A bamboo shoot, an iris leaf, a piece of driftwood, a camelia, a rock - all these and more - are the simple elements of Ikebana or Japanese floral arranging. The use of flowers as a means of decoration would seem to be as old as the recorded history of civilisation.
The origins of Ikebana go back 750 years with the flowers lovingly chosen and arranged with care in vases to be placed before the family shrine. The first Ikebana styles were products of Buddhist thought and temples, and its practitioners were priests. Another early origin lay in the ancient court practice of using flower decorations for the Festival of the Star Vega, the annual commemoration of a legend brought over from China. Later a the start of Japanese Feudal era, about the 13th century, flower arrangements entered the home of the samurai warriors for the celebration of family events or to honour guests, at the same time serving as a signal of the status of the family. In time, an alcove, the tokonoma, was added to the room in which guests were received in the samurai warrior's home, and were place in an arrangement of flowers.
In Japanese feudal society, the passing on of techniques assumed extreme importance; even simple or trivial techniques were carefully guarded from the public and passed on only to the first son of the family. This attitude, in the realm of flower arrangement, gave rise to various schools of Ikebana; such 'schools' should not be understood in the western sense as schools of art. However, instead of as groups such as in the guild system of the Middle Ages. The schools' purpose was serving as a kind of educational body.
In 1868, the Meiji Restoration ended three hundred years of national isolation. Still, despite the pressures without and within Japan, the increase of mechanical production and the emergence of the modern nation, many old customs carried over from the defunct feudal system, among them Ikebana. New movements in Ikebana started up; their adherents explored the use of different receptacles concerning flower forms and colours, and new styles of arrangement resulted. It was in such an atmosphere that an Ikebana instructor named Hitsatsugu founded his 'Japan Floral Institute,' and introduced progressive approaches and methods.
Hitsatsugu had a son, Sofu who followed in his Fathers footsteps as a flower arranger. He also followed his father's style of arrangements until the age of 25, when his independent spirit and individual approach demanded freer expression than his father's allowed. In May 1926, he founded his school, the Sogetsu school.
Sofu was determined to elevate Ikebana from an attractive to craft to an art. He had developed a sense of form and colour as well as self-discipline and was to produced beautiful results. Sofu with full appreciation with what had been done before and entirely aware of social and artistic influences still came up with fresh inspirations for each arrangement. Sofu's work evolved in full awareness of the artistic movements that emerged in the early part of the twentieth century.
Traditional Ikebana imitates nature or represents a scene. Arrangements are independent and form an idea within themselves. Materials used are only cut flowers and vases but could be dried flowers and branches, rocks and sand, wires and metal pieces.