Contemporary Ikebana–Yuji Ueno Style

Not my mother’s Ikebana! That was my first response as I beheld the cover of japanese ikebana for every season by Rie Imai and Yui Ueno with photography by Noboru Murata.

cover Japanese Ikebana for every season

You see I lived in Tokyo as a toddler. A US Army Officer’s wife, my mother took classes in Japanese Flower Arranging. When we returned to San Francisco I grew up with her ikebana arrangements of camellias or calla lilies with foliage that grew in our gardens. She used the beautiful ceramic containers, ebony wooden platforms, and metal frogs she collected in Japan.  I remember  her arrangements of  three elements–one leafy branch and two camellias– for example. It formed the way I perceive spatial relationship and interrelated shapes. It also became the basis for the arrangement of forms I use as a landscape designer.

The new Ikebana

Ah ha! I said to myself as I read the first page. It opened with the words “the new ikebana”. The author Rie Imai introduces the contemporary Japanese ikebana arranger Yuji Ueno.  Rie writes “Yuji Ueno’s arrangements are a new kind of ikebana … Although his work is simple, it embodies a special type of beauty.  It also precisely expresses the arranger’s artistic intention without using complicated techniques. Yuji Ueno is a true seeker of creative expression in floral art. He has raised the caliber of Japanese flower arranging, taking it to a new level, one not bound by convention. He is one of the top practitioners of new, innovative trends, and fortunately, is happy for people to adopt his ideals and techniques”.

Basic ikebana Techniques to Principles of Japanese Floral Design

Collaboratively, the beautiful photography of Murata  captures the flower arrangements and images to illustrate the text of “basic ikebana techniques”. Rie proceeds to teach  the techniques of water absorption, cutting, stabilizing, bending, shaping, maintenance and finding the right containers. From there we’re ready for the “principles of Japanese floral design’. They include the essentials of communing with nature, water awareness, simplicity, seasonality, light and shadow, and sensory perceptions. It may sound overwhelming, but the presentation is user friendly and attainable.

Sample Page
Sample Page

Practice Design Tips and Seasonal Examples of the Ueno’s Work

After the techniques, we find sections of “practice design tips” followed by seasonal examples. Arrangement photos and text explain to us the natural response or point of view, pointers in “technique, know-how, and method. They are extremely informative and easily followed.

Spring--Dogwood Branches  Arrangement
Spring–Dogwood Branches Arrangement

 ichi-go- ici-e

As a one who attempts a “mindfulness” meditation practice, I found “ichi-go- ici-e  or the idea to “treasure every encounter for it will never recur” right up my alley. Rie Imai writes that  ” Ikebana is an art that fully manifests all its elements.” And that if you recognize the transient nuances of each season and capture those fleeting moments using the art form of ikebana, that practice will enrich your life. It seems to me that being able to be present in each moment and to attune yourself to nature is an art form in itself. From that prerequisite you can then attempt to practice the art of Ikebana.


Summer--Daydreaming Princess Arrangement
Summer–Daydreaming Princess Arrangement

I highly recommend this book. It’s extremely well done and I learned new techniques and a renewed understanding of the essence of the art form. I’ve included only four of the stunningly beautiful arrangements in the book. It’s the kind of book you can thumb thru on a stormy day, and gain insight and inspiration for whatever your day holds.


Summer--A Miniature Pond--Lotus pods and clematis

Summer–A Miniature Pond–Lotus pods and clematis
Autumn: Chocolate and Red Arrangement
Autumn: Chocolate and Red Arrangement

My “mother’s ikebana’ taught me about seeing and relationships of shape or objects. Her materials were much simpler than the contemporary practice. No exotic foliage or flowers—simply what grew in her garden. One camellia flower framed by its foliage angled in a beautiful low glazed earth green ceramic vase. That’s the vision I remember.  I’d show the vase, but sadly it broke in a move years ago. I searched Google “images” for 50’s style ikebana and didn’t find any similar to my memory. However, it’s what I remember that ground my work as landscape and garden designer. I had forgotten til I explored this book. Here’s an example of my landscape design work that transposes the principles of ikebano into planting design.

Ikebano on the Land

Ikebano on the Land

 After reading this thoughtful and accessible book, I have a feeling that  the richness of its text and images will seep into my perceptions without more than intention from me. Thank you Rie Imai, Yuji Ueno, and Noburu Murata!


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