Flowers, like calligraphy scrolls, are very important in tea, as they are the first thing that greets us when we enter a tearoom.
Flowers are the one object in the tearoom direct from nature. They provide a sense of life-force as they bloom with beautiful innocence, metaphorically reminding us of the Buddhist concept of ‘mushin’ or ‘no-mind’. Flowers stimulate our capacity for gentleness and serenity when they are placed in the tearoom.
During the Muromachi Era (1333-1573 CE), in the early stages of the Tea Ceremony’s development, flower vases were the main point of admiration, yet after the Momoyama Era (1583-1600 CE) it became the practice to admire both the vase and the flower together.
Types of flowers used for tea
Flower Vases ('hana-ire' or 'hana-ike')
In tea, a distinction is drawn between formal, semiformal and informal flower vases.
Formal (Shin): Copper Alloy (Kodou and Sahari); Porcelain (celadon seiji, white hakuji, blue and white china sometsuki, and indigo patterned china shonzui)
Semiformal (Gyō): Japanese porcelain and glazed ceramics
Informal (Sō): Iga, Shigaraki, Bizen and other unglazed vase styles, Ryukyu, Southern Chinese, Ruson and other South Sea Island and Raku ware, bamboo, gourd, wicker baskets, wood
Flower display board
The grade of the flower vase (Shin-Gyō-Sō) is matched with the display board. The formality of the display board is determined by its shape.
The display board should be placed so that the wood grain on the base of the tree faces towards the alcove pillar (tokobashira).
Basket flower vases are not paired with a display board.
Display boards are not used in an alcove with a wooden floor (itadoko).
Display boards have a top face and bottom.
The placement of flower vases
The alcove (tokonoma) has three divisions:
1. Before-scroll (jikusaki)
2. Foot-of-scroll (jikumoto)
3. Side-scroll (jikuwaki)
*Note that these divisions are those currently used by the Ueda Ryū and may differ from the original order and naming conventions of antiquity.
One of the three guiding principles of the Ueda Ryu is the division of the alcove into three. This guides the placement of flowers. However, upon knowing this guiding principle, consider this from Zeami Motokiyo (c.1363-c.1443):
“If one does that which is not according to rule, conduct the action, assess, and go with that which appears well.”