Memories of Bon – A Festival like No Other

After so many years, it’s hard to recall when the memories were made exactly, but the images remain like postcards from the Morikami in my mind… Every summer, the Morikami closes for one Saturday in August to open in the late afternoon for Obon, the cultural celebration that welcomes back spirits who have passed away for an evening of fun and music.

At the end of the festival, lanterns inscribed with messages to the spirits are set adrift on Morikami Pond, sending the loved ones back to the afterworld, as fireworks light the way.

This year, Bon is August 14 from 4-9 p.m. at the Morikami. If you have never been, wear comfy shoes and clothes, arrive early and marvel at the mix of humanity – because everyone goes to Bon sooner or later. Buy tickets at www.morikami.org/bon

Here are a few of my favorite recollections of Obon:

Bon Memory #1: Dancing in front of the Bon Odori stage with the kimono-clad Chitose Kai dancers should make you feel somewhat idiotic, but it doesn’t. The dancers are so elegant, and they’re all smiling at you, which makes you feel like you’re doing it right – even though you just learned the steps. Just step and wave, step and wave, step and wave…

Bon Memory #2: Standing at the base of the steps leading up to the Museum and the Cornell Café, pondering whether you want a meal with an eggroll from the Café or a piece of meat on a stick with Japanese beer from the fun, food vendors. Roll or stick, roll or stick, roll or stick…

Bon Memory #3: Just how warm and sticky can it get in South Florida on an August evening outside?? The world may never know, but you’re close to finding out…

Bon Memory #4: Seeing the message to your late aunt written on a lantern sleeve floating on the water among the many other lanterns, as you think you “feel” her in the air…

Bon Memory #5: A little boy sits motionless on his father’s shoulders watching the lantern-spirits float away, then tilts his head back and takes in the fireworks, still motionless, in little boy awe.

Bon Odori dancers

Bon lanterns

Obon fireworks

Advertisements

Next Month, Make A Wish Upon a Star…

OK, wishing on a star is a Disney theme, I know. But it is very fitting for a romantic (but not mushy) pastime at the Morikami.

From July 7-14, a bamboo tree will be in the museum lobby for visitors to decorate with their wishes written on colored paper streamers, or tanzaku, which symbolize the weaving of threads. Tanabata is a week of wishing, so to speak, for anything you want the Universe to receive. The activity is sweet and romantic if you know a bit about the back story –

Tanabata originated more than 2,000 years ago with an old Chinese tale called Kikkoden. Once there was a weaver princess named Orihime and a cow herder prince named Hikoboshi living in space. After they got together, they were playing all the time and forgot about their jobs. The king was angry at them and separated them on opposite sides of the Amanogawa River (Milky Way).

The king allowed them to meet only once a year on July 7th. This is why tanabata is also known as the star festival. It’s believed that Orihime and Hikoboshi can’t see each other if July 7th is rainy, so people pray for good weather and also make wishes for themselves.

To hang a wish is free and filled with tradition and another reason to swing by the Morikami this summer. There are so many cool stories behind Japanese traditions it makes you wonder if Walt Disney grabbed the idea of wishing on a star from another culture.

Things that make you say “Hmmmm……”

Make a Wish Upon a Tree at the Morikami

We Never Get Tired of Toys!

The new exhibit at the Morikami, which runs through October 17, is a throwback to a simpler, gentler time, when monsters came in the form of giant lizards or creatures from outer space that tore up cities with their giant feet and laser rays.

What fun!

Kaijū! Monster Invasion! features more than 100 toy figurines from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, inspired by Japanese tokusatsu films and TV shows. Remember Godzilla terrorizing the people, as they ran from his fire-breathing wrath? Before the days of 3D animation, CGI and other digital effects, it was a stuntman, in what was probably a really hot rubber suit, moving about on a miniature set. Back then, the special effects were called tokusatsu eiga, typically using an fx technique called sutsumeishon, or suitmation.

While my teenage sons might not be impressed by it, it seemed real enough and scary enough to me. (I was born in 1968; you do the math.)

