Few societies take as much pride as Japan in a reputation for a refined aesthetic in cultivating and appreciating nature. Ikebana, the manipulation of flowers and plant material for decorative and artistic purpose, is a major aspect of this international reputation. With more than three thousand officially registered schools, ikebana is one of Japan’s largest cultural industries.
In this presentation, I will examine the dissemination of ideas about femininity, social organization and national cultural identity in the postwar period by the three leading ikebana academies (Sogetsu, Ohara and Ikenobo). During the 1950s-60s ikebana experienced a tremendous boom in popularity becoming a massive, international movement with an estimated ten million practitioners. Ikebana-related journals and publications became an increasingly important site for the expression of domestic gender ideals emphasizing women’s essential role as homemakers, creating cultured domiciles for white-collar corporate warrior husbands in the burgeoning middle class. At the same time, ikebana presented useful skills for working women expected to beautify their workplaces and provided a potential career path for women hoping to become ikebana instructors.
Abroad, ikebana's increasing popularity provided a significant avenue for postwar cultural diplomacy and "soft power" emphasizing Japanese aesthetics and sensitivity to nature rather than military or economic might. American and foreign interest in ikebana lent glamour and status to the practice, serving to further increase Japanese popular interest.
This paper will present preliminary results of initial research on a book project that will address the development and internationalization of the ikebana industry in the twentieth century.
Nancy Stalker is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Asian Studies and History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Prophet Motive: Deguchi Onisaburō, Oomoto and the Rise of New Religions in Imperial Japan (University of Hawaii press, 2008). She is currently a visiting Fulbright fellow and researcher at Sophia University.