts:

Kyu-dō (way of the bow), Ken-dō (way of the sword), Karate-dō (way of the bare hand),

Ju-dō (way of yielding), Iai-dō (way of drawing the sword)


Performing arts:

Cha-dō (tea ceremony), Sho-dō (way of writing), Ka-dō (way of flowers or ikebana), Kō-dō (the way of scents)


Other artistic expressions, even if they do not have the suffix -dō, have also been influenced by Zen, such as: Nō theatre, Bonsai, Suiseki (stone collection), traditional Japanese architecture, Kaiseki cuisine, Kare sansui (“dry” gardens ), Raku pottery, Haiku poetry, Suiboku-ga (diluted ink painting).


How can the manual execution of an Ikebana be used as Ka-dō, that is, as a character-forming discipline, as a way of personal fulfilment, as a way of liberation?


To explain this to those who do not know Zen Buddhism, one can say that this is possible because the rules of ikebana composition are a “manual application” of the ideas that Zen promotes. By applying these rules consciously and repetitively while composing, they are assimilated and made their own by the ikebanist and become his or her ethical characteristics.


For example, the repetition of the manual exercise of “removing the unnecessary leaving only the essential of the branch” (for Zen, the concept “less is more” applies), if done with consciousness, is transformed into a spiritual exercise whereby one learns to “remove the superfluous leaving only the essential” also in other situations in one’s life.


The “making a space around the composition, around the plants and in the plants themselves”, leaving only what is necessary (always the concept of “less is more”), trains the ikebanist to “make a space” in his mind, that is, to let thoughts pass through, without being influenced, considering them only thoughts and nothing more.

The practice of considering relationships of “strength”, of measures, of volumes, by constructing an ikebana exercises the conscious ikebanist to give greater value to the relationships with people, animals, nature, objects, the environment, etc.

Attempting to create an Ikebana that is ‘shibui’ (austere, elegant, sober, refined, quiet) and ‘wabi-sabi’ ( refusing the ostentation, poverty as voluntary relinquishment), two qualities favored by Zen, exercises the ikebanist in ‘shibui’ and ‘wabi-sabi’ behaviour in everyday life. Pursuing this form of ikebana leads to actions that are poor in appearance but rich in meaning, simple but important, sober but effective, and this means that a formal refinement in the material execution of the composition (practicing the art of ikebana ) leads the ikebanist to an ethical improvement.



A poem by Constantinos KAVAFIS (1863-1933) expresses very well the Zen concept that ‘the goal is the path we take’. :




As you set out for Ithaka

hope the voyage is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,

angry Poseidon- don’t be afraid of them:

you’ll never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,

wild Poseidon- you won’t encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

May there be many a summer morning when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you come into harbors seen for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

the sensual perfume of every kind-

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you are destined for.

But do not hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you are old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you have gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her, you would not have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/ Phillip Sherrard


The poem is from



The birth of Zen, in tradition, is linked to a flower:


Buddha was once asked to give a sermon; he picked a flower (of a fig, according to Dōgen, as written in the Shōbōgenzō, but usually it is a lotus) and, in silence, slowly with his arm outstretched, showed it to his followers. Only one, the wisest (Mahakasyapa = Kasiyapa the great) sensed the “silent” message of the Master and smiled with understanding: thus was born the silent teaching of Zen. Mahakasyapa was the first of a series of patriarchs who brought Zen from India to Japan, where the shogunal nobility, already in the Kamakura period, preferred it to the other Buddhist currents practiced by the imperial nobility, because it was more in keeping with the warrior mentality.


Zen gave Ikebana the same characteristics given to the ideal lifestyle of the shogunale nobility. These characteristics were applied in all manifestations of daily life: from the way of building houses, to martial arts and other arts such as the tea ceremony, Nō theatre, calligraphy, Haiku poetry, dry gardens, Kaiseki cooking, Raku pottery and more.


These characteristics can be summarised in the following concepts, expressed by the Zen monk Shin’ichi Hisamatsu in his book “ZEN and the fine ARTS”:


General characteristics that apply to all arts                             Specific characteristics for ikebana


                         Simplicity                                                   In the choice of the vase and materials


                                                                                             All the redundant parts of the vegetals

                         Austerity                                                 are removed, leaving only the essential parts


                         Asymmetry                                                  In numbers, positions and inclinations


                                                                                                   Avoiding any signs of artificiality:

                       Naturalness                                                   the composition must give the idea that

                                                                                                      human did not intervene


                                                                                              The composition must radiate a sense

                      Subtle depth                                           strength and a remarkable power of suggestion

                       (Yugen)                                                         that suggests some hidden quality



                     Peace of mind                                               The composition must suggest a sense

                                                                                                               of deep  calm

per gli “smanettoni” dell’ikebana


Ogni composizione ikebana che sia composta dai tre elementi principali (shu, fuku e kyaku della Scuola Ohara) può essere eseguita in due modi, una specchio dell’altra.

composizione hongatte/di-destra













composizione gyakugatte/di-sinistra

(C) scuola Ohara

Gli aggettivi hongatte o di-destra e gyakugatte o di-sinistra, usati per differenziare le due possibilità, non sono stati creati per l’ikebana ma facevano parte della cultura della Corte imperiale giapponese sin dall’epoca Heian.

La disposizione degli oggetti in modo hongatte o gyakugatte è comune ad altre situazioni come la disposizione di pietre nei giardini, la disposizione dei suiseki (pietre da collezione) nei suiban, la disposizione degli oggetti nel tokonoma, la costruzione sia del tokonoma che della sala per la Cerimonia del tè, la disposizione del cibo nei piatti.


origine della nomenclatura hongatte e gyakugatte


Parlando in modo semplificato e generico, in presenza di tre elementi diseguali, in Occidente di solito questi vengono posizionati in ordine crescente o decrescente .

esempio con tre oggetti di volume differente 

disposizione ideale giapponese degli stessi tre oggetti




In Giappone l’elemento più importante dei tre era posto al centro con ai suoi lati i due elementi meno importanti poiché lo stile Alto (scuola Ohara) che fu il primo ad essere introdotto e diede origine a tutti gli altri stili, imita la posizione della triade buddhista vedi art. 64°


NB: essendo idealmente i tre oggetti inseriti nel cerchio del Tai-ji  vedi articolo 15°,  i due elementi più grandi, essendo ambedue nella parte yang del Tai-ji, devono essere fra loro più vicini rispetto all’elemento più piccolo,: quest’ultimo, per evidenziare il fatto che è nella parte yin, dev’essere più staccato dagli altri due.

A                           B

Essendo l’elemento più importante fisso al centro ( nella triade buddhista rappresentava Buddha), ci sono solo due possibilità di disporre i tre elementi: la situazione A e la situazione B.



Siccome la situazione A è preferita e più frequentemente usata, essa viene definita:


katte = gatte = situazione, condizione, circostanza

hon = più usata, preferita, normale, principale, giusta

La posizione a specchio B è meno usata ed è chiamata:


ossia “situazione opposta”                     gatte = situazione, gyaku=opposta

poiché opposta (a specchio) alla situazione A, la più usata

alcune Scuole, al posto di gyakugatte,  usano la parola higatte (da hidari= sinistra)


La disposizione hongatte è considerata Yang/maschile/forte in rapporto alla disposizione gyakugatte che è considerata Yin/femminile/debole rispetto all’altra ( definire yang o yin una cosa,  è sempre esprimere un paragone fra questa e un’altra ).

La preferenza per la situazione A -hongatte- è dovuta al fatto che questa è scelta da chi usa la mano destra mentre la B è preferita dai mancini. Benché in Giappone si scrivesse dall’alto in basso e da destra a sinistra, per cui si potrebbe sospettare la preferenza per la disposizione gyakugatte, anche i giapponesi destrimani sono la maggioranza come nel resto del mondo perciò la disposizione di-destra/hongatte è stata sempre preferita.

Anche le direzioni da sinistra a destra e oraria sono scelte dai destrimani, dunque la maggioranza, perciò sono considerate hongatte (situazione preferita).

A chi è mancino risulta più facile la direzioni da destra a sinistra e antioraria considerate gyakugatte (situazione opposta alla preferita ) e meno frequentemente scelte.

esempi di disposizioni:

 all’interno del tokonoma con il kakemono sempre al centro e due oggetti, con “peso visivo” decrescente, ai suoi lati .

disposizione gyakugatte


 disposizione del cibo

disposizione dei sassi nei paesaggi con pietre (in questo esempio, vietnamita)

oggetti della Cerimonia del Tè

disposizione hongatte del contenitore dell’acqua al centro, la tazza da tè col frullino alla sua destra e il contenitore della polvere del tè alla sua sinistra.


