Q&A with the Curator: Who’s Genji?

Our current exhibit Genji’s World Through Japanese Woodblock Prints is open and ready for your visit, but some of you may be wondering – Who is Genji? We sat down with Curator of Collections, Veljko Dujin, to answer just that, and some of those other burning questions you might want answers to before visiting us. Here’s what we learned:

Who is/was Genji?

 Prince Genji, also known as Hikaru Genji, or the Shining Prince Genji,  was the fictitious son of an Emperor and his favorite concubine. Ever since Murasaki Shikibu wrote the novel The Tale of Genji, he’s been a popular figure in Japanese literature, theater and art.

 Why is Genji, and the Tale of Genji, such an important part of Japanese culture?

 Over time the popularity of Genji broadened from the Imperial court to the broader public. Parts of the novel originally appeared around the year 1008, and by Murasaki Shikibu’s  death (around the year 1025) the work was made into its final form of about 54 chapters.  The novel’s influence has long out-lived its author who was cruicial in developing Japanese as a written language. In fact, The Tale of Genji became required reading for court poets as early as the 12th century, and she has been highly regarded as a classical writer ever since. Murasaki had a lasting impact on Japanese literature, culture and art that hinged on this novel.

 What can guests expect to see in our Genji exhibit?

Woodblock prints. There are many great prints in this exhibit from some of the best known 19th century artists. By the 19th century Genji monogatari (or Genji epics) were tremendously popular in Japan, and while in the centuries prior many fine pieces of art were produced with scenes from the tale, most were one-of-a-kind paintings, either in the form of hand-scrolls, screens, accordion albums or scrolls. With woodblock prints, they were made available to the masses.

In the 1820’s a parody, originally published as a serial (several of the booklets are on display) called A Rustic Genji by Fradulent Murasaki, generated so much interest in Genji monogatari, that well over 1000 different prints were produced in the following decades. These prints depict scenes from both the original Genji and Ryutai Tanehiko’s 1820’s parody.

 Is there anything our guests should look for specifically (i.e. certain symbolism, images, or deeper meanings) in these prints?

 There are layers of symbolism in the Genji prints, so one has to be very familiar with the novels to be able to understand some of the subtle implications in some of the prints. In a few prints, however, viewers can see Genji-mon or Genji crests, which are rectilinear groupings of 5 vertical lines and one or two horizontal lines at the top. These were developed to correspond to each of the 54 chapters in the original novel, and are often placed on prints. They were commonly used in shell matching games where players try to match the two halves of a shell. One half  of the shell would have a Genji mon (like the ones on the prints) and the other half would have either a verse or an image from the corresponding chapter in The Tale of Genji.

 Which is your favorite piece in this exhibit and why?

 That would be two prints depicting the winter pastimes of  some ladies in waiting at the court. They are making a snow-rabbit in one and snow-frog in the other. I really like this particular print because it alludes to fun tradition that goes along with making these snow-creatures in the winter. Generally bets were placed on how long before the snow sculpture defrosted, or if they made two, like in this print, which one would last longer. 

 Anything else?

 Please come and see the exhibit, it is a great collection, seldom seen! We’ll also be hosting a lecture as part of our Speaker Series with Sarah Thompson of MFA, Boston. She’ll be speaking specifically about how Genji was translated to art and the Kabuki stage on April 17th. Don’t forget to check out Keeping in Touch: Culture of letter-writing in Japan, the other exhibit we have on display now, for some interesting artifacts, letters and more. 

Kunisada Woodblock Print, Genji's World Through Japanese Woodblock Prints at Morikami

 

Advertisements

Guest Blog: Aaron Woolfolk, Director of The Harimaya Bridge

One of our favorite programs by the Morikami education department is our yearly Speaker Series. This month we’re excited to host a screening of The Harimaya Bridge, and a talk by its award-winning director, Aaron Woolfolk. We asked Aaron to share a bit about the film here for you in advance of his lecture next Friday, and he delivered with this wonderful peek behind the scenes at the making of the film. Read on for his one-of-a-kind perspective on the challenges and successes of making The Harimaya Bridge, and join us next week to see this inspiring film and Aaron in person. Enjoy!

