Why in Japan? The main factor is its geographical conditions which enabled variety of plants to grow: its temperature zone and humidity, Japan lies long north and south, and the four seasons are clearly defined.
Besides, the distinct four seasons affected the Japanese emotions and those feelings eventually found expression in Ikebana. Also, the majority of people were agriculturists, whose lives were rooted in the soil. This developed people with a sense of awe towards nature and they believed deities in it - in the rain and the wind, mountains, rivers and the sky even in flowers.
6th century, Buddhism reached Japan and this made a significant influence on the future development of Ikebana. Buddhist started offering flowers for Buddha which is called kuge. This flower offering was to make Buddha glorious; the flower had to be a certain kind and it was used as ornaments before a Buddhist alter. Still there was no awareness of life there.
In the Muromachi period (1333~1568), tate-hana, literally “standing flowers”, was developed by the priest Ikenobo Senkei as a part of the decoration for the tokonoma (alcove). This was eventually formalized rikka, literally “standing arrangement”.
In rikka, each principal stem has symbolic meaning and represents the entire universe. But this style finally degenerated into the object of criticism due to its formalism and too much usage of materials.
Contrasting with this magnificent rikka, a new style appeared in the middle of 16th century by Sen no Rikyu, the founder (almost) of the tea ceremony. Known as nageire literally “thrown-in”, it is also called as chabana literally “tea arrangement”. This style emphasizes austere aesthetic simplicity called wabi, as well as characteristic of tea ceremony and only one or two kinds of flowers were arranged as if they were in a field.
The mutual interaction of the developments created a style called shoka(or seika), and the form was derived from three principal stems of rikka, having symbolic meanings (heaven, earth and humanity) affected by Confucianism which was the official philosophy of the Edo period(1600~1867). This style was very popular in the period but again, fell into formalism and too much emphasis on techniques by the middle of 19th century.
There was another floral arranging called ike(ki)hana, literally “making flowers live” in the middle Edo period. Here the focus was on making flowers look more lively (beautiful) than they were in nature, and this is the base concept of Ikebana now.
Soon after Meiji restoration(1867), many western flowers came into Japan and a completely new style called Moribana literally “piled up flowers” was borne by Unshin Ohara. Western flowers started being used for Ikebana along with this new style. He developed a low wide container in which flower materials were freely positioned while former styles gathered them tightly at one point. This innovation became the birth of modern Ikebana.
Today there are over 1,700 schools of Ikebana in Japan. Sometimes they compete which school is better, but that’s nonsense if you appreciate the beauty of flowers. Using this common tool which unites us as ikebana arrangers, isn’t it important to cooperate each other in order to develop a love towards nature, to grow a heart which feels the life in plants and respects them by finding their best aspect in an harmonious display, and to help him/her to apply that to real life in the era of a material world?