 Nell’attuale cultura occidentale non esistono situazioni di disposizione di tre entità simili al modo giapponese: unico esempio è la posizione hongatte che assumono sul podio i primi tre atleti nelle gare sportive:


il 1° (più forte) è sempre al centro,

il 2° alla sua destra, un poco più basso

e il 3° alla sua sinistra ancora più basso


i tre elementi da disporre in modo hongatte o gyakugatte sono shu, fuku e kyaku  -Scuola Ohara-; queste due possibilità di disposizione sono già presenti nel primo manoscritto specifico sull’ikebana, il SENDENSHO, scritto da differenti autori anonimi, datato 1445 dal suo primo possessore Fu’ami, monaco della setta Ji e dōbōshῡ al servizio degli Ashikaga, e 1536 dal suo ultimo possessore, Ikenobō.

Siccome ogni Scuola d’ikebana chiama ed ha chiamato i suoi tre elementi principali in modo differente, per evitare di complicare le spiegazioni, in tutti gli articoli chiamo i tre elementi principali di tutte le Scuole e di tutte le epoche con i nomi usati dalla Scuola Ohara, ossia shu, fuku e kyaku.


Nel periodo di formazione delle regole compositive del Rikka,  lo shu era sempre al centro vedi art.64° e 70° perciò le possibilità di posizionamento dei tre elementi principali erano solo due


disposizione hongatte                                     disposizione gyakugatte

Siccome, sin dall’introduzione del Buddhismo nel 6° sec., i due personaggi a lato del Buddha erano disegnati in posizioni tendenti alla curvatura verso il centro come in questo kakemono del 13° sec., quando si creavano tre Rikka, quello centrale ai piedi di Buddha il più importante dei tre manteneva il ramo principale diritto mentre nei due Rikka ai lati, i loro rami principali assunsero la curvatura in senso orario nella composizione hon-gatte e anti-orario in quella gyaku-gatte.



tre Rikka: il più importante, quello centrale posto sotto il kakemono con Buddha, con il ramo principale diritto mentre i due Rikka ai lati con il ramo principale curvato in senso orario nel Rikka hon-gatte e anti-orario in quello gyaku-gatte

Le posizioni degli elementi principali del Rikka vengono mantenute nello Shōka/Seika

Notare che le composizioni, sia nel Rikka che nello Shōka/Seika, escono dal centro del vaso, perciò la definizione hongatte e gyakugatte non dipende dal punto dell’uscita dei vegetali dal vaso ma esclusivamente dal rapporto delle relative posizioni dei due elementi fuku e kyaku attorno a uno shu centrale e verticale.


La Scuola Ohara ha mantenuto i tre elementi che chiama shu, fuku e kyaku negli Stili Alto, Obliquo, Riflesso nell’acqua e Cascata che possono essere disposti hongatte o gyakugatte

direzione gyakugatte

In generale, se colleghiamo i tre elementi (ad esempio nel tokonoma o nell’ikebana) partendo dal più piccolo al medio al grande, le due composizioni ci danno un senso di rotazione, orario per la disposizione hongatte, antiorario per quella gyakugatte

Questa direzione generale dei tre elementi è mantenuta, se fattibile, anche nei tre singoli elementi che la compongono: ad esempio nella foto sopra della -direzione hongatte- anche il tronco del bonsai assume questa direzione.

È Importante per l’ikebanista il sottolineare che questa direzione non può essere contrastata, ossia come il tronco del bonsai non può essere nella direzione anti-oraria in una composizione hongatte anche shu, nello Stile Alto, non può avere un movimento anti-orario.

A lato vediamo un Paesaggio tradizionale, stile alto, hongatte/di-destra in cui lo shu riprende la stessa direzione della composizione nel suo insieme con la curvatura di shu in senso orario

L’elemento centrale funge da asse attorno al quale si posizionano gli altri due elementi perciò è la posizione di quest’ultimi che determina se il trio è hongatte o gyakugatte,

Questo concetto  è importante per capire la disposizione delle singole foglie, gruppi di foglie e ceppi nei Paesaggi Tradizionali con Iris nella Scuola Ohara.

Nell’assemblaggio delle foglie di Iris usato nella tecnica tradizionale della scuola Ohara, la disposizione del gruppo di foglie è hongatte o gyakugatte.

Il fiore (1) assume la funzione di shu, mentre le due foglie più grandi (2) e (3) quella di fuku e kyaku. Anche quando il fiore non c’è ed esiste solo il gruppo di foglie, queste hanno una disposizione hongatte o gyakugatte.


È la posizione delle foglie 2 e 3 ( sempre le più grandi del gruppo ) che determina se il gruppo è hongatte o gyakugatte.

Le foglie aggiunte 4, 5 e 6,sempre di dimensioni minori rispetto alle due principali 2 e 3, non modificano la disposizione hongatte o gyakugatte iniziale.

Questa nomenclatura è usata attualmente da tutte le scuole; fino a pochi decenni fa la dicitura hongatte era sinonimo di di-destra mentre gyakugatte era sinonimo di di-sinistra     vedi articolo 17°

per gli “sfegatati” dell’ikebana

Come accennato in precedenza, le regole compositive dell’ikebanana rappresentano simboli religioso-filosofici.



L'”occidentalizzazione” valorizza solo il lato estetico dell’ikebana mentre alla sua origine, pur essendo importante questo suo aspetto, la comprensione del suo contenuto simbolico ne era una parte basilare.


Il taoismo classifica la realtà secondo un sistema binario in cui le forze opposte yang e yin sono complementari e interdipendenti, ciascuna contiene il germe dell’altra, sono costantemente in mutamento caratterizzato da fasi di espansione yang, e concomitante contrazione yin, seguite da fasi di espansione yin, con concomitante contrazione yang; tale sistema è rappresentato dal simbolo del taiji.


Questo simbolo taoista lo troviamo nell’ikebana sin dalla sua prima forma codificata, il Tatebana, ed è ancora più evidente nel Rikka che rappresenta il monte Sumero con il suo lato yang al sole e il suo lato yin all’ombra ( vedi art. 22° )

Il Rikka, molto complicato da eseguire, nella prima metà del periodo Edo venne semplificato nel Seika/Shoka, lasciando solo i tre elementi principali, elementi che ritroviamo immutati nel Moribana e nell`Heika della Scuola Ohara.

In tutti gli articoli di questo blog, per le spiegazioni teoriche del Rikka viene considerato lo Shoka/Seika che ha mantenuto la struttura di base del Rikka ma molto semplificate e quindi più semplici da spiegare.


Una delle rappresentazioni simboliche dell’ikebana era l’unione fra il cielo e la terra espressa posizionando i tre elementi principali sulla linea simbolica taoista che unisce il cielo alla terra.

Per capire la ragione della disposizione spaziale simbolica dei vegetali, bisogna conoscere la rappresentazione grafica del Taijitu, il suo orientamento e i suoi rapporti simbolici con i punti cardinali della bussola.


Costruzione del Taijitu:


All’interno del cerchio che rappresenta “il Tutto” vengono disegnati due cerchi con diametri equivalenti al raggio del cerchio che li contiene.





Si caratterizzano con colori “opposti” :

– colori yang, come il bianco o rosso ( colori della luce o del sole) in  uno dei due cerchi e si colora l’altro con

–  colori yin, “opposti” a quelli usati nell’altro cerchio, come il nero o blu.

Dunque il cerchio bianco rappresenta la parte yang e il cerchio nero la parte yin.

Nel centro dei due cerchi si lascia il colore del cerchio opposto per sottolineare che non esiste niente di puro yang e niente di puro yin.


Per evidenziare che le due forze yang e yin sono sempre in movimento e si trasformano continuamente una nell’altra, si estende il bianco e il nero indifferentemente a una o all’altra parte parte dei lati che contornano i due cerchi, ma la parte yang rimane quella metà del cerchio grande in cui è inserito il cerchio bianco (quadrante completamente bianco + quadrante con semicerchio bianco e “coda” nera) e non quella con la maggior superficie di bianco; il ragionamento è uguale per la parte yin.




Nei vari testi il Taijitu è posizionato in vari modi: quello corretto, che lo mette in relazione con i punti cardinali e su cui è basata la costruzione dell’ikebana, è unicamente quello disegnato sopra; i due esempi mostrati ai lati non sono collegati coi punti cardinali.


bandiera della Corea del Sud


Il posizionamento corretto del taijitu, per capire il simbolismo dell’ikebana e le sue relazioni con i punti cardinali, è visibile nella bandiera della Core del Sud a lato importante è la posizione del cerchio e non la sua coda, ed è il seguente



Contrariamente alla moderna convenzione occidentale di mettere il nord in alto e il sud in basso, in Cina, e di conseguenza in Giappone, si metteva il sud in alto e il nord in basso poiché il sole, al suo apice associato al sud, è in alto sopra la nostra testa e non in basso.







A sinistra una mappa del Giappone con leggende in portoghese, datata 1585, in cui si vede che il sud (SUL) è in alto sopra la scritta IAPAM, mentre il nord (NORTE) è visibile in basso ai piedi della cartina.














A destra un paticolare di una mappa datata 1596, di Arnold Van Langren, che rappresenta Cina, Corea e Giappone, pure col nord in basso e il sud in alto




Il sud posto in alto lo troviamo anche nella cartografia medioevale europea, vedi Tabula Rogeriana, mappamondo di fra Mauro e altri.











