What is Obon? Exploring One of Japan’s Most Important Holidays

During the summer observance of Obon, families in Japan reunite to give homage and thanks to their ancestors, who have returned for a brief visit to the living. Many families set up special altars in their homes decorated with food offerings for these visiting spirits, which may include vegetables, dango (rice dumplings), noodles, and fruits. Candles, special paper lanterns called bon chochin, and incense may also be placed on the Bon Altar. Vegetable animals – a horse made from a cucumber or an ox made out of eggplant – serve as symbolic transport for ancestors to return to the otherworld. At Morikami, we set up a Bon Altar inside the museum to honor our ancestors, including George Morikami. We hope you’ll observe this tradition with us when you visit Saturday, August 16 or Sunday, August 17.

Throughout three days of festivities, communities gather for Bon Odori, folk dancing, to entertain the visiting spirits. Men, women and children dance around a platform stage called a yagura on which drummers and flutists perform.  As the evening progresses, the singing and dancing become more animated.  Lively street fairs complete with games, food, and shop stalls pop up in larger communities. On the final evening, the visiting spirits depart on a journey illuminated by farewell fires—floating paper lanterns.  This ceremony is called tōrō nagashi.

While Obon is a traditional and religious Japanese holiday celebrated exclusively during the months of July or August, we offer a glimpse into Obon as it is celebrated in Japan, with Lantern Festival – a unique fall festival coming up Saturday, October 18. Tickets for members are on sale through August 31 and ticket sales open to the public on September 1. Tickets are expected to sell out and are only available online in advance at www.morikami.org/lanternfest. We hope you’ll join us at our most iconic annual event!

 

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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.

We Asked, You Answered: The Top Samurai Movies of All Time

Japan’s infamous ancient warriors are the inspiration for Morikami’s newest exhibit and countless classic flicks. We asked YOU for your favorite Samurai film, and came away with a list of decades-old stand-bys and ultra-modern interpretations.  In no particular order, here’s the final Samurai film round-up:

1. The Last Samurai (2003)

Why it topped your list: According to Jennifer, “The choice of actors/actresses was perfect and you could tell the amount of time and precision that went in to making the movie. Also, the sets and scenery are breathtaking and just made me want to visit Japan even more. I never get tired of watching it.” In Sean’s words, “Authentic filming in Kyoto and told the actual story of how the samurai’s services were deemed obsolete. A huge turning point in the history and economy in Japan.”

2. Seven Samurai (1954)

Why it topped your list: In Fyg’s words, “It showed the pathos of a samurai’s life and the class differences of feudal Japan.” Joe sums it up this way: “Everything else just tries to be as great as this classic.”

3. Zatoichi (The Blind Swordsman) (2003)

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003) Poster

Why it topped your list: “A great example of ‘the art of drawing the sword,'” says Kathleen.

4. 47 Ronin (2013)

Why it topped your list: Jessie raves, “It meshed tradition, culture, and the supernatural into one perfect fantastical adventure! Pure movie magic!”

5. Shogun Assassin (1980)

Why it topped your list: Greg says, “Very moody with great music and action. Tomisiburo Wakayama is the man. Oh, and over-the-top bloody sword fights. Tough to beat.”

We’re just a bucket of popcorn away from a marathon weekend of Samurai-movie viewing – thanks to you! Our recommendation? Get this list into your Netflix queue and queue up here this summer. While tales of the Samurai from the big screen to our galleries hold timeless appeal, our exhibit won’t be around forever – check us out before August 31!

 

 

The Lanterns of Roji-en

Toro (literally “light basket” or “light tower”) originated, like many elements of traditional Japanese architecture, in China. Originally, lanterns were only used in Japan to line the paths of  Buddhists temples. Stone lanterns were eventually popularized during the Momoyama period (1568-1600) by tea masters, who used them to decorate their gardens.

Many different types of lanterns can be found throughout Roji-en. Some are strategically placed just downstream from a waterfall, overlooking a water feature, or lining a path, but all serve mostly as decoration. Here are a few common styles of stone lanterns found in Roji-en, and where to look for them.

Kasuga-doro.  This lantern is a tachi-gata, or pedestal type, and represented a guardian at the entrances of temples or tea gardens. Kasuga-doro lanterns can be seen around the South Gate, Challenger Point, the Yamato-kan bridge and Yamato Island.

