Guest Post: Four Masterpieces Joined by the Spirit of Water

Water falls from above, and from below, falls
Four Masterpieces Joined by the Spirit of Water
By Susanna Brooks, Curator of Japanese Art

It is summer, and the rainy season is upon us at Morikami. Rain falls practically every afternoon. The sky becomes dark and the rain falls fast and heavy, culminating into torrential downpours that draw everyone to the windows to take in the stunning, mesmerizing view of water falling from the sky and cascading down the rain chains, nourishing the plants, and dislocating the pebbles in the once-neatly-raked dry garden.

Morikami summer rain

Morikami’s dry garden and rain chains during a summer storm.

Rain is universally revered for its ability to create and sustain life and respected for the power it has to wound and raze nature when it falls hard and long. This entry provides an abbreviated exploration of the element of water as a meaningful motif in Japanese philosophy and art, primarily as the main subject of two famous 19th-century woodblock prints, which, in turn, share an affinity with two 19th-century Western masterpieces.

Water sustains all life, made evident by the fact that both the Earth and human body are composed of 70 percent water. For many cultures water holds spiritual symbolic meaning, with the natural attributes of water – its flexibility and adaption to change and transformation – equated to ideal human emotions and actions.

A precept of Japanese Buddhism holds water ( sui, or mizu) second in importance to Earth in the cycle of the five elements of the universe (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Nothingness). Representations of these five elements are present time and again in the design of Japanese architecture, stone lanterns, Buddhist temples and Zen-inspired gardens. In Shintō, the native religion of Japan, water is venerated and presided over by Susano-o, god of the sea and storms, Kuraokami (literally, “dark dragon, tutelary of water”), god of rain and snow, and Suijin, the benevolent deity of water itself. A goal of spiritual practice within Shintō is to become like the flow of water, blurring divisions and transcending boundaries. For that reason, many devotees practice purification rituals under waterfalls (taki shugyō).

As a meaningful element in Japanese art and architecture, water is a leitmotif of many Japanese woodblock prints. Katsushika Hokusai, the artist of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, one of the most recognized images in the world, believed that water was sacred and had the power to purify and restore life in accordance with the natural flow of divine awareness. To Hokusai, water represented the flowing of formlessness in the universe.

Katsushika Hokusai (ca. 1760 – 1849) Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off of Kanagawa Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper Edo Period, ca. 1829 – 1832 Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Katsushika Hokusai (ca. 1760 – 1849)
Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off of Kanagawa
Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper
Edo Period, ca. 1829 – 1832
Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hokusai and his Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji inspired the great, woodblock print artist Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige. Hiroshige was a plein aire artist who strived to depict nature faithfully. He sketched his landscape scenes out-of-doors and then had the images transferred to woodblocks.  Here, he captures a group of travelers caught in a rain storm. Hiroshige recorded this scene while traveling with an official delegation through Ise Province in Mie Prefecture.

Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige (1797 – 1858) Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō: Shōno-juku Woodblock print, ink and color on paper Edo Period, 1833 – 1834 Gift of Brigitte and Joseph Lonner 1998.065.001

Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige (1797 – 1858)
Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō: Shōno-juku
Woodblock print, ink and color on paper
Edo Period, 1833 – 1834
Gift of Brigitte and Joseph Lonner
1998.065.001

The image is part of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō, a series of prints commemorating the Eastern Sea route from Edo (present-day Tokyo) to Kyoto. Considered Hiroshige’s most famous series, the Fifty-Three Stations was a pivotal watershed in ukiyo-e, for it greatly advanced the landscape as a key subject of this popular woodblock print genre. [1]

Hiroshige traveled the Tōkaidō in 1832 as part of an official delegation that was transporting horses, a gift from the Shogun to the Emperor as a symbol of his loyalty and as a way to pay his respects to the divine ruler of Japan. The landscape so impressed Hiroshige that he captured the journey in a series of sketches. When it was completed, the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō numbered fifty-five, with the extra two commemorating the start and end points. Shōno-juku is the forty-fifth of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō.

Just as Hiroshige is celebrated for his rural landscape scenes, so French Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte is best-known for capturing the daily nuances of life on the streets of Paris. In this larger than life-size scene, Paris Street; Rainy Day, Caillebotte brings us practically face to face with a fashionable flâneur (French man of leisure) and his lady strolling in the rain.[2] With its cropped, zoomed-in angles, sharp tilted ground, and flat color palette, Rainy Day has a grand photo-realistic presence and a sensibility reminiscent of 19th-century Japanese prints, which had become all the rage among the French Impressionists. Like Hiroshige, Caillbotte captured a precise moment in time. As the painting’s simple, straightforward title suggests, Rainy Day takes rain as its main subject and creates around it a snapshot of daily life, turning an otherwise ordinary scene into a timeless, monumental work of art.