A lato il mappamondo di Fra Mauro datato 1440-conservato a Venezia-, in cui il sud è in alto e il nord in basso










Mappa datata 1584 della regione dell’attuale Svizzera in cui i laghi di Como (Larius), di Lugano e Locarno (Verbanus) sono in alto a sud segnato MERIDIES e la Svizzera tedesca è disegnata a nord, in basso segnato SEPTENTRIO al di sotto di Basilea, attuale città più a nord della Svizzera, e del fiume Reno.










Noi vediamo il Taijitu da nord, come se guardassimo l’Italia da nord, perciò come il sole/sud, rispetto a noi che guardiamo, è in alto sopra l’Italia, anche nel Taijitu il sole/sud è posizionato in alto, sopra a questo.





Altra differenza fra Oriente e Occidente è che in Occidente consideriamo le direzioni cardinali nord, ovest, sud, est, mentre in Oriente si consideravano i quadranti nord, ovest, sud, est.




Guardando il Taijitu vediamo che il quadrante sud, in alto, è yang, associato al solare quando è allo zenit, al fuoco, all’estate, al caldo, al colore rosso, alla fenice (vedi 9° articolo)

Se il quadrante sud è yang, quello nord in basso è yin ed è pure lui associato agli “opposti” elencati nel quadrante yang/sud, ossia: freddo, acqua, inverno, colore nero, tartaruga.

Con lo stesso ragionamento si fanno gli altri abbinamenti : il sole nasce ad Est e la sua luce e calore aumentano, crescono: l’aumento/crescita è una caratteristica yang per cui il quadrante è considerato yang, mentre cala ad Ovest, si indebolisce e l’indebolimento è una caratteristica yin perciò questo quadrante è ritenuto yin.


Abbiamo così il cerchio del Taijitu diviso a metà in una parte yang (quadranti sud e est) e yin (quadranti nord e ovest)  separati da una linea A-A, inclinata di 45° rispetto a chi guarda e perpendicolare alla linea B-B,  che unisce il punto di massimo-yang col punto di massimo-yin, pure essa inclinata di 45° rispetto a chi guarda.


Immaginiamo di disporre il simbolo del Taijitu su di un tavolo. Il sole, che nelle rappresentazioni occidentali viene posizionato a sud, nel simbolismo orientale viene posizionato fra i due quadranti est/sud, nel punto considerato come massimo-yang. Noi  guardiamo il Taijitu da nord e il sole risulta dietro al disegno, posizionato simbolicamente sulla perpendicolare del punto B (massimo yang)



Siccome il Rikka è composto da tanti elementi vegetali e la sua costruzione risulta difficile da interpretare, per le spiegazioni uso lo schema dello Shoka, (semplificazione del Rikka,  con solo i tre elementi principali che la scuola Ohara chiama shu, fuku e kyaku) per evidenziare la posizione simbolica dei vegetali: vediamo che questi tre elementi principali sono allineati lungo la linea BB per rappresentare simbolicamente l’unione fra cielo/sole e terra





Siccome ogni scuola di ikebana nomina i tre elementi principali in modo differente, è una convenzione internazionale per cui l’elemento principale (lo shu della scuola Ohara) viene disegnato con un cerchio, il secondo (il fuku Ohara) con un quadrato, mentre il terzo elemento (il kyaku Ohara) è disegnato con un triangolo (purtroppo non tutte le scuole seguono questa regola)



i tre elementi principali della composizione sono allineati sull’asse B-B, linea che rappresenta la congiunzione fra il massimo-yang e il massimo-yin ossia la simbolica congiunzione fra cielo e terra.


Inoltre i due elementi principali shu/fuku sono nel lato yang, in rosso nello schema, mentre kyaku è nel lato yin, blu:

di conseguenza il materiale vegetale usato per shu e fuku dev’essere yang rispetto a quello usato per kyaku; questa è la ragione per cui, ancora oggi nella scuola Ohara, negli stili tradizionali, il gruppo shu-fuku è composto da materiale Ki-legno mentre il gruppo kyaku è composto da materiale Kusa-“erba” (vedi 2° articolo “concetto di forte e debole”)




In questo schema di shoka, visto di fronte e dall’alto, è chiaramente visibile la direzione simbolica cielo-terra assunta dai tre elementi principali allineati:

l’elemento centrale più alto (lo shu della scuola Ohara):

parte dal centro, si dirige verso il sole e ritorna verso il centro in modo che la sua punta rimanga sulla perpendicolare del punto di partenza

Soe (fuku scuola Ohara):  si dirige verso il sole

Tai (kyaku scuola Ohara): si dirige verso la terra

Evidente pure che shu e fuku sono nel lato yang della composizione mentre kyaku è nella sua parte yin.










Shoka Ikenobo di sole foglie d’Aspidistra: come nello schema descritto sopra, shu e fuku sono diretti all’indietro a sinistra (verso la posizione simbolica del sole in alto alla nostra sinistra) mentre kyaku è diretto verso la nostra destra, in avanti, nella direzione simbolica verso il massimo-yin.


Lungo la linea BB sono allineati solo i tre elementi principali mentre i loro ausiliari assumono tutti direzioni differenti sia all’indietro che in tutte le altre direzioni.


Altra regola importante ( vedi art. 24 ), di origine shintoista, è che:

shu guarda verso il sole mentre tutti gli altri vegetali guardano verso shu.


Nel disegno con Aspidistra è chiaramente visibile che il lato positivo/yang/scuro delle foglie segue la regola citata e noi vediamo la composizione, nel suo insieme, da nord, “da dietro”, essendo questa rivolta verso il sole, posizionato dall’altra parte del vaso rispetto a noi che lo guardiamo.


Quando si usa una sola specie di vegetali, come nel caso con aspidistra, non si può evidenziare che il gruppo shu-fuku, nel lato yang, dev`essere composto da vegetali “più forti” rispetto ai vegetali del gruppo kyaku, poiché quest’ultimi sono nel lato yin della composizione e dunque devono essere “più deboli” dei vegetali del lato yang.


Questa differenza è palese nell’Heika hongatte a lato in cui il gruppo shu-fuku, essendo nel lato yang, è materiale legno “più forte” del materiale usato per il gruppo kyaku, fiori  che sono yin, ossia “più deboli”, rispetto al materiale legno del gruppo shu-fuku.

(C) Scuola Ohara



Nel periodo Tokugawa al Taoismo fu preferito il Neo-confucianesimo: la direzione dei  tre elementi principali venne cambiata e la composizione fu chiamata Seika.

L’unica scuola che non cambiò le direzioni dei tre elementi pricipali fu  l’ Ikenobo e chiamò la composizione Shoka.

Shoka                   Seika                      Seika                        Seika 











Il simbolo che i tre elementi principali della composizione uniscono il cielo alla terra rimase nel Seika ma fu espresso in modo differente passando dal simbolismo taoista (yang-yin) al simbolismo del neo-confucianesimo preferito al taoismo dai Tokugawa per il quale il cielo è in alto, la terra in basso e l’uomo fra questi due.


– mentre nello Shoka, basato sullo schema taoista, questa unione simbolica è data dall’allineamento dei tre elementi sull’asse BB che unisce il cielo/sole alla terra nel taiji (fuku=cielo, shu=uomo, kyaku=terra)

– nel Seika, basato sullo schema del neo-confucianesimo, questa unione è dall’alto in basso per cui  l’elemento più alto venne chiamato cielo e di conseguenta quello intermedio uomo mentre l’elemento più basso rimane terra (shu=cielo, fuku=uomo, kyaku=terra)

(vedi anche art. 24°: shinto e ikebana)

La tradizione associa la creazione del Nageire con Sen no Rikyū ( alle dipendenze di Hideyoshi quale Maestro del Tè dal 1585 al 1591 ) e racconta che, durante una pausa in una campagna militare, il kampaku ordinasse a Rikyū di creare un ikebana .

Rikyū, non avendo a disposizione il materiale necessario, col suo pugnale tagliò fiori e foglie di Iris, li legò al manico del pugnale stesso lanciando il tutto in un piccolo mastello: la lama si conficcò nel fondo del mastello mantenendo gli iris diritti.

Hideyoshi lo complimentò dicendo:

“che bel nage-ire (= buttato dentro )”

Sen no Rikyū 1522 –  1591
nageire in un mastello


storicamente il Nageire appare circa 140 anni prima di quello che racconta la tradizione poiché nel Sendensho (più antico manoscritto sull’ikebana arrivato fino a noi, datato 1445) si usa già questo nome per le composizioni libere, non codificate come i Tatebana .

Utamaro ( 1753 – 1806)

esempio di rikka e di nageire

 Il Rikka rappresenta l’evoluzione del Tatebana e ne ha mantenute tutte le caratteristiche citate nello specchietto sopra.

esempi di nageire tratti da Utamaro, 1793



 dunque usando la parola NAGEIRE ci si riferisce al modo (libero, rispetto al Tatebana) di comporre: i vegetali, con caratteristiche differenti dai vegetali usati per il Tatebana, vengono “buttati dentro” in un vaso alto o basso .

