Reason #312 Why I Love the Morikami…Cherry Blossoms

OK, I might be hard pressed to come up with the first 311 reasons why I adore the Morikami, but the sentiment remains … the quirky, cultural, natural nature of this place never fails to impress me.

Reason #312: Where else in south Florida would you find small, delicate trees abloom with small, delicate cherry blossoms?

After a recent, cold snap here that left us all much more appreciative of our normal temperatures, a small group of trees that had been planted as an experiment in the gardens began to color with pink and white cherry blossoms. The winter temperatures compelled them to bloom for the first time in a long while. Short-lived, the temporary phenomenon was captured by local newspapers and photographers.

According to the marketing team,  some visitors who were compelled by the news coverage to visit were a bit disappointed by how small the 5-foot cherry trees were in actuality. But the loveliness and rarity of the flowers outside of their native Japan couldn’t be denied.

After working with and for the Morikami crew for almost 10 years, I really do enjoy the unusual, funny, and completely unique stories that come out of this museum. Memories that linger are the exhibits that featured the varied photographic views of Mt. Fuji in all its majesty and the personal accessories of a real-life geisha; enjoying a banana and cream cheese-filled eggroll (yes, eggroll) topped with whipped cream and raspberry sauce; beating a taiko drum and realizing what sweaty work it is; and seeing how excited a two-year-old can get tossing a fat koi more food than it really needs in a day.

I guess those are reasons #214, #45; #12 and #133!

Missed the cherry blossoms? Here’s the link to the Palm Beach Post/Sun-Sentinel article — Cherry Blossoms!

Cherry Blossoms bloom at the Morikami after a recent cold snap.

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Where Can You Find the Best Ramen in Japan?

On February 18, the Morikami Museum will screen “Ramen Girl,” featuring the late actress Brittany Murphy, and serve the titular dish.

Since I’ve only had the packaged Ramen Noodles in college, when times were tight, I must rely on Reiko Nishioka to tell you how truly delicious ramen (pronounced “rah-men”) noodles can be, in authentic Japanese style. She remembers a ramen experience…

“Now, I must tell you about the most unique ramen restaurant I ever visited…

I jumped on the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Kyoto to Hakata, in Kyushu, just to eat the famous Hakata-ramen. The trip was very spontaneous, and I did not know where to eat ramen in Hakata, so I asked at the Tourist Information booth.

The Ichiran ramen restaurant was recommended. Inside was a long line of only counter seating, and it was packed with people. I did not see any wait staff anywhere. I noticed individual cubicles, structures with cloth drapes that hung a little below one’s eye level. I noticed the wait staff behind the cloth drapes.  My order was taken, but I never saw the person’s face.

The restaurant wants the diner to only face their ramen dish and not anything else!

The Ichiran’s ramen was truly delicious.  Through this blog, of course, you cannot taste the noodle at Ichiran, but you can see what I am talking about in this website. http://www.ichiran.co.jp/pc/hp/english/index.html

Ramen Girl

Sushi, It’s Not All About Raw Fish

Tonight, Trevor Corson, Food Network TV personality and well-known sushi concierge, is speaking at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens on the cultural context and origins of one of South Florida’s favorite foods.

One might wonder just how much can be said about sushi. Quite a bit actually.

Reiko Nishioka, the Morikami’s director of education, shares her thoughts on an entree she grew up with, and one that has definitely made its  mark on our western palates. The more we learn, the more we love…

“A local Japanese sushi chef here in South Florida said to me recently that there are more sushi restaurants in Boca Raton than hamburger joints. Sushi in America is a much different experience from that which is served in Japan.  You certainly won’t find a volcano or spider roll on the menu!

However, authentic Japanese sushi is not all about raw fish.  Maki-zushi (rolled sushi), Oshi-zushi (sushi pressed in a square mold), Chirashi-zushi (topping served scattered over a bowl of sushi rice), and Inari-zushi (topping stuffed into a pouch of fried tofu) are all very popular in Japan.  These forms of sushi do not necessarily use raw fish.  The common denominator here is the rice.  All sushi rice is vinegared rice.

When I go home to Japan, I love to sit at the sushi counter, enjoy a cup of sake and make small talk with the chef as he prepares my fresh sushi.  I hope you make and enjoy your own sushi experience as well!”

Assorted sushi rolls from the Cornell Cafe at the Morikami

Reiko Remembers The Meaning of Japan’s True New Year

This blog is written by the Morikami’s Director of Education Reiko (pronounced “Lay-ko”) Nishioka, who is native Japanese and later moved to the United States. In 2010, she will contribute to “More Morikami…” and share her cultural inspirations and memories. Happy New Year!

I was asked to write about my favorite holiday/celebration by a local magazine several years ago. I chose Oshogatsu, the Japanese New Year celebration, even though I have been living in the U.S. for more than 30 years. I miss it dearly, although I work at the Morikami and celebrate Oshogatsu with visitors every year.  (The 2010 festival will be held January 10, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.)

In Japan, the New Year is celebrated for three days, from January 1 through 3.  So when December 31 approaches, people become very busy. They clean and decorate their houses, cook meals for the time of holidays, pound rice for mochi (rice cake), write greeting cards and attend year-end parties. There is one more, very important thing that Japanese traditionally do at the end of the year, and that is clearing away all debts and obligations. PHEW!

Lots of effort is given in preparation for the New Year, but on December 31 at midnight, the above activities stop. Bells at all temples ring 108 times which, according to the Buddhist religion, symbolize human desires. The last peal drives the desires away, and the new year is greeted in a pure condition.

What I like about the Oshogatsu observance is the symbolism of time. Graduations, weddings or retirements are lifetime experiences; they are “knots” of life. Japanese call these fushi, like the knots of bamboo. This is where the significant border between the old and the new, and the symbolism of time, lie. For example, yesterday was December 31 and the end of the year; today is January 1, and everything is treated new, like a new “knot.” A lot of people go to see the first sunrise; we even cherish the first dream of the new year. Whatever we do, we call it the “first …..of the year.” Oshogatsu is the time to renew.

My memory of Oshogatsu is quiet and calm during the three days of observance. Stores are closed, and there is no cooking as meals have been prepared in advance. Therefore, we have enough time to reflect on the past year and make a wish or set a goal for the upcoming year.

Oh, how I miss the quiet of those three days!

Families watch "shishimai," or the lion dancer, at Oshogatsu, the New Year's celebration; Jan. 10, 2010 at the Morikami