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894) Paris Street, Rainy Day 1877 Oil on canvas Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894)
Paris Street, Rainy Day
1877
Oil on canvas
Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Another timeless and iconic work of art that takes water as its theme is Fallingwater, one of the greatest architectural achievements of the 20th century. Designed in 1935 by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater is a 2855 square-foot house built out over a 30-foot waterfall. The home has strong Japanese elements, particularly the manner in which the structure blends in with its environment, harmoniously bridging nature and man. As Japanese architect Tadao Ando has observed, “…Wright learned the most important aspect of architecture, the treatment of space, from Japanese architecture. When I visited Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, I found that same sensibility of space. But there was the additional sound of nature that appealed to me.”[3] The “sound” that Ando referred to was the melodious song of falling water for which the house is named.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1859) Fallingwater 1936 – 1939 Photo courtesy of Fallingwater.org

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1859)
Fallingwater
1936 – 1939
Photo courtesy of Fallingwater.org

Of the 400 structures that Wright built in his lifetime, Fallingwater is considered his greatest masterpiece. The house embraces the essence of Wright’s aesthetic design philosophy, a concept he originated and called organic architecture, which espoused the construction of structures that were in harmony with humanity and the environment. Wright was also a prolific, and for a time, successful, dealer of ukiyo-e, such as those that Hokusai and Hiroshige made and Caillebotte collected.

As water is connected to humanity and the environment, so Frank Lloyd Wright is connected to Japan and Japanese woodblock prints. When Wright first traveled to Japan in 1905, he purchased hundreds of ukiyo-e, including Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji and Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō. The following year, he assisted the curators of the Art Institute of Chicago, where Caillebotte’s Rainy Day is prominently displayed, in organizing a retrospective exhibition of the work of Hiroshige, which featured all fifty-five of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō. Perhaps the correlation between all four of these artists and their masterpieces is merely coincidental, but I like to think that the spirit of water, in all its glorious forms, serendipitously linked their flow.


[1] Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the Floating World,” describes a genre of woodblock prints and paintings that depicted scenes from everyday life in and around the merchant’s quarters of Edo, primarily the districts they created for pleasure and entertainment. Themes of ukiyo-e include beautiful women (geisha and courtesans), kabuki theater, sumo, historical scenes, and landscapes. The term ukiyo is associated with the Buddhist concept of impermanence and the sorrows (uki) of life (yo), a notion that underscores the temporariness of life, youth, and human desire and pleasure.

[2] Rainy Day is a stately painting that measures 83.5” x 108.7” (approximately 6.9’ W x 9’ H).

[3] Tadao Ando, 1995 Laureate: Biography. The Hyatt Foundation. 1995.

Advertisements

Guest Post: The Girl with a Cat and Other Paper Tales by Kyoko Hazama

Today, we’re pleased to present a guest post from our Curator of Japanese Art, Susanna Brooks. If you haven’t yet had a chance to see this awe-inspiring exhibit, we HIGHLY recommend it! It’s the perfect addition to any summer outing, especially when the South Florida weather turns a little sour.

Kyoko Hazama may just be Japan’s most imaginative doll paper sculptress. Using traditional Japanese paper (washi) made from the fibers of the bark of a Japanese tree (gampi), shrub (mitsumata), and various plants and grasses (hemp, rice, wheat, bamboo), a sturdier paper than those crafted from wood pulp, Kyoko crafts fanciful dioramas which feature female figures interacting with a hodgepodge of animals. These, she reveals, “are self-portraits.” Kyoko paints, folds, rolls, cuts, and sculpts her paper into whimsical, endearing, self-revelatory vignettes that unlock a unique door into an innocent, magical playground, where clever little ingénues pass the time with a menagerie of horned, winged, and hoofed playmates. Since these tender human figurines represent Kyoko Hazama herself, one easily imagines that the animals in her cosmos are allegorical characters, stand-ins for the real people and relationships that have informed her life.

Kyoko’s miniature paper people and animals reflect also her extraordinary technical abilities as a paper artist, doll-maker, and sculptor. Drawing from pictorial sources and the images that reveal themselves in her mind’s eye, Kyoko manipulates her materials to create the look and feel of real animal fur, antlers and horns, and the velvetiness of young human skin. Her superb artistic skills and imagination materialize tangibly into figures with heartrending facial features and body expressions that evoke a gentle, amiable sensibility and convey a remarkable sense of realism.

There are portraits of Kyoko as a young lady, navigating the boundaries between childhood and adolescence. Room presents a young girl lounging on a green chair, her thoughts seemingly floating far, far away, as three musk oxen stand neatly in a row before her grazing upon the living room floor. Making this scene even more surreal a la Alice in Wonderland is that it plays out inside a wooden drawer.

Room, 2007 6” x 6” x 12” Washi, wire, wool, found wooden drawer At Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Room, 2007
6” x 6” x 12”
Washi, wire, wool, found wooden drawer
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Similarly, The Walnuts tells the story of a pensive young woman reclining on a red Victorian settee with a pair of squirrels, a chihuahua at her side, and a heap of walnuts protruding from under her sheer, crinkly dress. The girl willfully leans away from the dog, painfully unaware of the squirrels stirring playfully around her, with a vacant stare and reticent posture that silently scream “loneliness.”

The Walnuts, 2013 Washi, wire 6.5” x 5” x 6”  at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

The Walnuts, 2013
Washi, wire
6.5” x 5” x 6”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Among the most poignant and heartfelt portraits is Rocking Horse, which portrays a young girl laying face down between a rocking horse and a newborn gazelle. The girl’s hand is positioned underneath her right knee and her face is raised slightly upright, mimicking the newborn foal’s stance. As the foal’s mother gingerly, and with a hint of trepidation, approaches the wide-eyed girl, it becomes clear that Kyoko is an outsider.