Interessante sapere che i primi Moribana Ohara erano chiamati -Suiban Nageire- ossia Nageire (composizione libera) in un vaso basso (suiban), nome probabilmente scelto per evidenziare il distacco e l’uso più libero dei vegetali da parte della scuola Ohara, rispetto alle altre scuole ancora legate alla tradizione del tempo.

Attualmente la Scuola Ohara usa i termini:



Hei=vaso, sottinteso alto + Ka=”fiori”,

per le composizioni in vaso alto, differenziandole dalle composizioni in vaso basso, chiamate Moribana .

Dunque la parola Heika si riferisce al tipo di vaso (alto) usato .




° NAGEIRE per le composizioni in vaso alto, equivalente ad heika, anche se la composizione non è libera, come indicava il termine quando è stato coniato, ma sottostà alle regole compositive equivalenti alle regole compositive del Moribana

Dunque la parola Nageire si riferisce al modo di comporre (in passato libero, attualmente codificato)


Tenendo presente il primo nome dato al Moribana (suiban Nageire) e il nome Nageire usato per le composizioni in vaso alto, i Moribana e gli Heika Ohara dovrebbero dare l`impressione di naturalezza, nonostante l`obbligo di seguire delle regole compositive, come se i vegetali fossero stati “buttati dentro”.

Le fonti storiche mostrano che l’ikebana, con una struttura basata su regole, è nato durante il periodo Muromachi (1333-1568) grazie al patrocinio degli shogun Ashikaga.

Il 3° shogun Yoshimitsu, (1358-1408) favorì quelle arti che noi conosciamo come  “tradizionali giapponesi”.

Quando si ritirò dalla carica di shogun, egli fece costruire e si stabilì nel Padiglione d’oro, a Kitayama, sobborgo di Kyoto.


Del periodo in cui nasce l’ikebana abbiamo molteplici racconti legati alla tradizione tramandati dalla scuola Ikenobo ma poche informazioni storiche poiché gli attuali storici, conoscendo ancora poco  l’ikebana, si occupano finora in modo limitato del soggetto. Una delle caratteristiche di questo periodo è il termine basara (ostentatazione, eccesso, stravaganza) e l’inizio dell’ikebana parte proprio da quei samurai basara come Sasaki Dōyo (1306-1373), shugo al serivio del primo shogun Ashikaga Takauji, che ha raccontato nei suoi diari i raffinati festini dell’aristocrazia guerriera in cui si esponevano i tatebaba, si gareggiava nel citare poesia o indovinare i nomi dei profumi bruciati negli incensieri opoure la provenienza dei vari tè che venivano serviti con saké e prelibati cibi; Sasaki ha anche scritto un  libro sull’etichetta dei Tatebana che viene indicato col titolo Tatebana Kuden Daiji ( al giorno d’oggi il kanji tatebana viene letto rikka ).  vedi Art. 54°

Suo nipote, 8° shogun, Yoshimasa (1443-1473) porta queste arti al massimo splendore e le rende “tipicamente giapponesi”; anche lui, quando si ritira dalla carica di shogun, si fa costruire e prende residenza nel padiglione d’argento, nella zona di Kyoto chiamata Higashiyama.


L’importanza di questi due shogun, rispetto ai 15 shogun Ashikaga che ebbero il potere nel periodo Muromachi, è tale che la cultura di tutto questo periodo è suddivisa in soli due parti che prendono il nome dalle loro residenze, ossia:

cultura Kitayama (1333-1450), residenza di Yoshimitsu

e cultura Higashiyama (1450-1568), residenza di Yoshimasa

Nella gerarchia militare del tempo non era possibile che un Militare di grado inferiore allo shogun fosse più colto di questo in qualsiasi campo perciò gli Ashikaga avevano alle loro dipendenze i dōbōshῡ (attendenti), la maggior parte monaci buddhisti di umili origini, i quali prendevano i voti ma non entravano stabilmente in un monastero e, pur essendo monaci, continuavano il modo di vivere che avevano prima di ritirarsi dalla vita pubblica (ad esempio, se erano sposati, continuavano a vivere in casa loro con moglie e figli). Essi erano monaci-laici e, pur avendo la testa rasata come gli altri monaci, erano vestiti con colori sgargianti ( mentre i monaci buddisti erano in nero ), potevano portare la spada all’interno del palazzo shogunale ed erano gli uomini colti e guida culturale di quel tempo .



All’inizio del periodo Ashikaga, buona parte dei dōbōshῡ appartenevano alla setta Ji, fondata dal monaco Ippen a metà del 1200, i cui membri, quando fu fondata la setta, avevano la mansione di accompagnare i Daimyō nelle battaglie con il compito di curare i feriti, recitare le preghiere per i morti, comunicare ai clan l’avvenuto decesso e consegnare l’armatura del defunto. Erano caratterizzati dal nome che finiva con AMI, in onore del Buddha Amida (vedi, per i dettagli, articolo 33°: l’ikebana e la storia)

Nei momenti di non-battaglia intrattenevano i samurai con poesie, cerimonie del tè e dell’incenso, organizzavano gli inviti e si occupavano degli ospiti.

Col passare del tempo, le mansioni di “intrattenimento culturale” prevalsero sulle altre ed essi divennero gli attendenti esclusivi degli shogun Ashikaga.


I dōbōshῡ erano gli uomini colti del tempo,  arbitri del gusto e consiglieri estetici degli shogun, e ognuno di loro era esperto d’arte o come poeta o come pittore o ikebanista o come costruttore di giardini o come curatore e restauratore dei preziosi oggetti della collezione artistica shogunale (come i “tre Ami”, nonno-padre-figlio Noami, Geiami, Soami) .


La loro cultura, patrocinata dagli Ashikaga, era diventata quella egemone e questo fatto aveva permesso alla classe dei samurai di uscire dalla posizione culturale subalterna a quella della Corte Imperiale, unica fonte di cultura fino a questo periodo storico.

I dōbōshῡ si occupavano di catalogare le collezioni private degli Ashikaga, la stragrande maggioranza di origine cinese, dal vasellame, ai dipinti, ai disegni, e fra i loro compiti c’era anche quello di preparare le sale dei banchetti per gli ospiti dello shogun, addobbandole con “pezzi rari cinesi” (karamono) della collezione shogunale.




dipinto in cui sono visibili i karamono esposti, vasi cinesi che non contengono ancora dei vegetali



Durante i ricevimenti, contro la parete principale che ospitava gli oggetti esposti su scaffali, si cominciò a mettere anche una triade di dipinti (kakemono) sacri , in cui quello centrale rappresentava sempre Buddha; ai suoi piedi si metteva un tavolino rialzato (oshi-ita) con i tre “oggetti sacri”, mitsugusoku, ossia un incensiere, un candelabro e un vaso con fiori (il vaso era molto più importante dei fiori)

Questo modo di disporre i tre o cinque kakemono lo si faceva da tempo ma solo in ambito religioso: a lato disegno datato 1160 che mostra una cappella della setta buddhista Shingon, fondata da Kukai (774-835) in cui sono visibili 5 kakemono con davanti 5 tavolini con incensieri. I dōbōshῡ hanno trasferito questo modo di disporre i kakemono da un luogo sacro alla dimora laica dello shogun.

È da questa abitudine, formalizzata nella seconda metà del 1400 sotto il patrocinio dell’ottavo shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, che nasce l’ikebana: il tavolino con i tre oggetti sacri diventa il tokonoma e contemporaneamente i vasi con i fiori diventano sempre più importanti e il loro contenuto vegetale viene strutturato: da un vaso unico si passa a tre vasi.

o anche cinque, nelle situazionii molto formali;

Col passare del tempo, l’incensiere e il candelabro perdono di importanza e non vengono più messi nel tokonoma, lasciando solo i tre vasi il cui contenuto vegetale comincia ad essere strutturato con quelle regole che governano la costruzione di un ikebana ancora ai giorni nostri. All’inizio erano importanti i vasi che venivano esposti per la loro bellezza mentre i fiori avevano una parte secondaria; ora sono i vegetali che hanno assunto importanza maggiore e i vasi sono scelti in funzione dei vegetali: questi sono costruiti in modo specifico per contenere i vegetali dei tatebana/rikka.

composizione di-destra/hongatte                                             composizione di-sinistra/gyakugatte

Come spiegato nel 5° articolo (relazione fra ikebana e ambiente), la definizione delle composizioni “di-destra” (hongatte) e “di-sinistra” (gyakugatte) è associata alla loro posizione rispetto al dipinto centrale con Buddha nel tokonoma.