The popularity of the show, which opened June 1, is already evidenced by the 100-plus hits the Morikami’s video  garnered on YouTube in only three days. Visitors, bloggers and sci-fi lovers are appreciating the loveable charm of Kaijū! Monster Invasion!

I mean, seriously, who gets tired of toys? No matter the age or gender, everyone can relate to a good, plastic action figure ready to tear apart the city in your imagination. The show is actually part of one person’s extensive, private collection, so just consider it playtime with culture – over at the house of the friend who has the really good toy box.

To see Tom Gregersen, senior curator of the Morikami, explain the delightful allure of Kaijū! Monster Invasion!, click here.

Kaiju! Monsters!

Decorating in Small Spaces

In a garden as large and as varied as the Roji-En, it can be very easy to overlook a small patch that is not as pretty as it could be …

But the staff that maintains and grooms the Morikami gardens aren’t into overlooking things, even a space as small as 10′ x 5′. Instead, they re-imagined such a space into a spot of inspiration and beauty.

In the Nelson Memorial Garden, there is now a lovely raked rock garden where there used to be only potential.  Staff used three existing small boulders, added a stone border and about a cubic yard of fine pea gravel — a feat easily replicated in a home garden or backyard for those looking for a project.

The staff finished its garden just in time for the Morikami’s Mother’s Day program, and it’s now available for admirers all summer long. Just like any other designer with a space too small to be elaborate but too big to ignore, the garden staff decided on its own to make the most of the area by using elements consistent with the rest of the Roji-En, designed by Hoichi Kurisu.

Visitors can find the new addition between the Modern Garden and South Gate of Roji-En. As it’s been said before, “sometimes less is more.”

Garden staff recreated a small area in Roji-En into a spot of inspiration.

Summer is Here! Time for Sushi, Strolls and Sunsets

When the Morikami first introduced its evening events for the summer, then known as Sunset Strolls, it was part of an attempt to get people to visit the gardens when it wasn’t 102 degrees in the shade.

The early evening events used to have an early-morning counterpart, Sunrise Strolls. However, it seemed like more people liked hanging out late than getting up early, so after a few years, Sunrise Strolls slowly faded away. As time passed, the Sunset Strolls grew a following — a hungry following — so the Cornell Cafe got in on the act.

The events were re-named Sushi & Stroll, a DJ showed up, a couple came and danced on the terrace, and people would lounge among the languid temperatures and chill in the Roji-En. Before things got too relaxed, someone brilliant came up with the great idea to add the energy of taiko drumming to the mix.  Now for a few dollars more, strollers can take in a taiko concert before or after their sushi.

Sushi & Stroll has evolved from a good idea to a great idea to a “why didn’t I see you at the Morikami on Friday night?” idea. It has become the perfect end to a hectic workweek, a chillaxin’ beginning to the weekend or a nature-inspired, sexy-back date night kinda thang.

What do you mean you’ve never been??!

OK, here are the dates: May 14, June 11, July 9, August 20, September 10; time: 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Cost: $7 adults, $5 children (4-17) (Museum members and children 3 and under FREE); $2 for taiko performance (optional)

I invite you to check out the “evolution” of an event for yourself — when it’s not 102 degrees in the shade.

Chillax by the Morikami Falls at the upcoming Sushi & Strolls this summer.

There Is Hope for the Future – Teenagers Aren’t So Bad!

I am the mother of two teens – two boys ages 15 and 16 – and I wonder what I think a lot of older people wonder when they gaze upon our next generation – “Are we going to be OK?”

Teenagers don’t exactly inspire confidence most of the time. Chores have to be spelled out in great detail, like they have forgotten how to clean; gaming replaces homework; texting replaces talking; and TV/DVR replaces the great outdoors.

However, there is hope, as evidenced on April 13 at the Morikami Museum, when an entire class of teenagers arrived with a check for $1,000, as a donation for the museum’s children’s programs. The Japan Club of Western High School in Davie, Florida, had picked up trash and sold cookies to raise the four figures because they believe in the continuance of sharing Japanese culture with younger generations.

