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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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.

All Different Ways to Love the Morikami

There is a wall in the museum lobby that is adorned with names of people who are no longer with us. They share the common thread of loving the Morikami while they were alive.

One of those people, Rod Urhausen, had his name added recently to the shiny plaques on the wall, courtesy of his parents, Roy and Ruth Urhausen of West Palm Beach. The Urhausens gave a gift in memoriam for Rod, their only son, who died of brain and stomach cancer in 2004 at the age of 52.

Born into a musical family, Rod, a musical arranger, vocal coach, show producer and song writer, had spent some time in Japan, writing a script for play, before moving to New Jersey and New York. After a painful fight, he passed away, and his parents threw his ashes into the Pacific Ocean together.

But their remembrance of him continued with his name adorning a venue he adored.

“Rod visited us, but he never moved here. He did a lot of work in New York. We took him to the Morikami several times, an average of every other month. He loved to meditate there,” said his father.

Loving parents, they described Rod as a person everyone liked. He was good with children, a great teacher, a kind soul, a real talent, a well-mannered child with big, blue eyes and blond hair. Roy remembered a friend saying about Rod, “if you knock them out like that, you should have a dozen.”

But Roy and Ruth didn’t have a dozen. They didn’t have three or two. Just the one. And they loved him so, and he loved the Morikami.

When people walk into the lobby, for a moment, they should know that there are names on a wall. Names of people who saw what they see, heard what they hear and touched what they touch, and they thought so much of it, they became a part of it.

Rod Urhausen was one of those people, and we’re glad he’s a part of what makes the Morikami so special.

The Urhausen family together, Rod, Ruth and Roy

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!

It’s Season, Baby!

Yesterday, at the Morikami Museum, it was bustling.

Mid-day on a Tuesday, people were mingling in the Museum Store, checking out the Jun Kaneko exhibit with its massive pieces, curiously poking around the library and meandering through the gardens.

But I really knew it was cooking — literally — by the line at the Cornell Cafe. By 1:30 p.m., there was a wait for sushi, iced green tea and teriyaki anything.

One of the longtime staffers explained the crowds to me in three words, “It’s season, baby!” The temperatures were leveling off to a moderate 70-degree range, the clouds were high, the sun bright and the humidity was low. If there was a snowbird, out of town guest or visiting family member, it felt like they all chose to stop by the Morikami that day.

With our unseasonable cold, cold snap over, we’ve put away our leather jackets and boots and returned to our cotton scarves and flip-flops. January, February, March and April are when the museum pops with people. They are there for lectures, exhibits, classes, festivals… Next up, Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) and Hatsume (March 20-21)!

Just sitting in the lobby, watching them come and go, it’s really cool to see so many people taking in the beauty of the place. It’s season, baby; welcome, everyone!

It's Season at the Morikami, which means lots of visitors!