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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Next Month, Make A Wish Upon a Star…

OK, wishing on a star is a Disney theme, I know. But it is very fitting for a romantic (but not mushy) pastime at the Morikami.

From July 7-14, a bamboo tree will be in the museum lobby for visitors to decorate with their wishes written on colored paper streamers, or tanzaku, which symbolize the weaving of threads. Tanabata is a week of wishing, so to speak, for anything you want the Universe to receive. The activity is sweet and romantic if you know a bit about the back story –

Tanabata originated more than 2,000 years ago with an old Chinese tale called Kikkoden. Once there was a weaver princess named Orihime and a cow herder prince named Hikoboshi living in space. After they got together, they were playing all the time and forgot about their jobs. The king was angry at them and separated them on opposite sides of the Amanogawa River (Milky Way).

The king allowed them to meet only once a year on July 7th. This is why tanabata is also known as the star festival. It’s believed that Orihime and Hikoboshi can’t see each other if July 7th is rainy, so people pray for good weather and also make wishes for themselves.

To hang a wish is free and filled with tradition and another reason to swing by the Morikami this summer. There are so many cool stories behind Japanese traditions it makes you wonder if Walt Disney grabbed the idea of wishing on a star from another culture.

Things that make you say “Hmmmm……”

Make a Wish Upon a Tree at the Morikami

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.

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!

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!