Rocking Horse, 2011 Washi, wire 4.5” x 8” x 2.5” at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Rocking Horse, 2011
Washi, wire
4.5” x 8” x 2.5”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Another example of animal mimicry is Time Capsule. Here, a young girl sits upon a thick mat of cut vines intent on protecting a large silverback gorilla and her offspring; her back toward the apes, facing the viewer. The girl is crouched low; her long arms extended at her sides and her hands tucked underneath, imitating the pose of the great ape she is shielding.

Time Capsule, 2013 Washi, wire 8.5” x 11” x 9” at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Time Capsule, 2013
Washi, wire
8.5” x 11” x 9”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

In Kyoko’s world, the most wild and ferocious creatures of the animal kingdom are approachable protectors and playmates. Warm Sleep presents an Emperor Penguin, the largest and heaviest species of the penguin family, protectively balancing a sleeping infant atop its feet. When an Emperor Penguin lays an egg, the female transfers the egg to the father, who then stores and protects the egg, and eventually the newborn offspring, in its pouch by balancing the egg and/or hatchling on its feet. Here, Kyoko reminds us of this remarkable and tender act of nature.

Warm Sleep, 2006 Washi, wire 4.25” x 3.5” x 2” at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Warm Sleep, 2006
Washi, wire
4.25” x 3.5” x 2”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

One of the most disquieting yet charming pairings is Floating Cat, which portrays a little girl sitting next to a giant house cat and staring keenly at the viewer. The young girl clutches a limp green goose in the crook of her left arm, suggesting the flaccid bird is a gift from her giant feline friend.

Floating Cat, 2011 Washi Paper and wire 5.5” x 8” x 6” at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Floating Cat, 2011
Washi Paper and wire
5.5” x 8” x 6”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

A skilled doll maker and paper artist, Kyoko Hazama defies artistic classification. She is self-taught and therefore does not belong to an artistic lineage of Japanese craftsmen. It is difficult, if not impossible, to situate her work within the trajectory of art making traditions as defined by conventional art historical taxonomies. Kyoko’s work cannot be positioned within the framework of folk art, craft, or outsider art. Scott Rothstein, artist, writer, critic, and founder of Art Found Out, explains that “her art has much in common with works in all three fields, but her sculptures do not fit into any of these categories exclusively. In Japan, folk artists and craftspeople usually inherit their traditions. The forms they produce are often completely defined with only the slightest room for individual expression.” Thankfully, the remarkable work of Kyoko Hazama overflows, albeit quietly, with self-expression and great technical skill, underscoring her place as an artist of our time, an era in which the lines of categorization are being continually challenged and blurred.

Kyoko Hazama Photo courtesy of Scott Rothstein

Kyoko Hazama
Photo courtesy of Scott Rothstein

– Susanna Brooks, Curator of Japanese Art

 

The work of Kyoko Hazama is currently on view at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach, Florida, as part of the exhibition, From a Quiet Place: The Paper Sculptures of Kyoko Hazama, organized by Mobilia Gallery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. We hope you’ll stop in soon! This exhibit runs from now until August 31, 2014.

Vlogs With Veljko: Growing the Morikami Collections

From art to armor and everything in between, our collections are full of amazing pieces of both historical and cultural significance. But – have you ever wondered how these pieces come to be part of our 9000-piece collection? In this episode of Vlogs with Veljko, you’ll find out how we keep our collections growing – giving you the opportunity to experience Japan’s amazing culture right here in South Florida.

Q&A with the Curator: Who’s Genji?

Our current exhibit Genji’s World Through Japanese Woodblock Prints is open and ready for your visit, but some of you may be wondering – Who is Genji? We sat down with Curator of Collections, Veljko Dujin, to answer just that, and some of those other burning questions you might want answers to before visiting us. Here’s what we learned:

Who is/was Genji?

 Prince Genji, also known as Hikaru Genji, or the Shining Prince Genji,  was the fictitious son of an Emperor and his favorite concubine. Ever since Murasaki Shikibu wrote the novel The Tale of Genji, he’s been a popular figure in Japanese literature, theater and art.

 Why is Genji, and the Tale of Genji, such an important part of Japanese culture?

 Over time the popularity of Genji broadened from the Imperial court to the broader public. Parts of the novel originally appeared around the year 1008, and by Murasaki Shikibu’s  death (around the year 1025) the work was made into its final form of about 54 chapters.  The novel’s influence has long out-lived its author who was cruicial in developing Japanese as a written language. In fact, The Tale of Genji became required reading for court poets as early as the 12th century, and she has been highly regarded as a classical writer ever since. Murasaki had a lasting impact on Japanese literature, culture and art that hinged on this novel.

 What can guests expect to see in our Genji exhibit?

Woodblock prints. There are many great prints in this exhibit from some of the best known 19th century artists. By the 19th century Genji monogatari (or Genji epics) were tremendously popular in Japan, and while in the centuries prior many fine pieces of art were produced with scenes from the tale, most were one-of-a-kind paintings, either in the form of hand-scrolls, screens, accordion albums or scrolls. With woodblock prints, they were made available to the masses.

