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Japanese Flowers: A bespoke identity

Throughout history, Japanese flowers have been used as a form of unspoken communication. This art of using Japanese flowers to communicate is known as hanakotoba, where Japanese flowers and plants are given codes and passwords that are meant to convey emotion and communicate directly to the recipient or viewer without the use of words. Let’s take a look at some unique Japanese flowers and their identities.

Camellia / Tsubaki

Camellias are early spring flowers that are native to Asia. These Japanese flowers were incredibly popular with nobles during the Edo Period, as amongst warriors and samurai, the red camellia symbolised a noble death. The camellia does have other meanings, too. These Japanese flowers also symbolise love, however, it is custom not to give these Japanese flowers to someone who is sick or injured due to the nature of these flowers ‘beheading’ themselves when they die.

Chrysanthemum / Kiku

Chrysanthemums are Japanese flowers native to both Asia and Europe and are known as kiku in Japanese. As a motif, chrysanthemums are perfectly round and are one of the most recognisable Japanese flowers. Chrysanthemums have incredibly noble connotations and are often found on the Japanese Imperial Family’s crest. In society, chrysanthemums indicate purity, grief, and truth, and are often used for funerals.

Wisteria / Fuji

Wisteria or fuji, are auspicious purple flowers that grow on woody trailing vines. These Japanese flowers are a popular spring motif, especially for traditional fashions such as the kimono. Throughout history, wisteria has been associated with nobility as commoners were forbidden from wearing the colour purple.

Red spider lily / Higanbana

Red spider lilies are bright Japanese flowers found in the summer throughout Asia. They are associated with final goodbyes as Japanese legends suggest that these flowers grow wherever people part ways. In ancient Buddhist writings, it is claimed that the red spider lily guides the death through samsara, known as the cycle of rebirth and because of this, these flowers are often used for funerals, but they can also be used for decoration without connotations.

Cherry Blossom / Sakura

Cherry blossom is of Japan’s most renown and popular flowers. Cherry blossom, also known as sakura is a Japanese flower that represents springtime. In the literary sense, cherry blossom is meant to symbolise fleeting beauty and the brevity of life. In the secret method of communication, hanakotoba, these Japanese flowers indicate a pure and gentle heart. Cherry blossom can be found in a variety of things from food to cosmetics due to its popular and beloved nature.

Sunflower / Himawari

Sunflowers used to be native to North America, but can now be found around the world, including Japan. These bright and cheery flowers were brought to Japan hundreds of years ago. As you may have guessed, these flowers symbolise radiance in the language of hanakotoba as well as respect.

Sweet pea / Suitopi

Sweet pea flowers are native to Italy and only arrived in Japan at the turn of the 20th century. Until recently, in hanakotoba, the sweet pea was known to mean goodbye. Today, these flowers have mostly lost their symbolism and are now a popular bouquet flower that is sold from winter to spring.

Plum blossom / Ume

The ume or Chinese plum tree is native to China. The plum tree is more closely related to that of the apricot tree, where the fruit of these trees is sometimes referred to as Japanese apricots. In the old communication of hanakotoba, these Japanese flowers indicated elegance and loyalty. Partnered with the popular cherry blossom, these Japanese flowers bloom in spring just before the appearance of sakura.

Daffodil / Suisen

Daffodils, also known as suisen are native to Europe and Northern Africa. These flowers arrived in Japan almost 700 years ago and now grow wild in certain areas. These flowers are incredibly unusual, blooming from late December through to February. In hanakotoba, daffodils represent respect. 
At Atelier Japan, our skilled craftsmen and makers carefully create each piece of our auspicious collection to bring you authentic Japanese craft and immersive designs. Visit the Atelier Japan collections to discover our unique Japanese teas, silverware, fans, jewellery and pottery for you to enjoy.
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Ikebana: The art of flower arranging

Ikebana, translated, means ‘arranging flowers’ or ‘making flowers alive’ and is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Also known as Kadō or ‘the way of flowers’, this Japanese tradition dates back to the 7th century, when floral offerings were made at altars and were later placed in tokonoma, the alcove of a home. Let’s take a look at Ikebana over time, and how it has developed to become the fascinating flower arranging it is known as today.

A beautiful history 

The origins of Ikebana stem back to either the ceremonial practices of the native Shinto religion or to a tradition of floral offerings in Buddhism. The first known written text on Ikebana, called sendensho, was created in the 15th century. The text depicts a set of instructions on how to create arrangements that are appropriate to individual seasons and occasions, as the practice of Ikebana embodies the evolved appreciation and sensitivity to nature that Japanese culture is known for.
Around this time, Ikebana started to become a more popular and became a well known and engaged in activity. The design of Japanese homes during this period reflect this transition, with special recess called tokonoma being used to hold a scroll, precious art object and of course a flower arrangement.
Although Japanese homes consisted of muted colours and flat planes, the tokonoma stood out as the singular piece of colour and decoration. Keeping within Japanese culture, tokonoma displays are rotated regularly with the changing seasons and during festive occasions. Arranging flowers for the home has paved the way for Ikebana and its recognition as a distinct art form.

An artistic influence

Ikebana arrangements are similar to that of artistic sculpture. Considerations of colour, line, form and function guide the construction of work which leads to varied and unexpected pieces that can range widely in terms of size and composition. Whether it’s a single flower or several flowers, plants and branches making up each arrangement, every single Ikebana piece is as bespoke as the last.
Most native flowers, plants and trees are embedded in Japanese culture, each with its own symbolic meaning and associated season. Symbolism and seasonality have always been prioritised in developing Ikebana arrangements. Sometimes, practitioners of Ikebana trim and shape flowers and branches into unique and bespoke shapes and complement them with paint. They also arrange plant limbs to spout in various directions ensuring that the whole end piece is still balanced and contained.
In Ikebana, it is not enough to have beautiful materials if they aren’t used to their full potential to make something even more beautiful. Given skill and practice, one carefully arranged flower can have the same power to awe as an elaborate arrangement.

A variety of vessels

There is an incredibly wide variety of vases and vessels used in the art of Ikebana. They are traditionally considered not only beautiful in form, material and design but are made to suit the use of which they will be put. This means that each flower display can always be placed in the appropriate vessel and probably in one that has been specially designed for that particular sort of flower.
Besides offering variety in the form of vases and vessels in Ikebana, the lower, flat vases, more used in summer than winter, make it possible to arrange plants of bulbous and water growth in natural positions. As for the colour of vases, soft pastel shades and bronze vases are especially popular. To the Japanese, the colour bronze seems most like mother earth and is seen to be suited to complement and enhance the beauty of flowers in Ikebana.

A modern take

In recent decades, chapters for all the major Ikebana schools have grown on a global scale. Over the last few years, the practice of Ikebana has inspired contemporary artists to develop new, original creations.
Today, anyone who practices Ikebana knows well that building relationships is at the core of the practice; the relationships between materials, students and teachers is a highly important element. In Japan today, the word Kadō is the preferred term for Ikebana as it’s believed to accurately capture the spirit of the art as a lifelong path of learning.
At Atelier Japan, our makers carefully craft each piece of our collection to bring you authentic Japanese craft containing designs from the most skilled makers. Visit the Atelier Japan website to discover our unique collection of Japanese teas, silverware, fans, jewellery and of course pottery. Browse our collection of bespoke handcrafted pottery and try your hand at the art of Ikebana.