Tenchijin in Shibari

Tenchijin History

moribana-chokutai
Upright (chokutai) Moribana.

“Ikebana developed from an inherent appreciation of nature, fundamental to the Buddhist tendencies which had reached Japan around 500-600 BC and the art form grew slowly from the appreciation of plant life, evolving into a subtle art of manipulation, geometry and performance. The evolution of Ikebana saw a cultural practice emerge that specific arrangements of stems and leaves performed a symbolic representation of the universe, by providing a visual balance between heaven, earth and man (Tenchijin) to reflect the harmony of the environment embedded in eastern philosophy.” (Mortimer)

Those with an eye for it, will quickly recognize that this particular aesthetic arrangement is very similar in intention to the application of the golden ratio. Operating on a variation of the rule of thirds, in this case, the thirds are referred to as the Sansai (the three powers; 三才), categorized as “heaven, earth, and man” (天地人). Though the explicit reference to the Sansai seems to have developed in the early 1600s, the usage and application of this aesthetic principle in Ikebana wasn’t established until around 1801 by Shosei Teishosai Yoneichiba.

Dry history aside, this concept managed to form a sort of blue print for a certain measure of pleasing composition; that is to say, the structure of the flower arrangement looks nice. This was measured rather precisely by the proportions of each stem (usually three stems or plants), the longest stem represents heaven, the shortest represents the earth, and the stem of mid-length represents man.

Application of Tenchijin in Shibari

The specific proportions vary slightly between different traditions of ikebana, they are all roughly within the same general comparison, and as such, when I teach the application of this concept in shibari, I emphasize recognizing the three stems or points of reference, and positioning them in a similar fashion to that of the ikebana concept of tenchijin to attempt to create a three dimensional scene that is interesting and pleasing to the eyes.

kinbaku-seme-iroha-shizuki-naka-akira
Iroha Shizuki tied by Akira Naka, in the production “Nawa Etsu Vol-1”.

One such rope artist that appears to have developed in this direction (knowingly or otherwise), is Akira Naka, a rather well known practitioner of kinbaku who always seems to create masterful and exceptionally beautiful scenes in his performances. Though his style is more centered on very challenging and strenuous ties that encourage sadomasochism to be put on display, even those not drawn to the beauty of suffering can see the form and composition of his art and appreciate it as such.

To reiterate the composition here: the top stem (usually the models head), is the highest point; heaven. While the lowest point is often times a leg or foot, or even a prop to draw the attention down; this is earth. Man exists between heaven and earth, and as such is in between the two points. However, it would be a dry composition if the middle point were right in the middle, thus it is either slightly closer to the highest point, or the lowest.

Viewing the ratios discussed thus far, it is noticed that the ratios of “ten”, “jin” : “ten” and “chi” : “jin” resemble each other. It has been found that this ratio resembles the “golden section” (1:1.618 = 0.618:1), which defines the formal beauty of the architecture of ancient Greece and Egypt and also that of the contemporary art design.

Ikebana-densho-tenchijin
From “ikebana buntai zushiki” in hte mid Edo period.

The reason why the roles of heaven, earth and man were assigned to these basic stems derives from Buddhism. It originates from a way of expressing the universe using two basic stems like “the sum of things arises between
heaven and earth” which is a doctrine from the Buddhist Mandela. The stem representing man placed between those of heaven and earth also derives from the thought of Buddhism, viz., that “man is precious only because he
is a part of all creation existing between heaven and earth.” Many schools bend the stems and branches with special techniques to deform them to make them more suited to their roles. (Saito and Furuya)

 

References:

Primary Sources:

  • Ikebana buntai zushiki. Unknown date and author.
  • Sansai Zue. compiled by Wang Qi (Chinese: 王圻) and his son Wang Siyi (Chinese: 王思义) completed in 1607 and published in 1609.

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