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Small Seasonal Suggestions

茶花のルールとは? 花の選び方や花入れの種類、飾り方をわかりやすく解説

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Rules for Chabana:

Choosing flowers and plants, types of vases, and arranging styles

Have you ever heard of flowers and plants called “chabana”? This term refers exclusively to flowers and plants arranged in the toko (alcoves) of tea-ceremony rooms. Chabana are an essential element in the culture of the tea ceremony. Learning about how to select chabana and the relevant rules will allow you to more fully enjoy learning the tea-ceremony. Even for those of you who do not participate in tea ceremonies, a basic knowledge of chabana may enrich your everyday life and make your world more colorful. Here you will find some information on chabana, which we hope will be of some interest and assistance to you.

  • What are “chabana”?

Chabana refers to flowers and plants arranged in the alcove of a tea-ceremony room. Cha refers to the tea ceremony and bana is taken from hana, meaning “flowers.” Richly colored, extravagant flowers or plants are rarely used for chabana, based on an idea established by the venerated tea master Sen no Rikyu of “Arranging wildflowers as they are in the field.” Wildflowers and wild plants growing in the fields or mountains are often used instead, in order to bring the beauty of nature unchanged into the tea ceremony room.

For chabana, simplicity is the valued factor, and in general, they are arranged in the “nageire” (throwing-in) style. Without using any extravagant flowers, chabana expresses seasonal charms and the ephemerality of time in its humble adornment of the tea ceremony.

How do chabana differ from ikebana?

Although chabana and ikebana are often confused, they are actually completely different. Ikebana (ike literally means “arranging” and bana means “flowers”) refers to techniques to beautifully arrange flowers, branches, and leaves in various types of vases.

As mentioned above, chabana are traditionally arranged based on the teachings of Sen no Rikyu, which value simplicity. On the other hand, ikebana highlights the beauty of the floral display with a strong emphasis on techniques. Ikebana employs certain set styles for arrangements, whereas chabana have no pre-determined styles and values naturalness. Both traditions share the same idea of displaying the beauty of flowers and plants, but they differ in concepts and their methods of presentation. 

- Rule 1: What to choose 

There are several rules for chabana arrangements. One such rule is for the selection of flowers and plants. Here is a detailed guide for ideal selections for the tea ceremony.

□ In general, use wildflowers and wild plants

In choosing flowers and plants for chabana, it is the idea of “arranging wildflowers as they are in the field” that matters most. Ideally one picks native wildflowers or plants in the field to arrange in the alcove. However, this is often difficult, and sanyaso (wildflowers and wild plants) grown in your garden can be used instead. 

Once you have chosen a type of wildflower or wild plant, be sure to use one with buds or that is nearly in bloom. The spirit of the tea ceremony lies in sensing the beauty in imperfection. Buds about to open remind you of the flow of time in nature.

□ Selecting flowers according to season

Chado or sado (the “way of tea”) treasures experiences of the seasons. Each season has its own flowers that are frequently used. Here are some examples.

  1. Spring: tsubaki (camelia), ume (Japanese apricot), nanohana (rape blossoms), kuromoji (spicebush)

  2. Summer: ajisai (hydrangea), natsu-tsubaki (Japanese stewartia), mukuge (rose of Sharon)

  3. Autumn: kikyo (Chinese bellflower), nogiku (aster), shumei-giku (Japanese anemone)

  4. Winter: roubai (Japanese allspice), suisen (daffodil), fukujuso (pheasant’s eye)

  • Rule 2: Kinka, forbidden flowers and plants

There are forbidden flowers, called kinka, that are considered unsuitable for tea ceremonies because of their strong or unpleasant scents, thorns, and poisons. Additionally, flowers with the following conditions are also prohibited.

□ Badly named flowers: hekusokazura, (stink vine, literally “bad smelling vine”), ominaeshi (meaning “prostitute flower”)

□ Edible flowers

□ Flowers that are too flamboyant or extravagant, or that bloom out of season: miyama shikimi (Japanese skimmia) 

□ Flowers unsuitable for the season

□ Flowers that have been described in old Japanese poetry: jinchoge (winter daphne), keito (cockscomb), zakuro (pomegranate), kouhone (East Asian yellow water lily), kinsenka (pot marigold)

Note: The above rules are not absolute, rather they include some ambiguity. Flowers should be chosen with care.

  • Rule 3: Choosing a vase

In chadochabana play an essential role in presenting the beauty of nature and the changes of the seasons. This presentation inevitably requires vases. Varied in types and sizes, vases are classified by grade depending on the style of arrangement and the materials used. Here we briefly describe the classifications and what vase to choose for each grade.

□ Making selections based on the style of arrangement

Flowers and plants are used to adorn tea ceremony rooms not only by placing them in the alcove but also by hanging them on the wall or from the ceiling. Each style of arrangement has its own appropriate vases as shown below. 

■ Oki-hanaire (Vases placed on floor)

Oki-hanaire sit on the floor of the alcove. For tatami-matted alcoves, a wooden board is placed under the vase, but this is not the case for baskets. The type of board to be used varies according to the vase’s grade as described below. 

■ Kake-hanaire (Vases on the wall or on a post) 

Kake-hanaire are vases designed to be hung from naka-kugi (a hook on the wall of the alcove) or hana-kugi (a hook on the alcove post) to display flowers. Bamboo tubes as well as baskets made from bamboo or vines are often used.

■ Tsuri-hanaire (Vases hung from ceiling)

Tsuri-hanaire are vases designed to be hung with a string or chain that is put through a hanahiru-kugi (a hook on the ceiling of the alcove) or a similar device. Some of these vases come in the shape of a boat or the moon.

□ Choosing by grade

■ What are the grades for flower vases?

Chado has long operated under the concept of classification with three grades: shin 真 (formal), gyou 行 (semi-formal), and sou 草 (informal), with shin being the highest classification and sou the lowest.  Flower vases are not an exception. They are classified into these grades depending on the material used and the shape of the vase. The type of usuita (usu means thin and ita means board), the board placed under the vase, varies according to grade, for which reason there are those who have vases for each grade.

■ Shin 真 (Formal)

Shin is the highest grade in the classification. Hanaire, or flower vases, are said to have their origin in vases used to offer flowers to the Buddha after Buddhism was introduced to Japan. Until the perfection of chado, imported Chinese ware as well as celadon porcelain had been popular for vases. Those vases from the height of the popularity of imported Chinese ware are classified as shin, and this includes bronze, Chinese celadon, and blue and white ceramics. The vases of this grade are paired with usuita of the same grade, namely yahazuita, black-lacquered boards with arrow notch-like edges.

■ Gyou 行 (Semi-formal)

Gyou stands between shin and sou. Vases in this grade include Japanese glazed porcelain; vases made with an alloy of copper, tin, and other metals; and vases hung from the ceiling. Seto, Tamba, Oribe, Takatori and other such ceramics are often used. Vases of this grade are paired with hamaguriba (lacquered boards with tapered edges) or square spool-shaped unfinished boards that are not coated with black lacquer.

■ Sou 草 (Informal)

Vases for the sou grade include unglazed earthenware, such as Bizen and Shigaraki ware. Crafted bamboo tubes, baskets, and hollow gourds as well as glassware and vases from the West are also classified as souUsuita to be paired with vases of this grade include rectangular wooden boards or wooden boards with tapered edges. No boards are used for baskets.

□ Follow the rules and enjoy using vases as you wish.  

Flowers and plants are essentially chosen according to the theme of the tea ceremony and the season when it is held. You are free to select whatever flowers and plants you wish as long as the rules are observed, unless it is for a highly formal tea ceremony. Hosts can entertain their guests with flowers and vases chosen specially for them.

The choice of the vase also may depend on the place where the tea ceremony is held. For example, simple vases are well suited for small tea ceremony rooms. And be sure to choose a vase that is well suited for the time and occasion. For tea ceremonies it is important that the host maintains a flexible sensitivity, which is reflected even in the choice of a single vase.

  • Rule 4: Arranging flowers

In addition to the explanations for chabana and hanaire above, we here provide a guide on how chabana should actually be arranged. Let’s start with the basic rules, which we hope you will find helpful.

□ Arranging flowers and plants as in nature

“Arranging wildflowers as they are in the field”this is one of the key ideas established by the great 16th-century tea master Sen no Rikyu. In accordance with this idea, arrange branches or plants in the tea ceremony room as if they are just brought from nature. In addition, other rules exist, such as using flowers that have a single layer of petals, combining one flower with one leaf, considering the harmony of the main and the secondary elements, and more. Observing nature in everyday life to learn the appearance of flowers and plants in nature will be definitely helpful.

□ Using odd numbers of flowers

Generally, an odd number of flowers or plants is used for the arrangement. When a flower is depicted on a hanging scroll on the alcove’s wall, that flower can be included in the count and then an even number of flowers should be arranged in the vase. When arranging a branch, a single flower or branch is fine.

  • Rule 5: Using usuita 

Usuita are boards that are placed under a vase on the alcove floor. In addition to the description above, more details can be found below.

□ Placing usuita beneath vases on the formal floor of an alcove

Usuita consist of three types: yahazuita (boards with arrow notch-like edges), hamaguriba (boards with tapered edges), and marukoudai (disc-shaped boards), with yahazuita being the highest grade and marukoudai the lowest, and they are employed depending on the vase’s grade (shingyou, or sou). The shin grade alcove has the most formal type of floor, called the hondoko, with the floor raised a step from the surrounding floor, a tatami mat on top of the floor, and a framing board on the front of the alcove.

