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Ikebana Rare Book Collection

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photo of ikebana arrangement from the right principles of rikka cover by Jiukyusai

An Extraordinary Glimpse of a Classical Art Form

The library at the U.S. National Arboretum holds a unique special collection of books, mostly in Japanese, on ikebana dating back to 17th century. Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, is a traditional art form in Japan. In 1979, the Ikebana Rare Book Collection was donated by the Washington, D.C. Chapter No. 1 of Ikebana International in memory of their founder, Ellen Gordon Allen.

This historically significant fifty-three book collection consists of several woodblock illustrated books printed on mulberry paper on double-leaved pages with side-sewn binding. The collection also contains original manuscripts and books published from 1684 to the mid-20th century. Twenty-four of the books were published during the Edo Period (1603-1867) in Japan. This collection provides an historical perspective on the development of ikebana during the 18th and 19th centuries.

In honor of Ikebana International’s 50th anniversary, the U.S. National Arboretum has had one of the books in this collection digitized, and is available here in PDF format. Rikka shōdōshū (Translated title: The right principles of rikka), published in 1684 in Japan, is a three-volume set of color woodblock illustrations compiled by Jinkyūsai, who was most likely a Buddhist priest as well as a gifted floral artist. Volume one contains introductory text in Japanese and English.

Images in Rikka shōdōshū
Each volume in Rikka shōdōshū  represents one of three styles of rikka known as shin, gyō, and sō . Shin style is formal and dignified with slight movement. The main and tallest branch is vertically straight or upright, sometimes with side branches. Gyō style is relaxed and somewhat informal with some movement. The main and the tallest branch angles away from the central vertical line. The tip of the main branch can either return to the center, not return to the center or go beyond the center.  style is expressive with flair and lots of movement. It is arranged in low, flat containers, i.e., Sunabachi or Suna No Mono containers.

Arrangements are also categorized by a season. Below are four representative images from the book describing the season, style, plant material and significance of the container used in the arrangement.

The U.S. National Arboretum wishes to acknowledge and thank Kiyoko Uyeda and Emi Furukawa of Washington D.C. Chapter No. 1 of Ikebana International for providing detailed descriptions of the featured images.


photo of ikebana arrangement


A winter gyō style arrangement. The main, and tallest, branch (pine) angles away from the central vertical line and the main tip of the pine returns to the center. Nandina berries and leaves are also used. For a winter arrangement, the red color expresses warmth and is considered a positive color in Japan.

Plant materials that can be identified are pine, nandina, loquat leaves, boxwood, camellia, and driftwood. The container is bronze and most likely an ornate copy of an ancient Chinese wine pitcher. 

photo of ikebana arrangement from the right principles of rikka cover by Jiukyusai


A spring gyō style arrangement. In rikka, this is a “one kind of material” arrangement. This arrangement is primarily made up of laevigata iris flowers. However, a small amount of a second plant material is added to provide variation and break up the monotony.

Plant materials used are laevigata iris and yellow pond lily. The container is bronze and most likely a copy of an ancient Chinese wine cup called ko. In some instances, wine cups were almost as large as wine pitchers.

photo of ikebana arrangement from the right principles of rikka cover by Jiukyusai


A summer so style arrangement. This arrangement is expressive, with flair and lots of movement. This is also a "one kind of material" arrangement in a split base or two base format.

Plant material is lotus, including unfurled, half-opened and fully opened leaves; budding, opening and fully opened flowers; and seed pods. The lotus flowers express past, present and future in this arrangement. The open leaves and flowers show the present, buds represent the future, while seed pods represent the past.

The container is Sunabachi or Suna No Mono, probably made of bronze or iron. It is traditional, low, wide, flat and rectangular. Some containers are quite ornate and have sculpture-like decorations on all sides.

photo of ikebana arrangement from the right principles of rikka cover by Jiukyusai


A fall shin style arrangement. The style is formal, dignified with slight movements. The main branch, which is winterberry, is vertically straight and upright with some side branches.

Plant materials include, among others, winterberry, narcissus, loquat leaves, pine, cedar, boxwood and Japanese vaccinium.

Similar to the container featured in the spring arrangement, it is made of bronze and most likely a copy of an ancient Chinese wine cup called ko.


































PDF version of Rikka shōdōshū
This three-volume book is provided in its entirety in PDF format and requires Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it. Each volume of the three-volume set is available separately for download. Please note, the files are extremely large and may take several minutes to download. (Download Adobe Acrobat Reader for free)

Volume One (PDF: 5.35 MB)
Volume Two (PDF: 5.70 MB)
Volume Three (PDF: 4.32MB)

Bibliographic information about the U.S. National Arboretum library’s books, including this collection, can be found in the National Agricultural Library’s AGRICOLA catalog, To search the catalog for this collection, please do the following:

The U.S. National Arboretum library is open to the public by appointment only every Friday between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

Contact the U.S. National Arboretum Librarian


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Last Updated   September 3, 2008 3:44 PM