Challenger

Rokkaku Yukimi.  This lantern is known as the “snow-viewing” lantern.  The upturned roof catches snow, inviting viewers to appreciate a garden in a season when most gardens are frozen. This type of lantern can be found at the Modern Garden overlooking the pond.

Yukimi

KotojiKotoji means “harp tuner.”  The two legs of this lantern resemble the tuning forks of the koto, a quintessential Japanese instrument.  One leg of the lantern stands on land while the other dips into the water, reflecting the interdependence of land and water.  A kotoji lantern can also be referred to as a “wet foot-dry foot” lantern.  This type of lantern can be seen in our Modern Garden creek.

kotoji

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.

Lantern Festival In the Spirit of Obon 2014

What is Lantern Festival?

Last year, Morikami’s much-loved summer event, Bon Festival,  evolved into Lantern Festival: In the Spirit of Obon. In an effort to protect the safety of Morikami visitors and staff, we moved the event out of the often inclement and even dangerous Florida summer months. While Obon is a traditional and religious Japanese holiday celebrated exclusively during the months of July and August, we have preserved the essence of Morikami’s much-loved event and the sanctity of Obon as it is celebrated in Japan, with Lantern Festival – a unique Fall celebration.

The 2013 Lantern Festival, our first ever, was a resounding and sold-out success. As we look toward 2014, we wanted to update you on some important changes to the event and explain why we’re making them.

NEW – Priority Access for Members!

Based on your feedback following Lantern Festival last year, and in an effort to improve your Lantern Festival experience, we intend to limit attendance even further at this year’s event. In order to do so, we can no longer offer free admission to Lantern Festival for Morikami members. However, members will have access to a limited amount of deeply discounted tickets before they go on sale to the public, and priority access to the festival one hour before the gates open to the public.* Priority access is a perk just for members and details about what’s included in this extra hour of festival access are available under the member tab on the festival web page and listed below:

  • Access to the festival one hour early: Take in the gardens and grounds, and participate in festival activities with your Morikami family during this members-only hour.
  • Early bird lantern sales (limited quantities available): beat the rush and get your lantern an hour before the general public!
  • Members-only taiko show: Grab a seat at this exclusive performance by the ever-popular Fushu Daiko!
  • Special members-only sake selection: Taste our members-only sake selection and learn about the brewing process from our sake experts.

A limited number of members-only tickets will go on sale August 1, a month before ticket sales open to the general public. Thank you – as always! – for your support as we strive to make our events more enjoyable year after year. We can’t wait to celebrate Lantern Festival 2014 with you!

*Please note: only current members (with valid member ID’s effective on October 18, 2014) may take advantage of members-only festival access, between 2pm and 3pm. Any guests attending with you must be covered by your membership to enter the festival during this time.

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!

Valentine’s Day and White Day in Japan

For those of you counting down, there are only seven shopping days left before the much anticipated (or dreaded) Valentine’s Day! In preparation, we talked with Education Director, Shigeko Honda, about an interesting tradition called White Day that sprang up around Valentine’s Day in Japan. Here’s what we learned:

 Valentine’s Day first became popular in Japan in the 1960s. Women would buy a number of boxes of giri-choco (義理チョ コ), “courtesy chocolate,” and tomo-choco (友 チョコ), chocolate for her female friends, and distribute them around the office to friends or acquaintances.  She would purchase an expensive box of honmei-choco (本命チョ コ) chocolate of love, and another gift, such as a necktie, for her special someone.

As the holiday became more and more widely celebrated, the confectionery industry started to sell white sweets as return Valentine gifts, since in Japan, henrei (返礼), “returning the favor,” is considered important etiquette.  The Japan National Confectionery Association eventually designated March 14 as White Day in 1980, giving men an official day to return the favor. Traditionally popular White Day gifts include cookies, jewelry, white chocolate, white lingerie, and marshmallows.

Stores in Japan take advantage of the Japanese feelings of obligation and promote White Day by giving men plenty of reminders and incentives in the form of White Day sales and special White Day markets. Here are a few examples:

While White Day hasn’t officially taken off here in the states, we think it’s a great way to say thank you!

P.S. If you’re still looking for some sweets for your sweetie, or even your best friends (Gal-entine’s Day anyone?) may we suggest something from the Museum Store? We’re stocked with Japanese snacks and sweets, as well an array of jewelry, clothing, accessories, and more! Stop by or visit us online and check out our selection. We’re sure you’ll find something for everyone on your Valentine’s/White Day list.