Vase Variations: The Artistry of Ikebana Vessels

Our new permanent museum exhibit offers a unique window into Ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging.

Ikebana arose about 550 years ago, born of placing flowers at altars in Buddhist temples. Unlike Western flower arranging which focuses on blooms and blossoms, Ikebana gives equal weight to texture, form, and structure, and to stems, leaves, and branches. And not least to vases – designed and mindfully chosen on the basis of their materials, size, shape, finish, and color to heighten the contemplative, Zen-like nature of a traditional Japanese floral composition.

From the first containers made of iron, Ikebana vases have evolved as the art of flower arranging spread from the Japanese nobility to commoners. Various schools of Ikebana also developed, pursuing differing arrangement principles. The vases used in all of them share a purity of purpose: they are designed to complement but not compete with the creations they hold.

The vases on view at Yume are drawn from our collection of more than 200 Ikebana vessels, the largest and widest-ranging such holding in the country. Many are more than a century old, others are contemporary; some are unique. Most were handmade by Japanese artisans, from ceramics, bamboo, bronze, lacquer, clay, or glass. They illustrate an amazing breadth of design and materials, and accompanying photographs of flower arrangements show how they are used in the different schools of Ikebana practice.