(Insert sigh of relief here.)

The president of the club, who started it with a mere handful of students and grew it to more than 50, was a petite, well-spoken brunette named Ashley Rudolph. Articulate and humble, she represented the fact that we’re going to be OK.

With a shy smile, she introduced her dad, Jay, who was following her around with a camera, documenting his daughter’s final triumphs as a high school senior. Ashley was leaving for college in the fall, and dad was a reluctant “empty nester.” He revealed that Ashley wanted to pursue a career in the Japanese arts and history, hence the club and all the support.

The Japan Club of Western High School dropped off the check, respectfully stood for a short speech from a board member, mugged for some pictures, wandered the gardens and the galleries, had lunch at the Cornell Café and enjoyed the day. I watched them, thinking, “Teenagers aren’t so bad after all.” Really.

Japan Club at the Morikami

Creating 10,000 Turtles

With a few folds of colored paper, supporters of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens will find out that it is not that hard at all to make an origami turtle, while at the same time supporting the museum’s children’s programs.

This Saturday, the Morikami will kick-off its new “10,000 Turtles” initiative with a taiko drumming performance by Fushu Daiko as part of Asian Heritage Night at Roger Dean Stadium. For a suggestion donation of $1, a family can purchase the materials and instructions for creating an origami turtle.

Kids will be invited to fold 10,000 origami turtles – a symbol of longevity in Japanese culture – for a special art display in the Morikami Museum.   The money raised will help keep the Morikami’s children’s programs going.

Visitors will be able to make their turtle at the Morikami all summer long or purchase and download the materials via the website (www.morikami.org), and mail in the $1 donation and origami animal. The program will continue through September 30, 2010.

“Thanks to the support of lead sponsor Charles James Real Estate, we will be taking this hands-on, kid-focused campaign to the campers and visiting families who love the Morikami,” said Amy Hever, director of advancement.  “During the summer, the campers who participate in MORY (More Opportunities to Reach Youth) will also have an opportunity to make their turtle.”

“In essence, we are creating a way for kids to enjoy all that the Morikami has to offer them.”

The “10,000 Turtles” project will be in the lobby of the Morikami through September 30. Let’s get ready to fold!

Taking a Walk Down Taiko Memory Lane

This weekend, the taiko drumming ensemble, Fushu Daiko, will perform for the 20th time at Hatsume. Hatsume Fair is the Morikami’s springtime festival, spanning two days and 14 hours of fun. (11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday)

I’ve been working with the Morikami for the past 10 years; so for half that time, I have witnessed Fushu Daiko’s thundering influence on Hatsume crowds. Amazing cannot describe the energy and excitement when they take the stage.

When I first started writing for the museum, I knew NOTHING of taiko drumming, so my family and I traveled down to their warehouse-like studios in western Ft. Lauderdale. They were rehearsing at night, and we stood silently by and listened. It felt like a train was barreling through that bay. The wooden sticks flew up and down in synchronized rhythms, as people of all shapes and sizes, sweated out the music. It looked more like a workout than a musical performance. Of course, it was both.

I learned that when my family and I took a taiko drumming workshop at the Morikami several years later. Inside the auditorium, we were paired up with a big taiko drum and a pair of fat wooden sticks. You assume a warrior-type, yoga stance to support your body and hit the drum with measured ferocity. Everything hurts when you’re done. Your back, your legs, your hands, your arms.

At that moment, when I walked off the auditorium stage, sweaty and tired, I gained new respect for the men and women of Fushu Daiko, who perform three times a day for two days at Hatsume in sets that can last for 30 minutes or more.

A few rules have emerged over years of watching Fushu Daiko at Hatsume:

1) Stake a seat early if you want to see the action up close. By the time the drums start thundering, it’s standing room only, and I always get stuck behind a really tall dude.

2) If it’s hot, wear sunscreen, but don’t put up an umbrella or some other covering. It’s not nice to the people behind you, who want to see the stage too!