In the 1820’s a parody, originally published as a serial (several of the booklets are on display) called A Rustic Genji by Fradulent Murasaki, generated so much interest in Genji monogatari, that well over 1000 different prints were produced in the following decades. These prints depict scenes from both the original Genji and Ryutai Tanehiko’s 1820’s parody.

 Is there anything our guests should look for specifically (i.e. certain symbolism, images, or deeper meanings) in these prints?

 There are layers of symbolism in the Genji prints, so one has to be very familiar with the novels to be able to understand some of the subtle implications in some of the prints. In a few prints, however, viewers can see Genji-mon or Genji crests, which are rectilinear groupings of 5 vertical lines and one or two horizontal lines at the top. These were developed to correspond to each of the 54 chapters in the original novel, and are often placed on prints. They were commonly used in shell matching games where players try to match the two halves of a shell. One half  of the shell would have a Genji mon (like the ones on the prints) and the other half would have either a verse or an image from the corresponding chapter in The Tale of Genji.

 Which is your favorite piece in this exhibit and why?

 That would be two prints depicting the winter pastimes of  some ladies in waiting at the court. They are making a snow-rabbit in one and snow-frog in the other. I really like this particular print because it alludes to fun tradition that goes along with making these snow-creatures in the winter. Generally bets were placed on how long before the snow sculpture defrosted, or if they made two, like in this print, which one would last longer. 

 Anything else?

 Please come and see the exhibit, it is a great collection, seldom seen! We’ll also be hosting a lecture as part of our Speaker Series with Sarah Thompson of MFA, Boston. She’ll be speaking specifically about how Genji was translated to art and the Kabuki stage on April 17th. Don’t forget to check out Keeping in Touch: Culture of letter-writing in Japan, the other exhibit we have on display now, for some interesting artifacts, letters and more. 

Kunisada Woodblock Print, Genji's World Through Japanese Woodblock Prints at Morikami

 

Emi & Katsu’s Hatsume Top Five

For those of you in the mood for a countdown, Hatsume is just two weeks away! We’re excited to share this uniquely spring celebration with you all, and our Hatsume mascots, Emi and Katsu, can’t wait to tell you about what we’ve got in store. We’ll hand over the reins to lovely Emi now as she presents:

Emi & Katsu’s Hatsume Top 5!

#5: Spring Morikami Style

Katsu and I love to stroll through Roji-en on a festival day! The gardens are buzzing with excitement, especially when Roji-en is in full spring bloom. Enjoy an open-air tea ceremony or picnic under hand-crafted cherry blossoms. Oh, and make sure to pick up a Morikami picnic blanket!

#4: Treats & Eats

Katsu and I disagree on what’s the absolute best thing to eat at Hatsume (he likes the Japanese snacks at the Museum Store’s Sweet Shop, while I like the Cornell Café’s special Chirashizushi), but we can agree that there are LOTS of great things to try. From the Sweet Shop in the Museum Store, to Japanese and American favorites throughout the grounds, there’s plenty of good eats to be had. You can get an idea of what to try by checking out the menu ahead of time (Pro tip: it’s also a good idea to see how many tickets you’ll need for festival food or the Cornell Café while you mull over the menu.)

Once you’ve purchased your piping hot Spring Rolls, you’ll want a nice chilled beverage to go with them. Visit the Kirin Beer Garden or the ever-popular Sake Station – staffed by Stacole Fine Wines, and a very special guest directly from Japan: Richard Priest of the Kikusui Brewery! Richard will pour some delicious selections from his brewery AND squeeze in some Sake 101 talks.

#3: Shop & Play

Once we’ve had our fill of delicious food and drinks, Katsu and I like to meander through the avenues of craft, plant and tea vendors. There are so many wonderful vendors to see that we need both days to scout out what we want to purchase (That’s why we’re so excited about the new weekend pass!) Whether you like handmade jewelry, bonsai trees, authentic Japanese teas, or locally designed apparel, there’s something for everyone in the Hatsume Marketplace.

After we’ve closed the deal on some fantastic finds, Katsu can’t wait to head to the kids’ activities. This year he’s especially excited about making onigiri, or Japanese rice balls, with the education staff. Katsu is also looking forward to playing with ribbon kites and making his own origami planter with matching origami butterfly!

#2: Anime @ Hatsume

Anime has been one of mine and Katsu’s favorite parts of Hatsume since it was added in 2009. We can’t wait to see all the exciting things Tate’s and the other anime vendors will bring! Katsu loves to watch the Fine Print Shoppe live screen print t-shirts, and this year yours truly are featured on the shirts (designed by local artist TeslaCake)! You can get your Emi or Katsu shirt printed for FREE when you bring your own shirt, or buy one for $10.

As if the anime vendors weren’t enough to keep you busy all day, this year – for the first time ever- there will be a Hatsume Arcade featuring classic Japanese video games like Pacman, Dance Dance Revolution, and Galanga. When you’ve danced your heart out in the theater, head over to the Morikami Caricature station in the lobby, and take home your very own hand-drawn caricature to commemorate your day at Hatsume.