The Harimaya Bridge: When the Rain Is Your Friend
By Aaron Woolfolk

One of the compliments I often receive about my film The Harimaya Bridge, which will be shown at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens on February 21st, is the way the beauty of the deep Japanese countryside is captured by the cinematography. Indeed, from the time I started conceiving the story in my head and putting it to paper (or, rather, computer), I was intent on showing the majesty of the land in Kochi-ken, the rural prefecture I lived and worked in before setting off on my journey to become a filmmaker.

But it nearly didn’t work out that way. In fact, The Harimaya Bridge as it is now — a drama told amid clear blue skies and the lush greens of mountains and rice fields — could just as well have had that lovely backdrop replaced by continuous rains and monsoon-like conditions.

In many cases, when a movie is filmed is determined not by the needs of the story, but by those of key elements of the production. Creating the schedule means, for example, finding a time when the actors (who might be very busy and in-demand) are available. The same goes for getting an experienced crew. Many times you have to take what you can get. For The Harimaya Bridge, which had the good fortune of casting several popular and respected actors (including the internationally-known Danny Glover), it was determined that the best window for shooting the film would be in June and early July. Because the next available window would not be for several months — and because one never knows what will happen when a film shoot is postponed for so long — we went with the June plan.

There was just one problem: June and July are smack dab in the middle of southwest Japan’s rainy season.

Being caught up in the euphoria of getting a movie financed and a notable cast to appear in it, I at first gave the timing of the shoot little thought. After all, if you manage to make it past the multitude of obstacles to getting a film made and see your project go forward, there’s a (short) period of time when you tend to believe that everything will automatically work out in your favor. But as the pre-production months went by and the production approached, I became increasingly concerned. The rainy season in Kochi is something I had experienced firsthand, and memories of it started to drown out my “everything will be just fine” attitude. I started to remember that, having lived and worked in Kochi as a participant of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, and having made numerous return trips in the years since, I had witnessed with my own eyes (and never fully-dried clothes) the heavy monsoon-like rains that could carry on for days, even weeks, with no let-up.

I had written The Harimaya Bridge not only to convey the message of the story, but also to showcase the beauty of rural Japan, and Kochi Prefecture in particular. I had drawn on more than 15 years of my personal relationship with Kochi to create the story. I had a specific image of this corner of Japan I wanted to show the world. And in my mind that image consisted of exterior scenes with bright and sunny days. But it began to hit me that my conception of the film would likely have to change to accommodate the weather. I began to mentally prepare myself to make a movie whose story would be told against the backdrop of continuous rain. The enthusiastic “We’re shooting in June!” cry of February morphed into the cautious “We’re shooting in June” lament of April.

I expressed my concerns to my cinematographer, renowned cinema veteran <a href=”http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0619919/”Masao Nakabori.

“Don’t worry,” he said very nonchalantly. “The weather gods are always kind to me.”

Not quite sold on his connections with the divine, I went through my script and started reconfiguring it for heavy rains. Those scenes where the main character got lost in the rural backroads? I guess it would make him even more annoyed if he were drenched. That pivotal scene on the mountaintop in which one of the film’s central mysteries is solved? I guess we could lose the mountain and play the scene in a house. The scenes at the famous Katsurahama Beach? Maybe those two central characters could cement their friendship in some indoor setting.

“It’s very smart and responsible of you to make a back-up plan,” Nakabori-san said. “If we need it, we’ll use it. But don’t worry.”

Filming began in early June just as the rainy season officially started. Outwardly, I kept my spirits high and confident so as to keep up the morale of our cast and crew of 70+ people. But inside I was on edge, wondering how the weather over the next five weeks would affect the film I had been trying to make for eight years.

And then the most amazing thing happened: The weather cooperated. We did not accommodate it; rather, it accommodated us. In fact, the weather settled into a pattern that worked for us as if it were a member of the crew. On the days we filmed outdoors, the rain was nowhere to be found. But on the days we filmed indoors, the rainy season lived up to its name as the skies opened up. There were even days when the rains came down in the hours we shot interior scenes, and then the sun came out in the hours we film exterior scenes. This carried on almost without fail for the five weeks of Japan shoot. It was uncanny!