Questa “nascita” dell’ikebana avvenne nella seconda metà del 1400. Mettere dei fiori davanti agli altari è abitudine comune in tutte le religioni ma metterli strutturati con regole è avvenuto solo in Giappone: le offerte floreali a Buddha avvengono in tutto il mondo buddhista e dal cinquecento alla metà del 1400 (ossia per circa 900 anni) non esistono fonti storiche che descrivano dei fiori o rami disposti con delle regole nei vasi; le prime forme “strutturate” di ikebana (Tatebana) appaiono solo a metà del 1400 in concomitanza dell’apparire del tokonoma: quindi l’ikebana nasce in ambito “laico” nelle dimore dello shogun (ove il kakemono con Buddha non serviva da altare davanti al quale si pregasse realmente ma solo per dare importanza agli oggetti esposti).


Ad eccezione dei rikka fatti comporre a lato del Grande Buddha di Nara da Hideyoshi (che in fondo erano in onore di sé stesso e non del Buddha) vedi dipinto con le proporzioni dei due Rikka più alti della sua testa non esistono descrizioni che parlino di ikebana sugli altari di qualsiasi setta buddhista; anche gli Ikenobo non hanno mai messo degli ikebana nel Rokkakudo ma le loro esposizioni avvenivano sempre in altri edifici.


Dunque l’ikebana storicamente provato appare e diventa un’arte nell’ambito della decorazione e disposizione (kazari) degli oggetti preziosi degli shogun Ashikaga.


The origin of ikebana according to tradition was written in the second half of the 1700s by the Ikenobō, and relates the birth of ikebana with historical figures who really lived but whose involvement with ikebana is historically impossible.

In the Azuka period (552-710 A.D.) Empress Suiko was elected. She was the first woman-tennō of the eight empresses who reigned in Japan and she ruled from 593 to 628 A.D. see article no. 111


She appointed as Regent her nephew Prince Umayado (born 574 and died 622), known by the posthumous name of Shotoku Taishi = shining prince.

He was the second son of Emperor Yōmei, (in the two drawings together with two dignitaries drawn smaller than he to highlight his importance was).

He was an important figure who supported the introduction of Buddhism at the imperial court and, according to tradition, wrote the first Japanese Constitution of 17 articles. He also introduced the use of the Chinese calendar used in Japan, with a few adaptations, until 1873 when the Gregorian calendar was introduced.










Looking at the garments and hairstyles, the Chinese influence on the Japanese Imperial Court at that time is evident.







Tradition has it that Shotoku Taishi, an ardent Buddhist, always carried a statuette of the goddess of compassion, Kannon.

During one of his journeys, being very hot, he stopped to cool off by a pond but when he wanted to put his clothes on and leave, the statue had become very heavy. He therefore spent the night close to the pond and dreamt that Kannon wished a temple to be built there in her honour. Taishi had it built and, being hexagonal in shape, over the years it was called Rokkakudō = hexagonal temple.



According to the legend, the Rokkakudō was built in an area that was to be chosen for the new capital, the construction of which began around 794 and became the seat of the imperial court. The new capital was called Heian-kyō, today’s Kyoto.

Historians agree that the Rokkakudō was actually built in the capital more than 170 years after Taishi’s death -which occurred in 622-, when the new capital already existed

The Rokkakudō is the historical seat of the Ikenobō School.




Japanese banknotes showing both Shotoku Taishi and the Rokkakudō






At the head of two embassies to China in 607 and 608 was ONO NO IMOKO, nephew of the emperor Bidatsu (538-585) and cousin of Taishi. His return from the second embassy is historically documented but this is the last historical information about him: from his return from China onwards, he is no longer mentioned in any source









The Japanese imperial message, brought by Imoko to the Chinese Emperor Yang in the first embassy, started with:

“the son of Heaven where the sun rises (i.e. Japan) to the son of Heaven where the sun sets (i.e. China)………”

This message probably annoyed the latter because it equate the two emperors, while the Chinese imperial court considered the Japanese to be an insignificant and barbaric people.

When Ono no Imoko returned from the second embassy, Taishi was dead and at this point tradition states: Ono no Imoko took his vows and retired to Rokkakudō, becoming its abbot and taking the name of the Buddhist monk SENMU.

It is said that he began to create flower offerings to the altar of Buddha the way he had learned to do in China.Tradition states that he lived in a hut adjacent to the Rokkakudō located by the pond where Shotoku Taishi had cooled off. Hence the origin of the name Ike no bō (=hut by the pond).






Rokkakudō, Kyoto







According to tradition, the abbots who followed him at the head of the Rokkakudō continued to occupy themselves and develop this art, which in the Edo period was called ikebana.


From the second abbot onwards, as monks, they assumed names that all began with SEN, a custom that has survived to this day.

Historically, the name (Senkei or Senei) Ikenobō first appears in a diary of the Kyoto Buddhist monk, Hekizan Nichiroku, dated 25 February 1462, in which it is said that many people saw compositions in a golden vase performed by the monk Senei Ikenobō.

From the 608, the historical date on which Ono no Imoko returned from the second embassy (and retired, according to legend, to Rokkakudō, taking the name Senmu) until 1462, the year when the name ikenobō first appeared in the diaries, this name has never been mentioned in any other historical source that has come down to us.


With the aim of increasing or strengthening the prestige and legitimacy of the school, the Ikenobō, as well as associating the birth of their name with Shotoku Taishi, associated Senkei Ikenobō with the Ashikaga shoguns saying that he was in the service of Yoshimasa, the eighth shogun, and that in 1479 the latter named him: “Dai Nippon Kado no Iemoto” (he who originated ikebana).

Thus demonstrating Yoshimasa’s alleged preference for the Tatebana created by Senkei over those created by the dōbōshū of the Ji sect.

The dōbōshu were secular-monks in his employ, who first created the Tatebana; the association of Senkei Ikenobo with the shogun Yoshimasa is considered by historians to be untrue.


Although texts written on Tatebana appear as early as the 14th century (e.g. Sasaki Dōyo 1306-1373) and in various journals there is mention of “arranging/putting upright” (TATERU ) flowers, as for example in a record dated 20 April 1476.  In this it is said that Yoshimasa, on the occasion of his visit to the Imperial Palace, asked his dōbōshū Ryūami to ” put up rights” (TATERU) of peonies. The same action is also described on other pages with other flowers.


Tradition links the birth of Ikebana only to the Ikenobō School, but this tradition was written by the Ikenobō themselves in the Edo period at the request of the Tokugawa shoguns.

The dōbōshū see article 33 , the first “creators” and codifiers of the rules of the Tatebana, disappeared with the fall of the Ashikaga and the Ikenobō, now the only ones dealing with this art, began the hegemony in the field of ikebana that would last until the middle of the Edo period, when the other schools were born, all derived from the Ikenobō school.


Written by Mauro posted online on March 8, Women’s Day

 The Japanese monarchy is the oldest institution of the globe. It is perpetuated almost in its totality by male hereditary line with the exception of a few cases in which became Tenno some daughters or wives of emperors or women relatives of the Imperial Family, and always only with the aim of preserving the throne in the family, never by free choice. The Imperial Family has no surname and all the Tenno are known only by their posthumous Buddhist name, given to them after their death.

The first 42 Emperors of which tradition tells us resided in as many seats about the size of a village; since Shintoism considers impure both blood and death, at the Emperor’s death the village, having become impure, was abandoned.

There were 8 female Tenno:




ASUKA 552-710.  Five Empresses: 1) SUIKO 2) KOGYOKU / SAIMEI 3) JITO 4) GEMMEI

NARA 710-794. Three Empresses: 5) GENSHO 6) KOKEN / SHOTOKU

HEIAN 794-1185

KAMAKURA 1185-1392

MUROMACHI 1392-1568

MOMOYAMA 1568-1600

EDO 1600-1868. Two Empresses: 7) MEISHO 8) GOSAKURAMAKI

Of the 125 TENNO in official history, eight were women and two of them were two times with different names; therefore, official Japan had Empresses ten times.

In Japanese mythology, there are mentions of queen-shamans who held power.

For example it was JINGO who led the first invasion of Korea, she was pregnant and to allow her son (future emperor OJIN) to be born in Japan, the pregnancy lasted 14 months and it is said that he “led” his mother from the womb in the battles, for this reason, at his death, OJIN was identified with HACHIMAN, god of war.



Figurine representing Jingo

Temple of Hachiman in Nara



The term TENNO ( 天皇 TEN=sky, 0=sovereign ) was first used by Shotoku Taishi in the missive for the Chinese Emperor brought by Ono no Imoko (to whom tradition associates the birth of ikebana through the presumed beginning of the Ikenobo dynasty see art. 12th) in reference to the 1st Empress Suiko (33rd Tenno of the official list, who reigned from 593 to 628), under whose reign began the diplomatic relations with China.

In the political Chinese concept, the Emperor was a Heavenly Mandate, meaning that his task was to ensure harmony between celestial forces, natural forces and human forces; he could carry out these functions only if endowed with virtues.