Last but certainly not least, bee-line to the Pikachu stage on Saturday for the Costume Contest, and on Sunday for the 2nd Annual Fashion Show (just one more reason we think you should try out a weekend pass). The colorful and creative outfits are sure to wow in the last few hours of the festival, and the competition is fierce!

#1: Action-Packed Entertainment

That brings us to the number one thing we love about Hatsume Fair – the entertainment!

We’ll hear Richard Priest of Kikusui Brewery give us the sake lowdown on the Pikachu Stage, before it transforms into a runway for the hottest costume and fashion contests this side of Palm Beach. Come strut your stuff or play paparazzi!

Over at the Osaka Stage you’ll witness the stamina and dedication of the very best of local martial artists. Hatsume is the only time of year you can see all these athletes in one place, so don’t miss out!

And, finally, on the Tokyo Stage: take in the rumbling of the taiko drums! You might have guessed that this is Katsu’s favorite part of the day, and he can’t wait to take part in the interactive kids’ taiko show at noon on both days. The Tokyo stage plays host to Ronin Taiko & the Wadaiko Academy on Saturday, and Fushu Daiko on Sunday. So, if you want to pick your favorite, you’ll have to get that weekend pass!

Thanks to Emi & Katsu for helping us pick out the best parts of Hatsume, and please feel free to add to the list in the comments below – we love hearing from you! See you all in a couple of weeks!

Emi & Katsu-03

Guest Blog: Aaron Woolfolk, Director of The Harimaya Bridge

One of our favorite programs by the Morikami education department is our yearly Speaker Series. This month we’re excited to host a screening of The Harimaya Bridge, and a talk by its award-winning director, Aaron Woolfolk. We asked Aaron to share a bit about the film here for you in advance of his lecture next Friday, and he delivered with this wonderful peek behind the scenes at the making of the film. Read on for his one-of-a-kind perspective on the challenges and successes of making The Harimaya Bridge, and join us next week to see this inspiring film and Aaron in person. Enjoy!

The Harimaya Bridge: When the Rain Is Your Friend
By Aaron Woolfolk

One of the compliments I often receive about my film The Harimaya Bridge, which will be shown at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens on February 21st, is the way the beauty of the deep Japanese countryside is captured by the cinematography. Indeed, from the time I started conceiving the story in my head and putting it to paper (or, rather, computer), I was intent on showing the majesty of the land in Kochi-ken, the rural prefecture I lived and worked in before setting off on my journey to become a filmmaker.

But it nearly didn’t work out that way. In fact, The Harimaya Bridge as it is now — a drama told amid clear blue skies and the lush greens of mountains and rice fields — could just as well have had that lovely backdrop replaced by continuous rains and monsoon-like conditions.

In many cases, when a movie is filmed is determined not by the needs of the story, but by those of key elements of the production. Creating the schedule means, for example, finding a time when the actors (who might be very busy and in-demand) are available. The same goes for getting an experienced crew. Many times you have to take what you can get. For The Harimaya Bridge, which had the good fortune of casting several popular and respected actors (including the internationally-known Danny Glover), it was determined that the best window for shooting the film would be in June and early July. Because the next available window would not be for several months — and because one never knows what will happen when a film shoot is postponed for so long — we went with the June plan.

There was just one problem: June and July are smack dab in the middle of southwest Japan’s rainy season.

Being caught up in the euphoria of getting a movie financed and a notable cast to appear in it, I at first gave the timing of the shoot little thought. After all, if you manage to make it past the multitude of obstacles to getting a film made and see your project go forward, there’s a (short) period of time when you tend to believe that everything will automatically work out in your favor. But as the pre-production months went by and the production approached, I became increasingly concerned. The rainy season in Kochi is something I had experienced firsthand, and memories of it started to drown out my “everything will be just fine” attitude. I started to remember that, having lived and worked in Kochi as a participant of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, and having made numerous return trips in the years since, I had witnessed with my own eyes (and never fully-dried clothes) the heavy monsoon-like rains that could carry on for days, even weeks, with no let-up.

I had written The Harimaya Bridge not only to convey the message of the story, but also to showcase the beauty of rural Japan, and Kochi Prefecture in particular. I had drawn on more than 15 years of my personal relationship with Kochi to create the story. I had a specific image of this corner of Japan I wanted to show the world. And in my mind that image consisted of exterior scenes with bright and sunny days. But it began to hit me that my conception of the film would likely have to change to accommodate the weather. I began to mentally prepare myself to make a movie whose story would be told against the backdrop of continuous rain. The enthusiastic “We’re shooting in June!” cry of February morphed into the cautious “We’re shooting in June” lament of April.

I expressed my concerns to my cinematographer, renowned cinema veteran <a href=”http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0619919/”Masao Nakabori.

“Don’t worry,” he said very nonchalantly. “The weather gods are always kind to me.”

Not quite sold on his connections with the divine, I went through my script and started reconfiguring it for heavy rains. Those scenes where the main character got lost in the rural backroads? I guess it would make him even more annoyed if he were drenched. That pivotal scene on the mountaintop in which one of the film’s central mysteries is solved? I guess we could lose the mountain and play the scene in a house. The scenes at the famous Katsurahama Beach? Maybe those two central characters could cement their friendship in some indoor setting.

