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

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Nuptials in Nature, Morikami Does it Well

Years ago, a friend of mine got married at the Morikami.

If you’ve ever been to a wedding, overlooking Morikami Pond, surrounded by nature’s decorations, you know how it is. It’s gorgeous, a little sweaty and totally unique. The birds are chirping quietly, the water is moving gently, the breeze is blowing slowly, as you watch your best friend connect with his/her love, hopefully for the rest of their lives.

There is definitely something magical about being married among nature.

Granted, it’s a little scary. Rain? Bugs? Noise? Allergies? Yep. Yep. Yep and Yep. All definite possibilities. The sun may be a bit too bright that day or the heat too oppressive, for sure. You worry about stuff like hairdos falling and grooms sweating out of their expensive tuxedos.

But when it all goes right (or when nothing big goes wrong, depending upon your point of view), absolutely nothing beats a wondrous sunset, the twinkling of the night sky, or a robin’s egg-blue sky with a lovely breeze swaying the bamboos just so. Because nature never repeats.

Every time, it’s  different, special, one of a kind. I’ve been to the Morikami so many times, but I will always remember Erin and Kevin’s wedding. She was beautiful. He was handsome. And the evening was perfect, as the Morikami gardens put on a special show.

This is the season for weddings. Despite the humidity, temperatures, flying skeeters and biting gnats, couples are still tying the knot at the Morikami Falls, Morikami Pond, on the bridge  or under the trees.  If you’re invited to a summer, Morikami wedding, wear cotton or linen, a simple up-do and light makeup — then consider yourself lucky.

Because then you’ll know how it is. Just amazing.

A wedding at the Morikami, nothing like it

So unique, so natural, so Morikami

Posing on Morikami's bridge...

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!

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!

5 Fast, Fun Facts About The Morikami’s Gardens (Wow Your Neighbors. Impress Your Friends.)

Did you know…

1) George Sukeji Morikami donated his land to Palm Beach County in the 1970s with the wish to preserve it as a park and to honor the memory of the Yamato Colony?

2) One of the garden’s features is a traditional gravestone for Mr. Morikami, which was erected in 1989 as a gift from the people of Miyazu, Morikami’s home town. The adjacent marker memorializes Jo Sakai and Mitsusaburo Oki, founders of the Yamato Colony?

3) Literally meaning “tray planting,” bonsai are trees or groupings of trees artistically shaped and cultivated in a container. The Morikami’s collection is the most outstanding public display of the living art of bonsai in the southeastern United States emphasizing species which flourish in Florida?

4) From Rocky Point in Roji-En, a visitor has a captivating view in every direction?

5) Plants are not identified by signage within the gardens in order to encourage looking at the gardens as a whole. Indigenous and adapted plant materials have been selected for their qualities similar to plants found in Japan rather than the large-leafed tropical plants typical of South Florida?

Bonsai

Bonsai gardens are one of the attractions of The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens