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Chabana — Ikebana Flower Arrangements for the Tea Ceremony

Posted by Angelina Kurganska on

Have you ever heard about Chabana before? It’s similar to Ikebana — Japanese flower arrangement. However, Chabana (茶花) is a flower arrangement explicitly done for tea ceremonies. Cha meaning tea, and bana meaning flower in Japanese. 

ikebana for tea


 What Is Ikebana?

The term ikebana comes from the words ike — life and bana — flower. The practice of ikebana originated in China. Then, it made its way into Japan, where it was further practiced and perfected. At its origins, people made ikebana arrangements solely in adherence to Buddhist traditions. Today, most people associate ikebana with Japan, as this is where the art truly thrived. Albeit, people, practice various forms of flower arrangement throughout the world. 


Ikebana has many uses. People make flower arrangements for their homes, lobbies, and altars, just to name a few. There are subtle differences in each type of flower arrangement. Naturally, there is also a unique flower arrangement for tea ceremonies — chabana. 


Ikebana is a transcient art. The seasonality of flowers is not long-lived. We can enjoy the beauty of plum and cherry blossoms for but a week. It’s not surprising that in Japan, people track the cherry blossom viewing events carefully throughout the year, and companies make sure to give their employees time off just so they can enjoy this transient beauty with their family and friends.

When we spend precious time arranging flowers, we understand that this arrangement is not meant to last more than a few days. With this understanding and dedication, we can fully honor the life of the plants.  


The History of Flower Arrangement

As far as we know, the art of flower arrangements holds its origins in China’s Six Dynasties Period (220-589) and truly flourishes in the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) Dynasties. 

The art of chabana itself began appearing in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), specifically around the years 1488-1595. It became increasingly popular to choose beautiful and antique vessels for the tea ceremony during this time. Thus, tea enthusiasts would also choose antique receptacles for their flower arrangements and sip tea while admiring their historic beauty. Many a tea poem was born around this time period. As we know, during the same era, the practice of drinking loose leaf tea (versus powdered tea) also emerged. Indeed, the tea arts were flourishing. Read more.


Flowers are made from a sort of bright energy shining between Heaven and Earth.

— Yuan Zhongdao. Poet of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).



An autumn-time chabana arrangement for the Japanese tea room.


The Subtleties of Chabana 

Chabana, tea room flowers, originated alongside Wabi Cha — a simplistic tea ceremony started by Sen no Rikyu. Following the teachings of wabi-sabi, or wabi cha, tea masters teach that tea room flower arrangements should be simplicity itself. Most importantly, the flowers should in no way distract the guest from the main act, which is the tea itself. Flowers in the tea room should represent life, changes, and seasonality. They should appear as they do in the wildflower fields or on the side of sidewalks — unadorned and minimalistic. 

The role of the flowers in the tea hut is to further accentuate our connection with nature. Just as the tea comes from tea bushes, the water from the mountain streams, the cups from the soil, and the mats from straw. So, the flowers are gently arranged to remind all the guests of our undeniable connection with the nature around us. 

Next time you are on a nature walk, or even on a stroll through your neighborhood park, be on the lookout for interesting elements of nature. These could be wildflowers, broken branches, or stones — anything that can enhance the naturous appeal of your tea space. 

At the start of the Japanese tea ceremony, the tea master will often introduce the flowers to the guests. Usually, these will be whatever flowers are available during the season. Furthermore, they often come from the garden of the master themselves. Or, perhaps, the master picked his flowers during their daily walk. Chabana flowers should definitely not overpower the overall setting of the tea room with either color or scent. Ideally, they should have no scent at all or otherwise a faint aroma that can complement the tea ritual.


Making A Chabana Flower Arrangement 

While chabana follows simplicity and is much more relaxed than ikebana flower arrangements, there are still a few general guidelines to note. Since chabana adheres to the principles of wabi-sabi, perfect imperfection, it is essential not to overdo it. 


  • If you are expecting guests for your tea ceremony, you should always try to arrange the flowers so that the blossoms are facing towards where the guests will sit. 
  • According to the Genshoku Chadō Daijiten (a Japanese tea ceremony encyclopedia), tea masters refer to certain flowers as kinka, meaning forbidden flower. These are flowers with unpleasant names, strong odors, no clear seasonality, or long-lasting blooms. While there is no specific list indicating these flowers, you can use your best judgment. For example, we don’t use roses and lilies for chabana arrangements. 
  • Chabana arrangements are always simple and generally should include but a few flowers or blooming branches. Often, you will see but one lone bloom gracefully flowing out of the vase or bamboo tube. However, if you choose to add more flowers, always do so in odd numbers (three, five, seven, etc.).
  • The largest blooms should always sit at the rim of the vase, while the thin or long ones can stem from the center.
  • Use contrasting shapes and lengths to add character and intrigue to the arrangements. Unlike western flower bouquets, in chabana, we always use juxtaposition. 
  • The six main vessels of flower arrangement are: vase, woven basket, jar, dish, bowl, and bamboo tube.


japanese tea ceremony

Tokonoma in a Japanese tea hut


Gong Fu Cha Vs. Chanoyu Flower Arrangements

We can see flower arrangements both in Chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony) and Gong Fu Cha (Chinese tea ceremony). While you will always see chabana during chanoyu, when it comes to gongfu cha, it is more so up to the tea master themselves whether or not they wish to include flowers in the tea ritual. 

The proceedings of the Japanese tea ceremony happen in a specially dedicated tea room or tea hut. In this room, there is a specially reserved space for the tea master, the guests, and the tokonoma, which is a specially designated area for displaying seasonal and thematic elements for the tea gathering. For example, hanging scrolls and the chabana flower arrangement. 


gong fu cha

Gong fu cha


On the other hand, during the Chinese tea ceremony, it is common for all guests and the tea master to sit around one big tea table - the cha ban. All elements which the master intends to use for the gong fu tea ceremony will be placed on the tea table. If they choose to include a flower arrangement, it will usually be quite simple as to not get in the way of all the tea utensils. 

We invite you to try to make your own chabana flower arrangement the next time you engage in a tea ritual. Even in light of the flower arrangement rules, just use your own judgement and have fun with it! Gradually, you will begin to feel the perfect balance between the chabana and the tea ceremony space. 


Nine Days of Drinking Tea With Lu Yu:

Nine days in the monk's mountain garden, 

The east fence covered in yellow chrysanthemum

Normally people all drowned in alcohol

Who knows the help of tea's perfume?

— Jiao Ran. Poet of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).