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Moribana - a Primer


Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.

-- William Butler Yeats


And so it begins...with suiban, kenzan and a pair of shears. For those familiar with ikebana, this will seem elementary. For others -- perhaps just curious -- give it a try.


Ikebana looks easy, a few flowers in a bowl. How can it be intimidating? A practice that began centuries ago in a Buddhist temple with a simple altar offering, today has over three thousand schools, each with a particular point of view (often opposing), divergent vocabularies, and a healthy conviction, one an all. It's alive! It heaves and contorts. It breathes, and that's a good thing.


But choosing a school, finding a teacher, practicing respectfully to both the art and the self? It's all so confusing and, even sometimes, dispiriting. Shin, soe, hikae -- or is it tai? Shall we evoke heaven, earth and mankind or make a landscape? Show seasons of the year! Mark points on a compass! Classical or modern, grand or modest, rigid or freestyle?


TMR. Too much rhetoric!


Instead, let's get down to basics. Moribana -- perhaps the most fundamental and popular of ikebana arrangements means “piled-up flowers." They are arranged in a low, shallow container and secured in a metal kenzan, commonly called a frog.


Grab stuff


  • Low basin (suiban)

  • Ikebana shears (hasami)

  • Kenzan

  • Main stems of three different heights, using one material for shin and soe, another for hikae

  • Subordinate stems (jushi)



Look for:

  • Line

  • Space

  • Mass



Make poetry

  1. Remove excess or unappealing twigs and leaves from stems.

  2. Cut the first and longest stem (shin) to a height of approximately 1.5 times the diameter + height of the vase) and insert straight into the kenzan then, once secure, slant slightly forward and to the left or right.

  3. Cut the second stem (soe) to a height of approximately ¾ that of the shin. Insert into the kenzan and slant slightly forward and at an angle of approximately 45 degrees in the same direction as the shin.

  4. Select a different floral component. Cut a third stem (hikae) to a height of approximately ½ the soe. Insert into the kenzan and slant slightly forward and at an angle of approximately 75 degrees in the opposite direction of shin and soe.

  5. Select several flowers of the same kind and color of the hikae. Use odd numbers, three or five being the most common.

  6. Insert greenery (jushi) to camouflage the kenzan and add volume.


Step back

  • Smile or frown.

  • Quarrel with yourself.

  • Write another verse.

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