“It’s very smart and responsible of you to make a back-up plan,” Nakabori-san said. “If we need it, we’ll use it. But don’t worry.”

Filming began in early June just as the rainy season officially started. Outwardly, I kept my spirits high and confident so as to keep up the morale of our cast and crew of 70+ people. But inside I was on edge, wondering how the weather over the next five weeks would affect the film I had been trying to make for eight years.

And then the most amazing thing happened: The weather cooperated. We did not accommodate it; rather, it accommodated us. In fact, the weather settled into a pattern that worked for us as if it were a member of the crew. On the days we filmed outdoors, the rain was nowhere to be found. But on the days we filmed indoors, the rainy season lived up to its name as the skies opened up. There were even days when the rains came down in the hours we shot interior scenes, and then the sun came out in the hours we film exterior scenes. This carried on almost without fail for the five weeks of Japan shoot. It was uncanny!

One day in particular I will never forget. The weather forecast for that entire region of Japan was for a 100% chance of heavy rain. But it was the day we were scheduled to shoot one of the most crucial scenes of the film at the famedHarimaya Bridge, the site that was the namesake of the movie. At that point we’d had such good fortune with the weather that there was no room for flexibility with weather continuity. We absolutely had to have dry conditions. But all of the weather reports said this would be the day our luck finally ran out.

And yet, the rain held and we filmed the scene. As we did I looked around. Half a kilometer to the east: rain. A quarter of a kilometer to the west: rain. To the north and south: rain. At one point a local reporter who had been writing articles about the movie took out his cell phone and showed me a satellite image of southwest Japan. “There’s rain everywhere for hundreds of kilometers in every direction…except for right here!” he said. “The gods must really like you, and really like your movie!”

There was even one instance late in the shoot when the rain saved me. At the end of a long day we went to film a very important scene inside a sake factory that had been converted into a soundstage. Only, as the camera rolled, one of the actors was not doing what I wanted. It was at that moment I realized that I had neglected to prepare the actor for this crucial scene. “If only we could come back and do the scene tomorrow,” I lamented to myself. Yet the schedule was too tight, and it would have been irresponsible to voluntarily cut two hours of shooting. But then the rain that had been falling outside started coming down hard, much harder than it had the previous times we filmed at the warehouse. So hard, in fact, that our sound recorder informed us he could not get a clean recording of the actors’ dialogue. After weighing our options, we decided to add onto the next day’s schedule in order to return to the warehouse and shoot the scene. Of course, I made sure the actor received the necessary preparation, and the next night the scene went beautifully.

“See? No need to worry,” Nakabori-san said to me after our last day of filming.

On February 21st, “The Harimaya Bridge” will screen atMorikami Museum & Japanese Gardens, after which I will speak about the film and answer questions. Please come and enjoy the movie…and consider just how different (and wetter) the images you see onscreen might have been.

Details and tickets for the lecture and screening are available here, hope to see you all there!

New Year’s Series Part 5 – The Finale: Shishimai & Daruma!

UPDATE 1/10/14: Due to extreme flooding Oshogatsu has been postponed until Sunday, January 19, 2014. If you have already purchased tickets you will receive an email with details about your purchase. Otherwise, you may still purchase tickets online until Friday, January 17th at noon. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you all there next Sunday!

As our last piece of the New Year’s series (don’t miss part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4) we wanted to tell you about two of the most popular and widely known traditions of the Japanese New Year – Shishimai, the Lion Dance, and Daruma. These two are among the most recognizable elements of the Japanese New Year and our annual celebration: Oshogatsu.

Shishimai

Shishimai is the traditional Lion Dance performed during New Year’s celebrations all over Japan. The tradition originated in China, but has spread throughout Japan as a New Year’s staple as well as a popular dance at Shinto Shrines during other celebrations. The lion costume is made of a wood and lacquer head called a shishi-gashira which literally means lion head, and the body is made of green dyed cloth with white designs. The lion can be manipulated by a single person, or two people, and as with Chinese lions, the make of the head and designs on the body will differ from region to region.

In Okinawa, a similar dance exists, though the lion there is quite different than the shishi of mainland Japan. Instead of dancing to the sounds of flutes and taiko drums (like he does at Oshogatsu), the Okinawan shisa dance is often performed to folk songs played with the sanshin.

Get a taste of this lively dance, and some other Oshogatsu activities in our video below:

Daruma

Daruma is also a very important and recognizable figure for the New Year. The original Daruma, also called Bodhidharma, was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th/6th century CE. He is traditionally regarded as its first Chinese patriarch and the father of Zen Buddhism.

Later, monks began designing dolls as symbols of Daruma, and these dolls are now regarded as a symbol of good luck, especially for the new year. It’s common to give a Daruma doll as a gift, then the giftee colors in one eye of the doll and makes a wish or sets a goal. Once the wish or goal is complete Daruma’s other eye can be colored in. In this way, every time the recipient sees the one-eyed Daruma, he/she recalls the goal. It’s sometimes said that Daruma-san is motivated to grant your wish, because you promise to give him full sight once the goal is accomplished.

