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How to: style an ikebana

My group of Ross Garden travelers in Japan in April were thrilled when our local guide, Mariko, an ikebana instructor, very kindly offered to give us a quick lesson.

So on our last morning 10 of us piled into Mariko’s room at the luxurious New Otani Hotel in Tokyo.


Ikebana floral arrangement


Mariko, dressed in a beautiful burgundy ‘casual’ kimono, explained that the key difference between an ikebana approach to flower arranging and a Western style is that in ikebana the focus is on line and space rather than mass. Instead of adding more flowers to make it look better, ikebana is about what can be taken away. The space between the elements is as important as the elements themselves.

1. Mariko had brought in a shallow black container, a few stems of Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’, some calla lilies, and a few cordyline leaves. She started by preparing her three major elements: a main branch, a secondary branch and a feature flower. The main branch should be one and a half times times as high as the width and height of the container combined. So a bowl that is 25cm high and 6cm deep, should be balanced by a main branch that is around 39cm tall. The second stem should be three-quarters the height of the first.

2. Having trimmed the viburnum to size, Mariko then caused gasps of horror by cutting off most of the flowers. The point is to show a pleasing line, so flowers and foliage that interrupt that are removed.

3. She anchored the first stem in a needle point holder called a kenzan at an angle of 15 degrees toward her left shoulder.

4. The second stem went in at 45 degrees to her left shoulder, and then the feature flower, trimmed to three-quarters the height of the second stem, was added at an angle of 75 degrees towards her right shoulder.

5. Mariko added some more calla lilies to add depth to the arrangement, all shorter than the feature flower, and disguised the kenzan by the artful placement of of cordyline foliage.

6. For the finishing touch she floated one of the viburnum flower heads in the bowl. It had been like watching magic!

Mariko and her creation.

About this article

Author: Linda Ross