The Imperial Mandate was entrusted by Heaven and could be withdrawn from Heaven (and pass to another dynasty) if it proved not to possess these virtues. To avoid a change of the Imperial Family (as happened in China) the Japanese nobles claimed that the emperor was not by heavenly mandate but because he was a direct descendant of the kami Amaterasu, Goddess of the sun.


 ASUKA  Period  552-710


1st Tenno woman: in 592 UMAKO, head of the SOGA clan, had Emperor SUJIN assassinated and appointed his niece SUIKO, Sujin’s widow, to the throne; Another of his nephews, SHOTOKU TAISHI (= Holy Prince), was appointed Regent. He was a cultured and far-sighted man who favoured the introduction of Buddhism at Court and whom tradition associates with the birth of ikebana because, again according to tradition, Taishi built the Rokkakudo, the temple to which Ono no Imoko retired as the first Ikenobo abbot.

The tradition associates the “birth of ikebana” with these true historical figures, but their role in the making of ikebana has been supported by tales created by the Ikenobo almost a thousand years later in order to reconstruct an important past and give themselves legitimacy, when they became famous with Senkei Ikenobo, the first Ikenobo name that was mentioned for the first time in 1462 as the creator of a Tatebana in a gold vase. (See art. 13, the birth of ikebana according to historical sources)

2nd Tenno woman:  on the death of SUIKO, Emperor JOMEI ascended the throne, but on his death in 641, again due to political problems, his wife Princess TAKARA ascended the throne as the 35th TENNO under the name of KOGYOKU; she abdicated after three years in favour of her son Prince NAKA who, in order to be able to really rule behind the scenes, preferred to refuse the title in favour of KOTOKU, Kogyoku’s brother, who became the 36th Emperor in the official list.

The latter died nine years later and, for the second time, Kogyoku was raised as the 37th Tenno and took the name of SAIMEI, remaining Tenno until her death in 661.

3rd Tenno woman: in 690, after the death of Emperor TEMMU, became the 41st Tenno his wife with the name JITO. She was also known as a poetess, with her waka included in Manyoshu. She retired in 697 to allow her son MOMMU to assume the throne until 707 when he died. Being his son only 6 years old, his wife became Tenno with the name of GEMMEI.



GEMMEI  was the 4th Tenno woman and the 43rd Tenno. During her reign,  that lasted 8 years, the capital was moved to NARA and the KOGIKI (= history of ancient things), the first book on Shinto mythology and on the history ( mythicized) of the aristocracy of the Yamato, was completed. She abdicated in 715 in favour of her daughter Princess HIDAKA who became:

 The 5th Tenno woman, with the name of  GENSHO. She was the  44th Tenno on the official list  and reigned from 715 to 724. During her reign was written the NIHON SHOKI (= chronicles of Japan) which, like the KOGIKI, repeats (with variations) and extends the ( mythicized) chronology of the Yamato bloodline.

 KOKEN was the 6th Tenno woman, 46th in the official list, from 749 to 758 . She abdicated in favour of one of her sons when she became seriously ill; during her illness she was treated by a Buddhist monk – Dokyo – who healed her; she fell in love with the monk and engaged him as a counsellor.

Healed, she succeeded in ascending to the throne a second time in 764, taking the name SHOTOKU, 48th Tenno, and installed her lover-monk (who acted as if he were the Emperor) in the Palace, appointing him Head of Ministers. Fortunately for the Court she died in 770 and Dokyo was immediately removed. Because of the behaviour of the latter female Tenno, no other female Tenno was appointed for over 800 years. In fact, in the Heian, Kamakura, Muromachi and Momoyama periods there were no Empresses.  


EDO PERIOD 1600-1868

In 1629, the 7th Tenno woman was appointed, a little girl, who took the name MEISHO, 109th on the official list.

The second Shogun Tokugawa HIDETADA had given his daughter Kazuko in marriage to Emperor Gomizu-noo as a gesture of reconciliation between the increasingly powerful Shogunate and the decadent (penniless and maintained by the shoguns) Imperial institutions.

The Emperor, in order to collect some money, used to sell some privileges to the monks such as the permission to wear clothes of certain colours reserved to the nobility. The Shogun forbade this practice to the Emperor and he abdicated in favour of his daughter (and niece of the Shogun) Princess Okiko, only 6 years old, to put him in an embarrassing situation.  The Shogun, consequently, ended up having to submit (only in theory, but appearances were very important) to a child Empress and, moreover, his niece.  She was Tenno (under the regency of a Fujiwara) for 14 years, then abdicated in favour of her half-brother and became a nun.

The 8th and last Tenno woman, 117th on the official list, was GO-SAKURAMACHI. She ascended the throne at the age of 22 and held this position from 1762 to 1771.

She was the sister of Emperor Momozono who died at the age of 22 leaving behind a son of only four years. She held the throne until her nephew turned twelve and was appointed Tenno. Little is known about her, only that she was an excellent calligrapher.

Since then there have been no more Tenno women and in the 19th century the Imperial Household established that in the Imperial Family only the eldest male child could assume the role of Tenno.


Please note: among the many homophone kanji pronounced KA one is:

KA ( ON reading ), hana ( KUN reading) = “flower

KA ( ON reading )  and  uta ( KUN reading) = poetry

therefore Ka-dō, written in rōmaji and out of context, can mean -the way of “flowers” – or -the way of poet


When the ikebanist has learned the basic rules of ikebana and is no longer worried about “making mistakes” while composing.

By doing a conscious choice he can use this art as a “way of emancipation” and consider what he does – composing an ikebana – from the point of view of Ka-dō, whose ideal aim is the attainment of a particular state of mind, of control of one’s body, of a discipline of behavior. All these characteristics, exercised and developed by practicing ikebana as Ka-dō, will enter into one’s daily life and will be put into practice also in other situations of our life.



In everyday life, we wear several masks and armours.


In learning to create an ikebana, various facets of our character emerge while performing the composition: shyness, aggressiveness, anxiety about not succeeding, fear of making mistakes, belief in having “good taste”, difficulty in accepting the teacher’s corrections, comparison with the works created by other pupils, eagerness to finish, disorder around the composition, etc.


Being aware of these aspects of our character is the first step on the way to change, to the Buddhist enlightenment (satori).


For a western-minded ikebanist, practicing ikebana in the spirit of Ka-dō is an attempt to achieve inner calm and learn to concentrate.

 As well as improving one’s personal ethics, so that even without achieving “enlightenment” one can improve one’s quality of life.



The “ideal” mental and physical attitude of the ikebanist who follows Ka-dō is the following:

– Put yourself in a state of inner peace; calm the turmoil by concentrating on what you are doing.

Staying focused and considering the time and the place in which you perform an arrangement, at school as well as at home, not to “competitively produce a beautiful ikebana” but to dedicate some pleasurable time to yourself.

To connect with the plants we use, considering them not as an object of possess, to be exploited, or as a tool to show off our “composing skills”, but as living plants that deserve all our respect.


– Consider all the single plants and elements, which must be in harmony with each other.

For example, do not be attracted by a single branch that we consider “beautiful” and try forcefully to adapt the rest of the composition to that branch, despite technical difficulties, but know how to sacrifice the exclusivity of a branch by replacing it with another in favour of the outcome of the entire composition.


Those who follow the Way live in harmony with the rest of the world and do not pretend to be the center to which everything and everyone must adapt.


– One of the first steps to take along the Ka-dō is to free oneself from constraints such as “I like this” or “I don’t like that”, occasionally overheard among those who follow the first ikebana lessons, both in relation to the plants used and to the compositions of the other students.


-Focus on what you are doing, forgetting to think about past or future daily problems. Important is the –here and now-.

 Important is what I do here, in this place and not what I have done or will do in other places, at home, at work, at the dentist’s, in the kitchen, in the car.

Important is the now, this moment and not what I did last time – for example a composition that did not satisfy me and the dissatisfaction, linked to its technical difficulties, that I bring with me – or what I will do next time – a wonderful composition that everyone will admire. Keeping the mind at the -here and now- is one of the steps of the Way.


– Those who do not follow the Way are focused only on the composition and forget to treat plants, objects and people, as they would like to be treated.





We usually give a great deal of consideration to the plants, or part of them, that are included in the composition compared to those we discard, considered bulky, troublesome, to be thrown away as soon as possible; in our eyes those used in the composition will be the reason for the praises we will receive while those discarded do not contribute to highlight our skills as ikebanists.


Who is following the Way consider both the plants that become part of the composition and those that do not in the same way.

He gives the same attention and care in not letting them fall down at random, in not stepping on them, in picking them up if they have fallen on the ground using broom and dustpan.


The plants in the composition will also end up being thrown away, but those were used to strengthen our Ego while the discarded ones were not used for this purpose and therefore are unfairly considered “useless” and treated accordingly.





The things we use deserve the same treatment as the plants, so those who follow the Way will be careful in the use of the various tools, taking care not to make noise by putting the scissors on the table – in Japan they use a cloth to put the scissors on so as to attenuate the noise -.

The table must remain clean around the composition as well as the floor, if their use is necessary, the broom and the dustpan must be used consciously.