At Oshogatsu you can take part in this tradition too! At our DIY Daruma wall you can write a wish or goal, and color in one of Daruma’s eyes. Then you can come back next year and give him full sight if your wish or goal comes true. We’ll also have last year’s Daruma Wall up for you to check in on your 2013 wishes and goals.

We hope to see you all at Oshogatsu this Sunday – and remember: discounted tickets are on sale ONLY until Saturday at noon, after that tickets will be $10 for kids and $15 for adults at the gate. Happy New Year, and have a wonderful Year of the Horse!

Delicious Eats & a Taste of the Rice Pounding Ceremony – Part 2 of Our New Year’s Series

UPDATE 1/10/14: Due to extreme flooding Oshogatsu has been postponed until Sunday, January 19, 2014. If you have already purchased tickets you will receive an email with details about your purchase. Otherwise, you may still purchase tickets online until Friday, January 17th at noon. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you all there next Sunday!

 

With Part 2 of our New Year’s Blog series we want to talk about one of our favorite parts of any celebration – you guessed it – the food. Food plays an important part in celebrating the Japanese New Year; from Mochitsuki, rice-pounding to make mochi cakes, to special New Year’s eats, there’s a lot to taste and try when you visit us during Oshogatsu.

NEW YEAR’S FOODS

There are a few foods that are important symbols of good luck and happiness for the New Year. These special New Year’s foods are called osechi-ryori, and are traditionally packed in layered lacquer boxes called jubako, which are similar to bento boxes. The dish depends on the area, but some common dishes include kuromame (simmered black soy beans), kurikinton (mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnuts), tazukuri (candied dried sardines), renkon (lotus roots) and shrimp.

Each dish and ingredient holds meaning. Some dishes are said to bring good health, others a good harvest, happiness, prosperity, longevity, etc. Traditionally, yellow dishes and ingredients such as kazunoko (herring roe) symbolize prosperity, while mame (beans) are for good health. Usually, people make osechi dishes by New Year’s Eve to last through the first few days of the year so that they won’t have to cook during the celebration days.

At Morikami we’ll serve our own take on a few of these New Year’s flavors, as well as traditional mochi cakes straight from our the rice pounding ceremony. (We’ll also serve a few familiar American festival favorites.) No matter what, there will be plenty to taste!

NEW YEAR’S EATS AT OSHOGATSU

This year, as a special treat, the Cornell Café will serve a dish called chirashizushi. Traditionally, this is a festive dish served on special occasions, and loosely translates to “scattered sushi.” Ours includes tuna and salmon sashimi with shrimp, snow peas, carrots and a symbol of longevity in the new year – an origami crane. On festival grounds we’ll offer some other New Year’s eats like soba noodles and coconut shrimp!

Soba is a traditional noodle dish, made from buckwheat noodles in a hot soup, and symbolizes wishes for good luck in the year ahead. Shrimp is also an important symbolic food for New Year’s and is believed to promote longevity. Some say this is because shrimp have curved backs like the very elderly. Check out our food page as the event gets closer for more on what we’ll be serving up as well as full menus.

THE RICE POUNDING CEREMONY

Mochitsuki—the rice pounding ceremony – is essential to Oshogatsu, and is one of our favorite parts of the festivities. Traditionally, mochitsuki begins the day before by soaking the mochigome (sweet rice paste). The next day, the mochigome is ready to be steamed in the seiro (a wooden steaming frame) and then put into the usu, a large mortar made from wood, stone or concrete. The hot rice paste is then pounded with a kine ,a big wooden hammer, until smooth and shiny.

One of the most exciting parts of mochisutki is watching the cooperation between the person pounding and the person assisting (who quickly darts his or her hand into the usu and turns the rice before the next rhythmic pound of the hammer). It takes some coordination to get it right, but once the mochi is smooth and consistent in texture it’s placed onto a mochiko (sweet rice flour) covered surface, and small portions are pinched off, formed into balls, flattened and then set aside to cool until ready to eat.

At Morikami we perform the rice-pounding ceremony a few times throughout the day in order for everyone to get a chance to see and participate in the spectacle.

Tune in next week for a special New Year’s edition of Vlogs With Veljko where he’ll tell us about a very special Japanese New Year’s tradition- Nengajo!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Arts & Crafts Takes on a Whole New Meaning in Our Newest Exhibit

Fall is a busy time at Morikami. From gearing up for Lantern Fest to preparing for the new season of educational programs there are lots of changes happening during the “cooler” months coming up. One of those changes is happening as we speak – our galleries are being transformed from a haven for some awe-inspiring Kokeshi dolls, into a space for outrageous fashion and amazing works of Kōgei  art.

You probably already know a little about our upcoming Japanese Street Fashion exhibit, but you may be unfamiliar with Kōgei , as it is sometimes difficult to explain exactly what it is to our non-Japanese  followers. Never fear – we’re here to help.

What is Kōgei ?

Kōgei  is an art that couples form and function, bringing beauty to everyday objects. As one Japan Times article explains it “Kōgei has often been translated into English as ‘crafts,’ and such works don’t fit exactly into the category of fine arts in the West. Against this backdrop, they have been perceived as occupying a lower station than “art.”But in Japan they form a class of their own, as an applied art, with some masters honored by the government as living national treasures. Such handicrafts include ceramics, fine “urushi” lacquer designs, silk fabrics and more.”

