Don’t just buy flowers for your loved one on Valentines’ Day—take some time to arrange them. Ikebana, the artful display of flowers, likely had its origin in arrangements dedicated to Buddhist deities in temples, meant to express the beauty of paradise. The first formal school of flower arranging developed in the 15th century and was practiced by priests, the warrior class, and members of the imperial court. Although this tradition was bound by many rules, as other classes developed an appreciation for the art, less rigid styles became popular.
During the Edo period (1615–1868), an intense interest in botany, and thus flower arranging, was prominent in all levels of society. Seasonal changes were eagerly awaited, and woodblock prints recorded floral displays in homes and public gathering places, often in the tokonoma (alcove) that is a prominent architectural feature in many Japanese homes. The Chrysanthemum Festival, formerly celebrated only by the imperial court, captured the imagination of people from all levels of society in Edo-period Japan. It occurs on the ninth day of the ninth month of the year. Here a young man holds a vase filled with chrysanthemums, the symbol of rejuvenation and longevity, while the young girl at his side rolls rice balls to place in a lacquer box. In The Nine Month, from the series Five Amorous Festivals of Love, Utamaro reminds us that all festivals start—and end—in the home.
See The Ninth Month in the exhibition The Arranged Flower: Ikebana and Flora in Japanese Prints, on view through April 8.