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Theory Of Japanese Flower Arrangement

( Originally Published 1913 )

THE theory of this an, for so the Japanese consider it, is not only interesting but is as helpful in producing the beautiful results as the few flexible rules; and the theory is as inseparable from these rules as the early history of Japan is from its mythology. Religion also contributes to this theory. Since flower arrangement entered Japan from China with Buddhism, it naturally was imbued with Chinese and Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist desire to preserve life lies at the root of the whole subject and has created most of the rules of flower arrangement, controIIing also the shapes of the flower vases, which are so formed as to help to prolong the life of the flowers. So much thought and time would never have been given to preservatives had not this desire predominated in all their floral offerings.

Quaint and mythical as these ideas appear, to them the beauty of line is due, and we cannot but doubt if the same results could ever have been achieved by commonplace thoughts.

The idea of good and evil fortune governs both selection of material and form of arrangement. The colors of some flowers are considered unlucky. Red flowers, which are used at funerals, are undesirable not only for that reason, but also because red is supposed to suggest the red flames of a fire. An odd number of flowers is Iucky, while even numbers are unlucky and therefore undesirable, and never used in flower arrangements. With the odd numbers one avoids symmetry and equal balance, which are actually seldom found in nature, and which from the Japanese standpoint are never attractive in art of any description.

The different members of the group in a flower arrangement are distinguished by such classifications as Heaven, Man, and Earth; Earth, Air, and Water; Father, Mother, and Child. The idea of applying a distinction of sex to inanimate objects enters as IargeIy into flower arrangement as it does into all Japanese landscape gardening; but of that we will treat more fully in the practicaI part of this book.

Consideration of the vase as being something more than a mere holder of the flowers is purely Japanese. They think of the surface of the water, which they always expose, as the surface of earth from which the group springs. This aids in working out the effect of representing a complete plant growing as nearly as possible in its natural conditions.

Just the opposite from our points of direction, for the reason that the Japanese put themselves in the place of the vase.

They give an expression of the seasons in their floral arrangements, grouping the flowers differently according to the time of the year. For example, in the month of March, when high winds prevail, the unusuaI curves of the branches convey at once the impression of strong winds. In summer the Japanese rejoice in the low, broad receptacles, where the water predominating produces a cooler and more refreshing arrangement than those in upright vases.

There is no occasion which cannot be suggested by the manner in which the flowers are arranged.

It might seem strange to us to have our departure from home announced by an unusual arrangement of flowers. Yet hundreds of ordinary occurrences are heralded by charming flower compositions. So many Japanese poets have-sung of the willow, comparing its very Iong branches with long life, happy married life, etc., that it is frequently used for many celebrations and is a great favorite for an arrangement made at parting, the Iength of branch insuring a safe return from the longest journey, especially if one branch is made to form a complete circle.

For a house-warming white flowers are used, as they suggest water to quench a fire; fire being their constant dread, as in the construction of many houses everything but the roof is inflammable. Red flowers suggest fire, so should be avoided on such occasions. To celebrate an inheritance all kinds of evergreens or chrysanthemums may be used, any flowers which are long-lived, to convey the idea that the wealth or possessions may remain forever with you.

There are appropriate arrangements for all felicitous occasions, as well as for sad ones. An offering at death should be of white flowers, with some dead Ieaves and branches, so arranged as to express peace. All gifts of flowers must be in bud, so that the person to whom they are sent may have the pleasure of seeing them open - quite a contrast to the present Western idea of everything being forced to perfection before leaving the florists.

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