Guest Post: Four Masterpieces Joined by the Spirit of Water

Water falls from above, and from below, falls
Four Masterpieces Joined by the Spirit of Water
By Susanna Brooks, Curator of Japanese Art

It is summer, and the rainy season is upon us at Morikami. Rain falls practically every afternoon. The sky becomes dark and the rain falls fast and heavy, culminating into torrential downpours that draw everyone to the windows to take in the stunning, mesmerizing view of water falling from the sky and cascading down the rain chains, nourishing the plants, and dislocating the pebbles in the once-neatly-raked dry garden.

Morikami summer rain

Morikami’s dry garden and rain chains during a summer storm.

Rain is universally revered for its ability to create and sustain life and respected for the power it has to wound and raze nature when it falls hard and long. This entry provides an abbreviated exploration of the element of water as a meaningful motif in Japanese philosophy and art, primarily as the main subject of two famous 19th-century woodblock prints, which, in turn, share an affinity with two 19th-century Western masterpieces.

Water sustains all life, made evident by the fact that both the Earth and human body are composed of 70 percent water. For many cultures water holds spiritual symbolic meaning, with the natural attributes of water – its flexibility and adaption to change and transformation – equated to ideal human emotions and actions.

A precept of Japanese Buddhism holds water ( sui, or mizu) second in importance to Earth in the cycle of the five elements of the universe (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Nothingness). Representations of these five elements are present time and again in the design of Japanese architecture, stone lanterns, Buddhist temples and Zen-inspired gardens. In Shintō, the native religion of Japan, water is venerated and presided over by Susano-o, god of the sea and storms, Kuraokami (literally, “dark dragon, tutelary of water”), god of rain and snow, and Suijin, the benevolent deity of water itself. A goal of spiritual practice within Shintō is to become like the flow of water, blurring divisions and transcending boundaries. For that reason, many devotees practice purification rituals under waterfalls (taki shugyō).

As a meaningful element in Japanese art and architecture, water is a leitmotif of many Japanese woodblock prints. Katsushika Hokusai, the artist of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, one of the most recognized images in the world, believed that water was sacred and had the power to purify and restore life in accordance with the natural flow of divine awareness. To Hokusai, water represented the flowing of formlessness in the universe.

Katsushika Hokusai (ca. 1760 – 1849) Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off of Kanagawa Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper Edo Period, ca. 1829 – 1832 Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Katsushika Hokusai (ca. 1760 – 1849)
Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off of Kanagawa
Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper
Edo Period, ca. 1829 – 1832
Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hokusai and his Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji inspired the great, woodblock print artist Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige. Hiroshige was a plein aire artist who strived to depict nature faithfully. He sketched his landscape scenes out-of-doors and then had the images transferred to woodblocks.  Here, he captures a group of travelers caught in a rain storm. Hiroshige recorded this scene while traveling with an official delegation through Ise Province in Mie Prefecture.

Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige (1797 – 1858) Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō: Shōno-juku Woodblock print, ink and color on paper Edo Period, 1833 – 1834 Gift of Brigitte and Joseph Lonner 1998.065.001

Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige (1797 – 1858)
Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō: Shōno-juku
Woodblock print, ink and color on paper
Edo Period, 1833 – 1834
Gift of Brigitte and Joseph Lonner
1998.065.001

The image is part of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō, a series of prints commemorating the Eastern Sea route from Edo (present-day Tokyo) to Kyoto. Considered Hiroshige’s most famous series, the Fifty-Three Stations was a pivotal watershed in ukiyo-e, for it greatly advanced the landscape as a key subject of this popular woodblock print genre. [1]

Hiroshige traveled the Tōkaidō in 1832 as part of an official delegation that was transporting horses, a gift from the Shogun to the Emperor as a symbol of his loyalty and as a way to pay his respects to the divine ruler of Japan. The landscape so impressed Hiroshige that he captured the journey in a series of sketches. When it was completed, the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō numbered fifty-five, with the extra two commemorating the start and end points. Shōno-juku is the forty-fifth of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō.

