Ōmisoka

Pictured above: mochitsuki or "rice pounding" at the Morikami during Oshogatsu, the annual New Year festival

by: Reiko Nishioka, Director of Education 

Ōmisoka is the last day of the year. It is a significant and also very busy day when families make final preparations for the New Year, Oshogatsu.  The preparation starts in the middle of December. Temples, shrines and many homes do a thorough house cleaning. Its purpose is to cleanse one’s mind and home of the past year’s accumulation of dust, dirt and soot. Toward the end of the year, businesses and organizations have a party called Bōnen-kai, which means a forget-the-year party. It is a year-end social gathering. Families start preparing special New Year foods and make mochi by pounding steamed rice and forming it into small cakes known as mochitsuki. (The Morikami will pound mochi at its Oshogatsu, New Year event January 9, 2011.)

Omisoka

Growing up in Japan, I could not wait to see the “Kōhaku Utagatsen” New Year Eve program, the most watched TV show of the year. It is a team singing contest between the most popular male and female singers each year. The program has been running for more than 50 years and has become an annual Ōmisoka event.

At the stroke of midnight, kane bells at the temples throughout the country ring 108 times. This is called joya no kane. I would stay up to watch joya no kane on TV and eat soba noodles. When we hear joya no kane, people stop their busy activities and calmly welcome the New Year.

Here’s a quiz for readers! Why do Japanese temple bells ring 108 times and why do people eat soba noodles on Ōmisoka?  The first person with the correct answer gets a pair of tickets to Oshogatsu!

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No Snow in SoFla! It’s Time for Morikami’s Outside Dining

December doesn’t seem like the time for iced green tea and hot miso soup. No, it’s the season of pumpkin pie and mulled cider.

Unless, of course, you live in South Florida – home of record temperatures. We sit in front of our TVs, watching blizzards and icy roads wreak havoc on our northern neighbors with the A/C running. It’s hot outside down here!

But not too hot to take in the outside dining pleasures of the Cornell Café. I was there a few days ago, sitting on the patio overlooking blue skies and the greenery of Roji-En. Me and about 25 others had figured out that the humidity had lessened and the rain had abated long enough for us to really enjoy an al fresco menu of Asian cuisine.

One iced green tea, bowl of miso soup, shrimp tempura roll and eggplant entrée later, I was perfect – just like the weather.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – I know it’s time for eggnog and carols on yuletide something or another. But if you live near me, it’s also time to eat outside at the Cornell Café before the bugs, dark clouds and oppressive stickiness of summer days return.

A table has your name on it.

A bento box features a sampling of the Cornell Cafe menu.

Outside dining in December at the Morikami? No sweat -- literally!

A Bit of Perspective on the Next Exhibit, Please

Curious about the next exhibit in the Morikami’s galleries? Read on…

Fusing elements of abstract expressionist painting with the textural nature of fabrics and the ruggedness of raw clay, Jun Kaneko is a prolific artist who contributed to one, if not the, most innovative movement in the history of American ceramic art.

From December 22 through March 7, the exhibit, Jun Kaneko, Ceramic Sculptures, Paintings and Drawings, will feature 50 works by Kaneko, an energetic contemporary artist known for his seven-foot-tall, half-ton “Dangos,” monolithic ceramic sculptures endearingly named for Kaneko’s favorite childhood treat: warm, sweet dumplings skewered on stick. Yes, seven-foot-tall, half ton pieces of hollow ceramic! One of the smallest pieces is 1,800 pounds. The man dreamt big!

When Susanna Brooks Lavallee, Curator of Japanese Art at The Morikami, answers what she enjoys most about the museum’s next exhibit, she talks about the “perfect storm” of time, the serendipitous environment and artistic influences that gave the world Jun Kaneko. What she appreciates most about Kaneko’s work is that “it transcends mediums – it is at once a drawing, a painting that uses clay as its canvas, and a sculpture. His work is intelligent, thought-provoking, and most of all engaging.”

When Jun Kaneko arrived in the United States from Japan in 1963, at the tender age of 17, he brought with him a skillful, energetic painting style and an eagerness to develop his artistic impulses more freely. With the aid of divine intervention and the support of his painting teacher in Japan, Kaneko was welcomed with open arms into the supportive, nurturing home of Fred and Mary Marer, avid collectors of a fresh, new style of contemporary ceramics being made by a group of intellectual potters in southern California. In the 1960s, ceramics was the number one industry in the state of California, and the Marers were perhaps the most devoted and passionate supporters of this experimental group of avant-garde potters that produced some of the most innovative and important ceramics of the era.

Kaneko’s arrival in California,  which led to his fortuitous acquaintance with the Marers, who introduced the young painter to the great ceramic movers and shakers of the time – Peter Voulkos and Paul Sondern among others – exemplifies the notion of “being at the right place at the right time.”

Would of any of the circumstances played out differently, Kaneko’s magnificent and magical clay works might never have been realized? Brooks Lavallee adds that Kaneko’s contributions to ceramics is not limited to the United States, but extends also to Japan, where his work plays an important role in the study and development of new kilns and clay methods and in the shaping and formation of contemporary Japanese ceramics as a whole.

Take a peek at some preview images, then stop by The Morikami and see up close!

Feeling That Holiday Stress? Beat Some Big Drums…

Shopping, cooking, wrapping, working. Repeat. Repeat. And repeat again. Throw in making holiday parties on top of holiday deadlines, out-of-town visitors and/or holiday travel, and you, my friend, may need some drum therapy.

Yes, we all know the grand holidays are the days of joy, mirth and more than a little good eating. But with all that merriment comes a fair share of stress, and there’s no better way to relieve that teeth-grinding feeling than beating a big, round taiko drum.

I know because I’ve done it. The Morikami tapped into the curiosity in the festival crowds and gave their visitors a chance to bang that drum. It’s not as easy or as coordinated as it looks — especially for the untalented and uninformed.

My family and I took the opportunity to attend a taiko drum workshop in the Morikami’s theatre. First, you get an education on the purpose of the drums, the lore they hold and the power they encompass. The one-hour verbal lesson by a leading member of the performing ensemble, Fushu Daiko, is supposed to prepare you for the physical part of the lesson.  It does not.

That’s because nothing readies you to hold two wooden sticks in your hands, get into a deep warrior pose and pound away for a second hour. You sweat, you ache, you get a little dizzy, and you look and sound just awful. (Getting good takes years. Being bad takes no time at all!) But you do receive a deep, abiding respect for the art and skill of mastering taiko drumming; and you’re so tired, you don’t have time to be stressed.

Three workshops are coming up on December 6 at 10:15 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 3 p.m. If you’re thinking someone in your life would appreciate a workshop, gift them the pleasure. Upcoming workshops, also held three in a day, are January 31, Feburary 28 and March 28. They are $50 per person. Call 561-495-0233, ext. 210 for reservations. Space is limited.

The Morikami recommends wearing comfortable clothes and shoes and no jewelry. I recommend eating your Wheaties, drinking some water and planning to nap afterwards. Really.

Does he look stressed to you? Try taiko yourself on Dec. 6 at The Morikami.