Vases of the shin grade are paired with usuita called yahazuita, black-lacquered oak boards with arrow notch-like edges in the Rikyu style (a style established by Rikyu). The upper side of the board, which is larger than the underside, is used.

This type of board is used for vases of the shin grade, such as ancient Chinese bronzes, celadon porcelain, and blue and white ceramics.

Vases of the gyou grade are paired with another type of usuita called hamaguriba, paulownia boards ornamented with a colored lacquer undercoat and a transparent lacquer topcoat and shaped with tapered edges. This type of usuita includes such finishes as shin-nuri (a black lacquer finish), roiro-nuri (a high-gloss black lacquer finish), and kuro-kakiawase-nuri (black lacquer directly applied to a wooden base without an undercoat). They often sit under glazed Kuniyaki ware, of the same grade, produced in areas other than Seto, Aichi Prefecture. 

Vases of the sou grade are paired with another type of usuita called marukoudai, disc-shaped boards with round edges, including paulownia wood with a kakiawase-nuri finish (lacquer directly applied to a wooden base without an undercoat) for the Rikyu style. They often sit under vases of bamboo or unglazed porcelain of the same grade, such as Bizen and Shigaraki ware. Hanairebon (trays), used underneath vases, are also of this grade.

□ No usuita for itadoko wooden floors or kagohana (flower arrangements in baskets)

Itadoko is a type of alcove with a wooden floor instead of tatami mats, raised above the surrounding tatami mat floor to the same height as the top of the framing board. When this type of alcove is used in a tea ceremony room, flowers should be arranged in a vase without using an usuita underneath. Usuita are not used for kagohana ( flowers arranged in a basket) either, even for tatami-matted alcoves.

  • Rule 6: Placement and positioning

Chabana have several rules for placement. Arranged flowers should be placed close to the mizuya (a preparation area for tea ceremonies adjacent to a tea ceremony room) and not just placed at random. If a hanging scroll on the alcove is horizontally long, however, the flower arrangement should be placed in the center. It is also necessary to ensure that the hanging scroll and chabana should not overlap when viewed from the front.

  • Chabana in seasons

Here we will introduce our seasonal recommendations for chabana available at the Oomi Teien online shop. Visit our online shop where you will find more varieties of wildflowers that are excellent for chabana.

□ Himetsuwabuki

Cremanthodium campanulatum 

A herbaceous perennial of the Asteraceae family. As its name suggests (literally, hime means small and tsuwabuki means Japanese silverleaf), this plant and its flowers resemble a smaller version of tsuwabuki (Japanese silverleaf). It blooms from April to May and is available for spring chabana. This variety is also characterized by its robust nature and by being easy to grow.

□ Yama-ajisai Soufu

Hydrangea serrata “Soufu”

A deciduous shrub of the Hydrangeaceae family. Soufu is a type of Hydrangea serrata that has many tiny flower buds in the center and larger flowers encircling them. The outer flowers are beautifully cross shaped with each sepal neatly separated. They can be a light blue color which gives a very cool impression, but they also have a wide range of color, all the way to light pink, depending on the nature of the soil. These hydrangeas bloom from May to June and serve as typical chabana for the rainy season. There are many other varieties in addition to Soufu.

□ Yakushima shouma

Astilbe thunbergii var. terrestris 

Astilbe glaberrima Nakai var. glaberrima 

A herbaceous perennial of the Saxifragaceae family and an endemic species of Astilbe native to Yakushima. Many plants with “Yakushima” in their name are small in stature, and this plant is also exceptionally small. It blooms and is available for summer chabana between July and August. 

□  Shiborisaki kikyo

Platycodon grandiflorus (Chinese bellflower)

A herbaceous perennial of the Campanulaceae family. Chinese bellflowers are one of the seven autumn flowers popular since olden times, and they are characterized by their cute balloon-like buds and star-shaped flowers. We have available a variety with tie dye-patterned flowers. It has a long blooming season, from July to October. 

□ Shirobana chojubai

Chaenomeles japonica var. Shirobana Chojubai (White-flowered Japanese quince)

A deciduous tree of the rose family and a cultivar of the Japanese quince. It blooms from February to March and makes for a good winter chabana. In overall form, the tree is smaller than an ume (Japanese apricot) tree, with pale and gentle white flowers. This variety is also popular for bonsai.


The above are the rules for chabana, in which we hope you will find something interesting.

Below are the most important points:

  • In general, select wildflowers or wild plants appropriate for the season.

  • Flower vases are classified by grade and their types also vary depending on the style of arrangement.

  • Arrange chabana as they are in the field and employ them in odd numbers.

These rules reflect the spirit of the tea ceremony, which is the appreciation of the seasons. 

Be sure to have a look at our online shop where we provide a wide variety of chabana.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments, suggestions, or requests

LINE: @oomiteien

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