Just as Hiroshige is celebrated for his rural landscape scenes, so French Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte is best-known for capturing the daily nuances of life on the streets of Paris. In this larger than life-size scene, Paris Street; Rainy Day, Caillebotte brings us practically face to face with a fashionable flâneur (French man of leisure) and his lady strolling in the rain.[2] With its cropped, zoomed-in angles, sharp tilted ground, and flat color palette, Rainy Day has a grand photo-realistic presence and a sensibility reminiscent of 19th-century Japanese prints, which had become all the rage among the French Impressionists. Like Hiroshige, Caillbotte captured a precise moment in time. As the painting’s simple, straightforward title suggests, Rainy Day takes rain as its main subject and creates around it a snapshot of daily life, turning an otherwise ordinary scene into a timeless, monumental work of art.

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894) Paris Street, Rainy Day 1877 Oil on canvas Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894)
Paris Street, Rainy Day
1877
Oil on canvas
Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Another timeless and iconic work of art that takes water as its theme is Fallingwater, one of the greatest architectural achievements of the 20th century. Designed in 1935 by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater is a 2855 square-foot house built out over a 30-foot waterfall. The home has strong Japanese elements, particularly the manner in which the structure blends in with its environment, harmoniously bridging nature and man. As Japanese architect Tadao Ando has observed, “…Wright learned the most important aspect of architecture, the treatment of space, from Japanese architecture. When I visited Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, I found that same sensibility of space. But there was the additional sound of nature that appealed to me.”[3] The “sound” that Ando referred to was the melodious song of falling water for which the house is named.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1859) Fallingwater 1936 – 1939 Photo courtesy of Fallingwater.org

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1859)
Fallingwater
1936 – 1939
Photo courtesy of Fallingwater.org

Of the 400 structures that Wright built in his lifetime, Fallingwater is considered his greatest masterpiece. The house embraces the essence of Wright’s aesthetic design philosophy, a concept he originated and called organic architecture, which espoused the construction of structures that were in harmony with humanity and the environment. Wright was also a prolific, and for a time, successful, dealer of ukiyo-e, such as those that Hokusai and Hiroshige made and Caillebotte collected.

As water is connected to humanity and the environment, so Frank Lloyd Wright is connected to Japan and Japanese woodblock prints. When Wright first traveled to Japan in 1905, he purchased hundreds of ukiyo-e, including Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji and Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō. The following year, he assisted the curators of the Art Institute of Chicago, where Caillebotte’s Rainy Day is prominently displayed, in organizing a retrospective exhibition of the work of Hiroshige, which featured all fifty-five of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō. Perhaps the correlation between all four of these artists and their masterpieces is merely coincidental, but I like to think that the spirit of water, in all its glorious forms, serendipitously linked their flow.


[1] Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the Floating World,” describes a genre of woodblock prints and paintings that depicted scenes from everyday life in and around the merchant’s quarters of Edo, primarily the districts they created for pleasure and entertainment. Themes of ukiyo-e include beautiful women (geisha and courtesans), kabuki theater, sumo, historical scenes, and landscapes. The term ukiyo is associated with the Buddhist concept of impermanence and the sorrows (uki) of life (yo), a notion that underscores the temporariness of life, youth, and human desire and pleasure.

[2] Rainy Day is a stately painting that measures 83.5” x 108.7” (approximately 6.9’ W x 9’ H).

[3] Tadao Ando, 1995 Laureate: Biography. The Hyatt Foundation. 1995.

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The Lanterns of Roji-en

Toro (literally “light basket” or “light tower”) originated, like many elements of traditional Japanese architecture, in China. Originally, lanterns were only used in Japan to line the paths of  Buddhists temples. Stone lanterns were eventually popularized during the Momoyama period (1568-1600) by tea masters, who used them to decorate their gardens.

Many different types of lanterns can be found throughout Roji-en. Some are strategically placed just downstream from a waterfall, overlooking a water feature, or lining a path, but all serve mostly as decoration. Here are a few common styles of stone lanterns found in Roji-en, and where to look for them.

