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!

 

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.

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

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!

Introducing the Year of the Horse!

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!

MM1112 281 Oshugatsu Online Graphics_Versatile 700x280_V3.jpg

It’s that time of year, fans, where we gather together with family and friends, reflect on the year that has passed and look forward to the one to come. The holiday season can be a blur of activity, but it all culminates in one of our favorite events – Oshogatsu: A New Year’s Celebration!

The New Year is Japan’s most important and celebrated holiday, and many traditions and activities are included in the festivities. To get you prepared for our upcoming New Year’s festival, we’ll be explaining one or two of these traditions each Friday until January 12th. Check back each week to learn more about what makes Oshogatsu so special, and how we’ll interpret these traditions at the festival.

The Zodiac

Every year is named after one of the zodiac animals, and this year we celebrate the Year of the Horse for those born in 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, and 2014.  The zodiac was introduced to Japan from China and there are several tales of how the animals were selected and in what order. One of the most popular stories finds Buddha calling all the animals of the world to come to him on New Year’s Day. As a reward, he promises each one a gift. Only 12 animals came and each one was given the honor of having a year named for them. Their arrival time marks their esteemed position in the twelve-year cycle, with the rat always first and the boar forever last.

The Year of the Horse

People born in the same zodiac year are thought to share some of the same characteristics. Those born in the year of the horse are said to be skillful in paying compliments and in handling money and financial matters. They are also supposed to be talkative, quick thinkers, wise and talented. Horse people may also anger easily and be impatient.

For the upcoming year of the horse, we’d like to introduce you to our Oshogatsu mascot – Uma! We made an origami version of Uma to show her off to you, so follow us on Vine to check it out, or scroll down to see how to make an Uma of your own.

See you back here Friday, 12/20 when we’ll talk about Mochitsuki  – the rice pounding ceremony!

horse origami

We Want You!

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to go behind the scenes at a Morikami festival, or if you’re searching for a fun way to give back, search no further – volunteering at Lantern Festival gets you Morikami insider status and most of all, supports yours truly!

Volunteer responsibilities range from lantern building to helping out in the galleries and everything in between. We’re looking for individuals, small groups and large groups to help us make Lantern Festival a success. Volunteers are the backbone of our programs and events, so we thank you in advance for being such an integral part in this celebration.

Want to see what you’re in for? Check out the gallery below for snapshots of our volunteers in action and head over to our festival volunteer page to fill out an application. We’ll see you in October!

 

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Sign of Spring: Harutsugegusa

Sign of Spring: Harutsugegusa

The Morikami Museum’s annual spring festival “Hatsume” has become well known in Florida. This year the two day celebration will be March 19th and 20th. There is no Hatsume festival in Japan; however, if you know the meaning of the word, you would certainly appreciate and understand the naming of this celebration. Some readers who studied Japanese will figure out that “Hatsume” is the spring festival. The character of “hatsu” means the first or new, and “me” means a bud. Certainly, Floridians are enjoying soft warm spring weather. 

Gorgeous Japanese cherry blossoms are a sign of spring in Washington D.C. The National Cherry Blossom Festival will be March 26-April 10 this year.

Cherry blossoms in Japan, sakura, are beautiful in April, but there is an equally beautiful blossom enjoyed by Japanese and visiting foreigners at the end of February and early March before sakura bloom. These blossoms (pictured below) are a sign of spring in Japan. 

Guess the name of this tree!

Can you guess the name of this tree pictured? 

*Japanese call the blossom “harutsugegusa.” These three Japanese characters are spring, tell and plant, which translates as “sign of spring.” However, this is not a commonly known name.

*The plant is known by a number of different names in English. One of them is Japanese apricot.

*The tree originated in South China.

If you find out the name of tree, send your answer quick. The first to respond will receive  a pair of tickets to Hatsume Fair!

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!

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

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