Due to over 200 years of political isolation in Japan, there were no further innovations in ikebana until 1868, when the country reopened to foreign exchange. People were quick to embrace Western customs, and in the world of ikebana, this catalyzed a series of radical changes.
In 1912, the first modern school of ikebana, the Ohara School, was established. Its founder, Unshin Ohara, helped the art form evolve by introducing the Moribana style, and through it, implementing two major changes: the incorporation of Western flowers, and the use of a shallow, circular container to make flowers stand upright, with the help of the kenzan.
The flexibility and variation that the Moribana style allows for has made it a favorite and a staple in almost every ikebana school today. At the core of Moribana is a three-stem system, whereby three flowers are almost always fixed to create a triangle. Compositions that do not follow this triangle system are known as freestyle. Freestyle is also used to describe more creative and original approaches to ikebana, where the maker uses their knowledge of form, color, and line from previous practice to develop new arrangements that don’t necessarily adhere to traditions.
Changes continued with the creation of the Sogetsu School in 1927. Its founder, Sofu Teshigahara (whose father was also an ikebana master), is credited with elevating ikebana from a technical practice to an art at the level of sculpture, which is how it is has been viewed ever since.
Teshigahara’s approach called for greater freedom and the use of other live materials. For him, the forgotten parts of nature—like dirt, rocks, and moss—were just as ripe with expressive potential as flowers. He heartily believed that excellent ikebana is not divorced from the life and times of its creator, and that a flower is an irreplaceable, expressive tool that reveals the soul. With these innovations, the Rikka style began to fade. At present, Ikenobo, Ohara, and Sogetsu are the most popular styles, with around 400 of these schools operating today.