Some novice ikebanists have a tendency to critically evaluate the compositions of their colleagues or, when the teacher is correcting the composition, they list their good motives for why that plant, which the teacher has corrected, was put that way. Explaining the good reasons on the student’s part does not change the reasons for the correction.


Gusty Herrigel in her book – Zen and the Art of Arranging Flowers – in her second lesson after the Master has removed the flowers from the vase and remade her composition, writes: “Why, I wondered, can’t the Master take into account the psychology of the European, who does not admit a priori that he or she is incapable of succeeding?”


Those who follow the Way are more merciful with the other students, refrain from making comments and do not perceive the correction as a “personal critique” but as a help offered to improve their technique and their understanding of ikebana.

He listens in silence to the teacher’s correction and explanation and will make good use of it in the future.



The teachings of Zen, and consequently those of Ka-dō, are transmitted through demonstration and very little through words.



Remember the “silent flower sermon”, considered the beginning of the Zen practice that Buddha gave on Vulture Peak: when asked by the followers to give a sermon, Buddha responded with a silent act, showing only a flower.


In Japan, the correction was performed without the Master giving explanations: it was sufficient to do the correction without either Master or student needing to speak.


Patience, humility, peacefulness, respect, and harmony are characteristics of those who follow the Way.


– Although it is difficult to maintain silence during the lessons, those who follow the Way try to do so; silence allows their own concentration and that of the people around us. Silence shows respect for oneself, for the teacher and for the other people present, and helps to emphasize the ” sacrality ” of what one is doing.


– Those who follow the Way are aware of how they use their bodies: they economize their gestures by leaving out the superfluous. The acts we perform in choosing the vegetables, measuring the appropriate length and inclination, manipulating them, taking and placing the scissors without noise, removing the superfluous, inserting them in the container must be precise. These movements are comparable to the katas performed in Martial Arts: consciously practicing to continuously repeat the specific movements makes them spontaneous and automatically executed.


These gestures, with the ideal characteristics described, are the result of a long careful observation of the plant, of an instinct educated to harmony but above all of the inner strength freed from the Ego.


If we are concentrated on what we are, doing nothing should fall on the ground; if this happens, for the ikebanist who follows the Way, cleaning has the same importance as the creative act of composing ikebana.


– The “dismantling” of the finished composition is an action equivalent to the destruction of a Mandala that reminds the ikebanist of the impermanence and transience of things and people: it is important to learn to “let go” without regrets what in any way cannot be held back.

It should be emphasized that this character-forming discipline, this path to personal fulfillment and liberation based on the practice of Zen, has nothing to do with religion as understood by a person of Christian faith.

Ka-dō can be followed regardless of the religion professed by the ikebanist, since the values it promulgates – concentration, economy of gestures, silence, harmony, respect, serenity, patience, humility, consideration of others – although shared by religions, are not religious in themselves.

see also Art. 17


Feng-shui (wind-water) – hōgaku (direction-angle)

deals with the correct interaction of the human being with his natural environment and is the art of identifying and interpreting the action of Ki cosmic energies (electromagnetic, thermal and gravitational) that circulate in the human being and in his environment mainly through air (breath in man, wind in nature) and water (blood in man, rivers in nature).


In ancient China and Japan, nature was regarded as a living, breathing organism.



This kanji represents the vital energy that flows in the universe and enlivens every form of existence on the earth – including stones and rocks – and is written Ki (Hepburn transliteration system) or Ch`i (Wades-Giles system) or Qi (PinYin system).

See article 50 on the transliteration of the Japanese language.


Ki can be “good” or “bad”, stored, dispersed, channelled, and is responsible for all the changes in the universe and is expressed through the two principles Yin and Yang that control the universe, not arbitrarily or randomly but through unchangeable and humanly unfathomable laws.


This view of the universe may appear irrational and unscientific, but it has greatly influenced both Chinese and Japanese everyday life and culture.

For example, the vital force Ki has always been used to define an artist, since the Roppo (six cànons of HSIEH HO) places as the first and most important rule the fact that the artist expresses his Ki and that of his work. See article 7


One of the purposes of feng-shui is to locate the ‘dragon lines’ that carry the earth’s energy, i.e. to identify the earth’s energy lines that are comparable to the meridians of the human body considered by acupuncture. This helped to capture the beneficial energy of the chosen location and  to banish the malefic energy. Was used for example for indicating the correct location where and how to build a tomb, a house or a city.orretta posizione di una tomba o una casa o una città.

Chinese feng-shui masters searching for dragon lines (4th figure from right consulting a compass on a small table) late Chìng period (late 19th century)





The ancient capitals of Nara, Nagaoka and Heian-kyo – today’s Kyoto – were built according to the rules of Feng-Shui, as well as the Tokugawa castle around which today’s Tokyo was built, haphazardly and without following feng-shui.

Buildings such as the Imperial Palaces, the residences of the aristocracy and even all the elements that make up their gardens, from stones to paths to ponds to streams to waterfalls and trees, have been laid out according to these rules since ancient times.


The theory of Feng-Shui is very complex and is based on the Yang-Yin Theory, the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, the 5 elements (fire, wood, earth, water and metal) and the 64 hexagrams of the I-Ching.


The importance of Feng-Shui was such that, for example, it was thought that even if just one of the large stones in the garden was misplaced it would fail to protect the house from evil energies and this failure could cause illness or even the death of the owner.

Like everything produced by Japanese culture, ikebana has also developed in accordance with the rules of Feng-Shui, particularly those relating to the four protective Cardinal Deities and the avoidance of straight lines.





In ancient China, and consequently in ancient Japan, the stars of the firmament were grouped, according to the four seasons, into four major constellations: the tortoise, tiger, phoenix and dragon.



In the picture below the constellation of the Turtle with the Little Dipper and the Polar Star visible in the lower right-hand corner




The same animals, positioned in symbolic concordance (according to Tai-ji) with the orientations and colours, North black tortoise, West white tiger, South red phoenix and East blue dragon.

They have the task of “protecting” the person, the tomb, the house from evil forces.


Contrary to the West, which places the south at the bottom and the north at the top, in ancient times in the East the position of the two cardinal directions was reversed, so on maps and in Taoist symbolism the black turtle protecting the north is placed at the bottom and the red phoenix, protecting the south, at the top. (see article 15th )





            Western concept                                                                                                    Sino-Japanese concept



In China and Japan, south – corresponding to the sun – was considered the most important direction and therefore considered yang while north, its opposite and less important, was considered yin

For this reason in the ancient compasses used in the Far East, the magnetic needle (red tip in the picture) pointed south.





East is also considered yang because the sun, which is born in the east, rises in the firmament and radiates more heat. Rising and rising are yang characteristics. Its opposite west is believed to be yin, direction in which the sun decreases in heat and descends, decrease and descent are yin connotations.


In reality, the -person, house, tomb- must be facing south geographically surrounded by the four animal-symbols that protect it; both the type of animal and its position are consistent with Tai-ji.

There are two flying animals on the Yang/sky side (east and south) dragon and phoenix and two land animals on the Yin/earth side (north and west) tortoise and tiger.


Above is an example of the layout of a tomb protected to the north by the tortoise (high mountains), to the west by the tiger (hills), to the east by the dragon (medium height mountains) and to the south by the phoenix (empty space and water).












Sketch of a Chinese emperor’s sarcophagus with the four protective animals engraved on its walls.





In order for a building to be in a protected situation, it must ‘look’ to the south and there must be an empty space in front of it (the Red Phoenix), behind it to the north is a very tall building (the Black Turtle), to its right side to the west is a low building (the White Tiger) and to its left side to the east is a slightly taller building (the Blue Dragon).







Applied to a person, this person, in order to be protected, must have a high object to his left (symbolized by the Dragon) and a low object to his right (symbolized by the Tiger) free space in front (Phoenix) and a wall behind (Tortoise).






The ancient capitals Fujiwara (694-710), Nara (710-784), Nagaoka (unfinished and abandoned after 10 years) and Heian-kyo (794-1868) -the present Kyoto, map above- as well as the first shogunal capital of Kamakura (1192-1333) were built following the rules of Feng-Shui ( see Art. 17°) whereas present-day Tokyo was built haphazardly and without following the feng-shui rules.






Above is a map of ancient Edo (present-day Tokyo) with an apparently free space in the centre marked with the Tokugawa coat of arms (three leaves of Althea) where their residence stood, with the main daimyo dwellings – arranged on a north/south axis – to the south, one next to the other.

All this is surrounded by the rest of the city, which has grown haphazardly because Edo was not born as a capital city.





The two protective animals dragon and tiger were frequently painted on screens as can be seen in the painting below by Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539 – 1610)









or in sliding doors like the ones by Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754–1799) below









Two six-panelled screens:













Triptych by Kano Tsunenobu (1636-1713):











In the Edo Period it was fashionable to give a triptych with a drawing of famous people in the center, on its left side -yang side- the dragon -yang animal- and on its right side -yin side- the tiger -yin animal- protecting it.













