Flowers for Tea: Chabana

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.


Arranging flowers

  • Flowers in tea are to look as if they are growing in the wild
  • In a small (koma) tearoom, arrange one variety of flower with one or two pieces of foliage
  • Flowers may be in a large, ‘full’ arrangement, though one’s intention must not be to create an unnatural scene.
  • Oribe and Sōko also allowed for two varieties of flowers in a small (koma) tearoom
  • In a 4.5 mat room, two varieties of flowers are permissible depending on the flower
  • In a flower basket arrangement, arranging multiple flowers is permissible (three varieties, and for the last flowers of autumn, up to of five varieties)
  • White is the colour of purity and therefore white flowers are the focus of the arrangement, and must be arranged to come at the top of the arrangement
  • Stop arranging flowers at the point you feel you one more is required to complete the arrangement
  • Freshen flowers by sprinkling drops of water over the arrangement

Types of flowers used for tea

  • Traditional Japanese flowers
  • A single, white blossom is appropriate
  • Western flowers are difficult to match to the aesthetics of Tea, so consider their use carefully
  • Flowers in season are good, their untimely use bad
  • Opulent, showy flowers do not match the aesthetics of the tearoom
  • There is no need to be pre-occupied with pursuing rare flowers
  • Avoid flowers with uncongenial names, or those names with negative connotations
  • According to written records of Ueda Sōko’s dialogues with Oribe, Oribe instructed that flowers unfit for use in Tea include uminaeshi, kouhone, keitou, miyamashikihi, cha no hana (flower of the tea plant), kinsen kuwa, sennouge, and sakuro

Practical Wisdom

  • Wet the outside of a bamboo vase before filling it with water
  • Bamboo vases should be sprinkled with water on the outside
  • Use unglazed vases after filling and covering them completely with water
  • Glazed vases should be covered with water, then wiped before using
  • Basket vases should be used during the brazier (furo) months, with exceptions
  • Cut flowers in the morning, making sure to encourage absorption/uptake of water in the stem - ‘mizuage’ 
  • Flowers that have blossomed fully are not pleasing (use until the bud opens)
  • Do not use flowers that have bloomed out of season
  • Do not use flowers with foliage of similar form
  • Do not mix many different varieties of flowers
  • Avoid withered leaves and the reverse side of leaves
  • Consider the status of individual flowers (befitting to formal (shin), semiformal (gyō), informal (sō))
  • Choose the flower vase appropriate for the flower
  • Make the height of the flower the same as the vase or less (with exceptions)
  • Consider the balance between the flower and vase
  • Flowers from a riverbank are appropriate for flower vases hung on the post
  • Do not distort the natural form in which the flower has grown
  • When arranging flowers, consider the construction of the alcove (if the post is on the left or the right corner)
  • Before placing a flower in the vase, try out a tentative arrangement
  • Do not destroy the base of the stem
  • Observe the front and back-side of both flower and leaf
  • Arrange the flowers in a natural manner without getting stuck in technique
  • Arrange flowers so they appear crisp, fresh, with no excess
  • Simplicity – eliminate the unnecessary  
  • First fill the flower vase to 80% capacity and top-up once the flowers are arranged
  • Sprinkled water over flowers
  • For wide-mouthed vases, use kenzan or a branch (ikebana tool of heavy metal base from which needles project upwards and onto which flowers are pushed)
  • When the stem is short or delicate, compliment it with a branch or bamboo etc.
  • When using a two-tiered vase, place twigs at the top and flowers/foliage below
  • When filling only one layer of a two-tiered vase, place a flower below and water only in the upper tier

Flower Vase Shapes

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. 

  • Place the flowers at the foot (jikumoto) or before-scroll (jikusaki)
  • Flowers placed below the scroll should not cover the 'ichimonji' inner frame of the scroll
  • Decide the direction the flowers face based on the position from which the alcove is viewed by guests
  • A flower placed in a flower vase hung on the post should not extend beyond the edge of the alcove into the space of the room, nor extend beyond the back edge of the post into the inner space of the alcove
  • Place the flower an odd number of tatami-mat wales (me) from the edge of the alcove tatami (tatamidoko). 17 wales for 4.5 mat rooms or smaller, 21 wales for 4.5 mat rooms or larger

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.”

The three divisions of the alcove