3) Don’t expect the drummers to be Japanese. There are some drummers of Japanese heritage in Fushu Daiko, but the diversity on stage is representative of the diversity of South Florida – black, white, Hispanic, male, female, young, old(er) – all have become part of the troupe that sends the booming message that it’s Hatsume time!

Happy Anniversary, Fushu Daiko!

Fushu Daiko Excites Hatsume Crowds for 20th Time This Weekend

Is it Worth the $12?

Last week, coming out of the Morikami Museum, I was stopped by a stranger.

“Is it worth the $12?” he asked me. Tall with a friendly face, he seemed safe enough, so I stopped to hear him out. “You looked like you just went through it. Is it worth the 12 bucks? I’m the tour guide for my sister here, and we don’t know if it’s worth it to go inside.”

He was quickly joined in front of me by a kind-looking, petite blonde woman. His sister was visiting from out of town and was obviously ready for some form of entertainment; but since her brother was footing the bill, she was following his lead.

“Well, what are you into?” I asked.

“She’s an interior designer,” he said, pointing to his sister. “I live here, but I’ve never been.”

I mused that two people would get all the way to the entrance of a Japanese museum and gardens, and then stop to consider their options based on the admission price. But ah well…

“You’re an interior designer,” I said, looking at the woman. She nodded. “OK, well, from that standpoint, you will definitely get inspiration for design and aesthetics from strolling the gardens. The design is not one of a traditional botanical garden, but of a more organic combination of plants and textures designed to make you slow down and contemplate their beauty. You’ll see what I mean when you walk under the canopy of the bamboo trees or sit at the raked pebble gardens or past the two waterfalls. Even the wooden benches complement the overall design.

“Inside, the exhibit is of the huge sculptures of a modern Japanese artist, Jun Kaneko. Some of the sculptures are as large as small cars, and whole rooms can be built around them. They are dramatic and colorful and really not what you’d expect from a Japanese artist.

“And if you just want to shop, the Museum Store has the best decorating items. Vases, plates, bowls, wall hangings, rain chains, kimono, even knick-knacks for a little Japanese inspiration.

“From an interior design standpoint, you should find it a lot of fun.”

She looked at me, then at her brother.

“Pay the $12.”

I hope they had a good time.

Morikami Falls is one of many reasons why the Morikami is worth $12!

Reason #312 Why I Love the Morikami…Cherry Blossoms

OK, I might be hard pressed to come up with the first 311 reasons why I adore the Morikami, but the sentiment remains … the quirky, cultural, natural nature of this place never fails to impress me.

Reason #312: Where else in south Florida would you find small, delicate trees abloom with small, delicate cherry blossoms?

After a recent, cold snap here that left us all much more appreciative of our normal temperatures, a small group of trees that had been planted as an experiment in the gardens began to color with pink and white cherry blossoms. The winter temperatures compelled them to bloom for the first time in a long while. Short-lived, the temporary phenomenon was captured by local newspapers and photographers.

According to the marketing team,  some visitors who were compelled by the news coverage to visit were a bit disappointed by how small the 5-foot cherry trees were in actuality. But the loveliness and rarity of the flowers outside of their native Japan couldn’t be denied.

After working with and for the Morikami crew for almost 10 years, I really do enjoy the unusual, funny, and completely unique stories that come out of this museum. Memories that linger are the exhibits that featured the varied photographic views of Mt. Fuji in all its majesty and the personal accessories of a real-life geisha; enjoying a banana and cream cheese-filled eggroll (yes, eggroll) topped with whipped cream and raspberry sauce; beating a taiko drum and realizing what sweaty work it is; and seeing how excited a two-year-old can get tossing a fat koi more food than it really needs in a day.

I guess those are reasons #214, #45; #12 and #133!

Missed the cherry blossoms? Here’s the link to the Palm Beach Post/Sun-Sentinel article — Cherry Blossoms!

Cherry Blossoms bloom at the Morikami after a recent cold snap.