One day in particular I will never forget. The weather forecast for that entire region of Japan was for a 100% chance of heavy rain. But it was the day we were scheduled to shoot one of the most crucial scenes of the film at the famedHarimaya Bridge, the site that was the namesake of the movie. At that point we’d had such good fortune with the weather that there was no room for flexibility with weather continuity. We absolutely had to have dry conditions. But all of the weather reports said this would be the day our luck finally ran out.

And yet, the rain held and we filmed the scene. As we did I looked around. Half a kilometer to the east: rain. A quarter of a kilometer to the west: rain. To the north and south: rain. At one point a local reporter who had been writing articles about the movie took out his cell phone and showed me a satellite image of southwest Japan. “There’s rain everywhere for hundreds of kilometers in every direction…except for right here!” he said. “The gods must really like you, and really like your movie!”

There was even one instance late in the shoot when the rain saved me. At the end of a long day we went to film a very important scene inside a sake factory that had been converted into a soundstage. Only, as the camera rolled, one of the actors was not doing what I wanted. It was at that moment I realized that I had neglected to prepare the actor for this crucial scene. “If only we could come back and do the scene tomorrow,” I lamented to myself. Yet the schedule was too tight, and it would have been irresponsible to voluntarily cut two hours of shooting. But then the rain that had been falling outside started coming down hard, much harder than it had the previous times we filmed at the warehouse. So hard, in fact, that our sound recorder informed us he could not get a clean recording of the actors’ dialogue. After weighing our options, we decided to add onto the next day’s schedule in order to return to the warehouse and shoot the scene. Of course, I made sure the actor received the necessary preparation, and the next night the scene went beautifully.

“See? No need to worry,” Nakabori-san said to me after our last day of filming.

On February 21st, “The Harimaya Bridge” will screen atMorikami Museum & Japanese Gardens, after which I will speak about the film and answer questions. Please come and enjoy the movie…and consider just how different (and wetter) the images you see onscreen might have been.

Details and tickets for the lecture and screening are available here, hope to see you all there!

Arts & Crafts Takes on a Whole New Meaning in Our Newest Exhibit

Fall is a busy time at Morikami. From gearing up for Lantern Fest to preparing for the new season of educational programs there are lots of changes happening during the “cooler” months coming up. One of those changes is happening as we speak – our galleries are being transformed from a haven for some awe-inspiring Kokeshi dolls, into a space for outrageous fashion and amazing works of Kōgei  art.

You probably already know a little about our upcoming Japanese Street Fashion exhibit, but you may be unfamiliar with Kōgei , as it is sometimes difficult to explain exactly what it is to our non-Japanese  followers. Never fear – we’re here to help.

What is Kōgei ?

Kōgei  is an art that couples form and function, bringing beauty to everyday objects. As one Japan Times article explains it “Kōgei has often been translated into English as ‘crafts,’ and such works don’t fit exactly into the category of fine arts in the West. Against this backdrop, they have been perceived as occupying a lower station than “art.”But in Japan they form a class of their own, as an applied art, with some masters honored by the government as living national treasures. Such handicrafts include ceramics, fine “urushi” lacquer designs, silk fabrics and more.”

In short Kōgei  artists are craftsmen of the highest level who create works of art that also happen to be very common objects such as tea bowls or lacquer ware.

What will the exhibit be like?

This exhibit, Contemporary Kōgei Styles in Japan,  brings together approximately 90 Kōgei-style artworks including ceramics, textiles, dolls, and works of metal, lacquer, wood, bamboo, and glass created by over 40 of Japan’s most influential and leading Kōgei artists of international renown. The exhibit is organized by Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, Ministry of  Foreign Affairs, Consulate General of Japan in Miami and Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens with special collaboration from the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art, All Nippon Airways Co., LTD., and Stella M. Holmes. We’re also proud to announce that after careful consideration, the Japanese government chose us as the only museum in the country to host this exhibit, so you won’t get to see these pieces anywhere else in the U.S.