Screens by Eitoku Kanō ( 1543 – 1590)









Or screens with the dragon and the tiger.


Since drawings on paper, on screens and sliding doors are “read” from right to left, the yang/ most important dragon is placed first on our right and the tiger/ yin -less important- is placed second, on our left.


A leopard was painted next to the tiger: in Japan, as only the skins of these felines arrived from abroad, the leopard was believed to be the female of the tiger-male.

Consequently :Tiger-male/yang, most important, drawn first in the view from right to left, leopard (wrongly believed to be the female/yin of the tiger), drawn second:

In the  double screen the dragon, being yang compared to the tiger, it is placed to the right of the screen with tiger and leopard, and is the first to be “read”.











Sliding doors by Kano Tan`yu 1630 circa




















In this depiction of Buddha’s death, at the bottom right-hand corner, among all the pairs of animals that have come to pay their respects, you can see the tiger/leopard pair.

See the detail below:














Above a Kimono of the late Edo-early Shōwa  period with the two protective animals yang, phoenix and dragon













Furoshiki cloth, Meiji period, with two protective animals in the centre, from the south -phoenix- and from the north -turtle-.








Hanakago: bamboo ikebana Basket dated 1926 with tiger and phoenix.












It is interesting to note that in this manga by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) taken from the book -Hokusai, le vieux fou d’architecture-representing an ancient Torii (nowadays composed of a single arch but in the past composed of four) the inscriptions at numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5 indicate that it was spatially arranged in accordance with the four protective deities: 2 vermilion bird, 3 white tiger, 4 black tortoise, 5 blue dragon, with the main entrance facing south.





When the rules of ikebana composition were created during the 15th century, the feng-shui scheme already in use in everyday life was taken as a reference, so the measurements and positions of the plants were designed to be in accordance with its symbolism and in harmony with the positions of the four cardinal deities:


In the Rikka the main element (Shu for the Ohara school) corresponds to the person – house – tomb to be protected and is protected  by the  Fuku in the position of the Dragon on the east side and by a Kyaku in the position of the Tiger on the west side.

The composition is seen “from behind”, that is from the north (position of the Turtle), as it is customary in Ikenobo rikka and shoka (concept that will be explained in the following paragraphs).


At the beginning, when the first compositional rules of ikebana were formed, the Rikka was always in the style that the Ohara school calls “Vertical” i.e. with the Shu in the centre and vertical: the composition, “looking” to the south (the sun at its apex is ideally placed on the side of the yang culmination between the Dragon and the Phoenix ) and seen from the north (Turtle), is congruent with the rules of Feng-Shui: shu is protected on its left side by a relatively high fuku (Dragon) and on its right side by a relatively low kyaku (Tiger).




In the Edo period new types of ikebana appeared (see Art 15) deriving from a simplification of the Rikka and called shōka in the school Ikenobo and seika in the other schools: only three main elements are used but the respect of the laws of feng shui has remained unchanged, maintaining the protective scheme of shu with a fuku/Dragon high in the east and a kyaku/Tiger low in the west.


Also in the shōka, the sun is located at the point-maximum yang in the drawing.


From Rikka and shōka, that was the only structured style from the birth of ikebana until the first part of the Edo period, the Oblique and Cascade styles derive; in these styles the shu has changed position and the reference to the 4 Protectors no longer exists.


Shu è “protetto” da fuku/drago e da kyaku/tigre







The styles of the Ohara school derive from seika and the only style in which the influence of feng shui is still perceptible is the Alto style while it is no longer perceptible in the other styles as the position of shu and fuku have changed.









The rules about positions and heights in ikebana are also coherent with the four cardinal deities where shu (circle) corresponds to the person to be protected, fuku (square) corresponds to the dragon and kyaku (triangle) corresponds to the tiger.

The composition is seen ‘from behind’, i.e. from the north (position of the turtle), as is customary in Ikenobo rikka and shoka (a concept that will be explained in the next articles).





Feng-Shui views straight lines negatively because they facilitate evil energy to flow, while it prefers curved lines because they deflect such forces.

For example, roads, streams, canals, rivers flowing in a straight line bring evil influences; on the contrary, roads and waters with winding and curved lines are an indication of the presence of beneficial forces. In general, any shape with straight lines, angles and edges is considered virtually dangerous.



Even in ikebana (with the exception of the early Rikka with the straight Shu) all the Schools of the past have always used curved lines, arriving, only in the Edo period, at excesses such as the example of the Seika of the Enshu School that used curves that may appear to our eyes “extreme, exaggerated, unnatural, baroque, artificial”, with S-shaped bends, very accentuated and complex.



Bearing in mind this dislike of straight lines in Feng-Shui, even the ikebanist of the Ohara School must avoid them, apart from specific rare exceptions.


Plants in their natural state in Japan appear more “suffered” because the forces of nature are much more powerful than in Europe and therefore “leave their mark” on the plants; as European plants are less “marked” by nature than Japanese ones, they must be moulded by the ikebanist. This is even more evident when using plants grown in greenhouses or nurseries or other protected places which, unlike plants grown in nature, do not show (with their straight lines) the effects of the forces of nature (wind, rain, sun, cold, snow, drought). They must therefore be “manipulated” by the ikebanist in order to remove the rigidity of the lines to make them more natural and less artificial.


The “amount” of manipulation will be less on a “young” element and more on an “old” element because the “young”, in theory, has been exposed to the elements for less time than the “old”.
















Examples of manipulation of plants to give them a curve.

surimono di Hokusai (1760-1849)

varie scuole, per curvare i rami diritti che si spezzano se piegati, dopo averli parzialmente incisi vi inseriscono dei cunei prelevati dallo stesso vegetale













Another example of obtaining very pronounced curves used in seika


A further reason for manipulation is that the composition must also show the Buddhist concept of interdependence and the right plant excludes any dependence on natural environmental factors.


A poem by the Italian poet Nico Orengo expresses well the forces of nature that shape the plant:


the wind shapes the pine tree

and sways it in sirocco and tramontana

dries it from the west and irritates it with mistral

and sweats it and bends it


All ancient cultures were based, in addition to religions, on a set of magical-religious practices, beliefs and superstitions which, even if they appear irrational and unscientific to our Cartesian eyes today, guided and permeated all aspects of daily life.



In Japan, as early as the Heian period (794-1185), such beliefs and superstitions were well established, as they were either part of the indigenous Shintoism or had been imported with Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.


For example (see article 50th )  in Japanese language, the avoidance of using


shi  the number four

comes from a superstition since the kanji for the number 4 in the on (educated, Chinese) reading is read shi and one of its fifty or more homophone kanji

is shi, meaning death

 so the sound shi means both 4 and death and for this reason it was avoided. To say the number 4, the reading kun (popular Japanese reading) is preferred, which sounds like yon.



Here you can see some lift panels where the number 4 does not appear

A photo of a market stall where the 4 is missing but also the number 9 kyū, too similar to the sound ku = suffering, pain.


The “Office of Omens”, created at the Imperial Court in 675 A.D., dealt with the study of good and bad omens in order to help both individuals and the government in its politics: the decisions “that made history” were also taken on the basis of what the Masters of Yin-Yang said.

It is interesting to know that there were temporary directional taboos so that, for example, on certain ‘unfavourable days’ an army could not march in the direction believed to be unlucky: so either it stopped, even for up to a month until these expired, or it took an alternative route to the unlucky direction which was certainly longer and wasted precious time.


Some examples from ” The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan” by Ivan Morris:


The emperor or dignitaries would cancel a journey if the direction that day was inauspicious.

Certain activities were forbidden according to criteria such as the age and/or the sex of those involved: for example, at the age of 16 one was required to avoid travelling in the inauspicious direction of north-west.

Other taboos were linked to the personal cycle of 60 days – based on the combination of the 12 animals of the zodiac (mouse, buffalo, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog, pig) plus the five elements (water, wood, fire, metal, earth). Therefore some activities were, on a given day or at a given time, unlucky and therefore “forbidden”, such as cutting one’s hair, clipping one’s fingernails, taking a bath, starting a love affair, starting a medical treatment, going on a journey.

One day out of every 60 – The Monkey Day – no sleep was allowed because of the danger of evil powers attacking during the night.

At regular intervals the imperial guards on duty at Court made the strings of their bows vibrate to ward off evil spirits and the whole day at Court was set, we would say “limited”, by these beliefs, superstitions for us.

The Masters of Yin-Yang were held in the highest esteem maintained until the Edo period and demonstrated by the fact that they were allowed to use sedan chairs for travel, a means reserved only for the imperial and Shogunal aristocracy or high-ranking priests. Until the end of the Edo period, their divinations were requested by members of the Imperial and Shogunal court as well as by the emerging class of wealthy merchants and craftsmen.


Besides astrological calculations, the study of favourable and unfavourable auspices, directional taboos and the interpretation of dreams, the Yin-Yang Masters also dealt with: Feng shui (water-wind).


Feng-shui has also influenced ikebana, as we shall see in Article 9.