In short Kōgei  artists are craftsmen of the highest level who create works of art that also happen to be very common objects such as tea bowls or lacquer ware.

What will the exhibit be like?

This exhibit, Contemporary Kōgei Styles in Japan,  brings together approximately 90 Kōgei-style artworks including ceramics, textiles, dolls, and works of metal, lacquer, wood, bamboo, and glass created by over 40 of Japan’s most influential and leading Kōgei artists of international renown. The exhibit is organized by Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, Ministry of  Foreign Affairs, Consulate General of Japan in Miami and Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens with special collaboration from the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art, All Nippon Airways Co., LTD., and Stella M. Holmes. We’re also proud to announce that after careful consideration, the Japanese government chose us as the only museum in the country to host this exhibit, so you won’t get to see these pieces anywhere else in the U.S.

These works are by very influential artists including some living national treasures. The exhibit runs from October 8, 2013 through February 18, 2014 and some of the objects will be rotated out for new ones half way through, so you’ll have something new to see each time you visit us.  The video below gives a wonderful overview of the art form and exhibit from the perspective of some of the featured artists as well as some of the exhibit’s organizers.

What’s a Living National Treasure?

Based on Japan’s 1950 Law for Protection of Cultural Properties, some individuals, small groups and preservation groups can be designated Living National Treasures. This mark of distinction means the individual or group has reached mastery in a certain area including drama, music, art, and other intangible cultural artifacts of high value in terms of Japanese history or art.  Today there are over 100 men and women on the list of Living National Treasures in the category of crafts. Though there is no real equivalent to this distinction in our culture, you might compare it to MacArthur Genius Grant recipients or Nobel Prize winners, though these designees may be recognized in a diverse range of fields and Japan’s Living National Treasures are recognized for their skill and commitment in keeping traditional Japanese cultural aspects alive and thriving.

Will I be able to hear from any of the artists?

We’re glad you asked – yes!  Not only will you be able to view work from some of these Living National Treasures, you’ll also be able to hear from one, as well as another featured artist. We’ll be hosting a lecture with speakers Murose Kazumi and Men’ya Shōho on October 9, 2013. You’ll find details and ticket information here.

We hope you’ll join us for this exciting opportunity to see and hear from some of Japan’s top Kōgei artists!

Welcome the Newest Member of the Morikami Family

If you haven’t heard the news yet, we have a new Curator of Education! Shigeko Honda comes to us from the University of West Florida where she served as the Director of the Japan Center and the Japan House. We sat down with Shigeko-san for a quick Q&A so you can get to know her a little better. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: What did you do as the Director of the Japan Center and Japan House at the University of West Florida?

A: I supervised the Japanese language program, reviewed applications for the Florida-Japan Linkage Institute’s out-of-state-tuition exemption program, organized the annual U.S.-Japan Social Welfare symposium and Summer Semester in Japan program (in  collaboration with a partner college in Japan), organized Japanese cultural programs and events, handled displays at the Japan House, served as a liaison for our sister city (Gero) and sister state (Wakayama), managed volunteers, etc. 

Q: It sounds like you had a lot on your plate at UWF, but all of them seem to stem from your interest in fostering understanding between the U.S. and Japan. What initially made you want to spread your love of Japanese Culture in the U.S.?

A: I enjoy Japanese culture and thought that teaching and sharing it with American people would be a great way to keep learning about and enjoying it myself.

Q: We know you’re originally from Japan, but what city did you grow up in, and when did you come to the U.S.?

A: I was born and raised in a small town called Daigo in Ibaraki prefecture.  The town is surrounded by mountains and has four distinct and beautiful seasons.  I attended high school in Daigo and then went to Tokyo to attend college.  I came to the U.S. 33 years ago with my husband, who was originally from Pensacola.  I lived in Pensacola for the first 8 years, and then moved to Gulf Breeze where I lived for 25 years. I like to call Gulf Breeze and Pensacola my American hometowns. 

Q: Cuisine is one of our favorite things to talk about, so we just have to ask – what is your favorite American food?    

A: Steak.  Although I only eat steak every once in a while, I like a good steak grilled medium rare with a baked potato with sea salt.   

Q: Even though you’ve been in Florida for a while, you’ve only been with us a short time, so what has been your favorite part of working at Morikami so far?

A: Being able to be involved in such a significant event as the Kōgei Arts and Crafts exhibit that is sponsored by the Japanese government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Agency for Cultural Affairs as well as  the Consulate General of Japan in Miami has been great.  Not only do some of the objects in the exhibit come from the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, many of them are made by National Living Treasures. To be able to get involved at this scale in such a high level exhibit is truly a privilege.

Q: The Kōgei exhibit is certainly a big project, but are there any projects you are particularly excited to start working on here at Morikami after that?

A: Working with docents makes me very excited.  They are so knowledgeable and they’re wonderful people.  I would like to share with them what I know about Japanese culture and learn about Morikami from them.

Q: So, when you aren’t here learning from our top notch docents or helping others learn more about Japan what do you like to do in your free time?

A: After cleaning house, I like to arrange flowers and have a cup of tea and some quiet time.