These works are by very influential artists including some living national treasures. The exhibit runs from October 8, 2013 through February 18, 2014 and some of the objects will be rotated out for new ones half way through, so you’ll have something new to see each time you visit us.  The video below gives a wonderful overview of the art form and exhibit from the perspective of some of the featured artists as well as some of the exhibit’s organizers.

What’s a Living National Treasure?

Based on Japan’s 1950 Law for Protection of Cultural Properties, some individuals, small groups and preservation groups can be designated Living National Treasures. This mark of distinction means the individual or group has reached mastery in a certain area including drama, music, art, and other intangible cultural artifacts of high value in terms of Japanese history or art.  Today there are over 100 men and women on the list of Living National Treasures in the category of crafts. Though there is no real equivalent to this distinction in our culture, you might compare it to MacArthur Genius Grant recipients or Nobel Prize winners, though these designees may be recognized in a diverse range of fields and Japan’s Living National Treasures are recognized for their skill and commitment in keeping traditional Japanese cultural aspects alive and thriving.

Will I be able to hear from any of the artists?

We’re glad you asked – yes!  Not only will you be able to view work from some of these Living National Treasures, you’ll also be able to hear from one, as well as another featured artist. We’ll be hosting a lecture with speakers Murose Kazumi and Men’ya Shōho on October 9, 2013. You’ll find details and ticket information here.

We hope you’ll join us for this exciting opportunity to see and hear from some of Japan’s top Kōgei artists!

Morikami Hems In Tokyo Fashion Exhibit This Fall

Harajuku, an area between Shinjuku and Shibuya in Tokyo, has risen to the highest ranks of Japanese fashion. In the late 50s and early 60s the neighborhood was transformed from U.S. soldiers’ housing into a well-spring of youth culture (similar to the likes of Haight Ashbury in 1960’s San Francisco) that solidified into what many call the Harajuku-zoku, or the Harajuku tribe. The neighborhood was overtaken by photographers, models, artists, fashion designers and local youth, and has become the ultimate youth stomping ground.

Some of the most visible and popular movements to come out of Harajuku are Japan’s many street fashions. From Decora to Rock-a-billy, and everything in between, this style-hub has a place for every expression of style.

If you were one of the many Morikami fans to participate in our Hatsume 2013 Costume or Fashion Show Contests, you might have already seen our Street Fashion Facebook Album, but it’s a great visual introduction to some of these popular Japanese street styles:

Decora is characterized by an abundance of accessories.

Decora is characterized by an abundance of accessories on casual clothing. Color is also important, and you’ll see neons as well as pastels.

Lolita style is remniscent of Victorian Dolls, and uses this particular dress sihlouette for a number of "Loli" styles like Sweet Loli, Punk Loli, and Gothic Loli.

Lolita style is reminiscent of Victorian Dolls, and uses this particular dress silhouette for a number of “Loli” styles like Sweet Loli, Punk Loli, and Gothic Loli.

Visual Kei is based on the Glam Rock movement, and employs elements of androgyny.

Visual Kei is based on the Glam Rock movement, and employs elements of androgyny for both males and females.

Kodona is based on the same era as Lolita style except that it focuses on boys' wear. Kodona can be understood as boy style and is worn by both males and females.

Kodona is based on the same era as Lolita style except that it focuses on boys’ wear. Kodona can be understood as boy style and is worn by both males and females.

We’re excited to share that this autumn we’ll be showcasing these expressive styles in a photography exhibit titled “Contemporary Japanese Street Fashion.” If you’ve had the pleasure of snapping shots of the rock-a-billy clubs in Yoyogi Park, or Harajuku girls in Tokyo, we’re asking for submissions to feature in the exhibit. The deadline to submit photos is July 15th, and we’ll be choosing finalists shortly thereafter. Check our website for full submission details.

If you’re not photographically-inclined, but still want to enjoy the outrageous and beautiful fashions of Harajuku, you might be interested in attending the lecture by Professor Yuniya Kawamura of the Fashion Institute of Technology, in NYC. Professor Kawamura will join us Friday, November 1, at 7:15pm for a 45-minute talk on the art of Japanese street fashion, its many subcultures, and its influence in Japanese society and in the West.

Stay tuned for more details on the exhibit and lecture as the fall draws near!