Kasuga-doro.  This lantern is a tachi-gata, or pedestal type, and represented a guardian at the entrances of temples or tea gardens. Kasuga-doro lanterns can be seen around the South Gate, Challenger Point, the Yamato-kan bridge and Yamato Island.

Challenger

Rokkaku Yukimi.  This lantern is known as the “snow-viewing” lantern.  The upturned roof catches snow, inviting viewers to appreciate a garden in a season when most gardens are frozen. This type of lantern can be found at the Modern Garden overlooking the pond.

Yukimi

KotojiKotoji means “harp tuner.”  The two legs of this lantern resemble the tuning forks of the koto, a quintessential Japanese instrument.  One leg of the lantern stands on land while the other dips into the water, reflecting the interdependence of land and water.  A kotoji lantern can also be referred to as a “wet foot-dry foot” lantern.  This type of lantern can be seen in our Modern Garden creek.

kotoji

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.

Summer is Here! Time for Sushi, Strolls and Sunsets

When the Morikami first introduced its evening events for the summer, then known as Sunset Strolls, it was part of an attempt to get people to visit the gardens when it wasn’t 102 degrees in the shade.

The early evening events used to have an early-morning counterpart, Sunrise Strolls. However, it seemed like more people liked hanging out late than getting up early, so after a few years, Sunrise Strolls slowly faded away. As time passed, the Sunset Strolls grew a following — a hungry following — so the Cornell Cafe got in on the act.

The events were re-named Sushi & Stroll, a DJ showed up, a couple came and danced on the terrace, and people would lounge among the languid temperatures and chill in the Roji-En. Before things got too relaxed, someone brilliant came up with the great idea to add the energy of taiko drumming to the mix.  Now for a few dollars more, strollers can take in a taiko concert before or after their sushi.

Sushi & Stroll has evolved from a good idea to a great idea to a “why didn’t I see you at the Morikami on Friday night?” idea. It has become the perfect end to a hectic workweek, a chillaxin’ beginning to the weekend or a nature-inspired, sexy-back date night kinda thang.

What do you mean you’ve never been??!

OK, here are the dates: May 14, June 11, July 9, August 20, September 10; time: 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Cost: $7 adults, $5 children (4-17) (Museum members and children 3 and under FREE); $2 for taiko performance (optional)

I invite you to check out the “evolution” of an event for yourself — when it’s not 102 degrees in the shade.

Chillax by the Morikami Falls at the upcoming Sushi & Strolls this summer.

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!

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.

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!

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

Beating Holiday Blues One Step at a Time

Most people know that although the holidays are normally a time of connecting with friends and family, spending money you don’t have and eating food cooked with lots of butter and sugar (yum!), it can be a trigger for great loneliness and depression.

It can be a time when, as others are celebrating, people are missing loved ones who can’t come home or have passed away. Some are simply alone, feeling isolated.

One of the terrific things about living in South Florida is that when others are shoveling snow, we’re still basking in sunshine. So it couldn’t be a more opportune time than October for the Morikami to reintroduce its Stroll for Well-Being series.

It’s a chance to sign up for a major diversion from holiday blues with scheduled walks through Roji-En. A specially developed journal, designed to enhance the experience, is used as a guide and a means to record personal thoughts through the 12 themed garden strolls. There will be three meetings with the journal’s author, an associate professor at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, Florida Atlantic University.

An explanation about the program will be provided during the first meeting (Oct. 20); the second one, which will take place halfway through the program (Nov. 17), will be used to answer any questions that may appear during the first few walks. Finally, the last meeting (Dec. 15) will take place at the end of the program and will include a discussion of experiences.

The cost is $95, which includes a one-year Origami Morikami membership, or $40 for Morikami members. Consider it an early gift to yourself or someone else if you or they need another reason to feel upbeat this holiday season.

For more information and registration, please go to www.morikami.org or call 561-495-0233 x 235.

Seniors Stroll the Roji-En

Seniors Stroll the Roji-En