Splendors of Shiga: Treasures from Japan Exhibition Spotlight- Spring

Throughout the course of Splendors of Shiga: Treasures from Japan, we’ll be featuring some of our favorite works of art from the exhibition and providing a more in-depth look at some of our favorite pieces.

This week we’re featuring three remarkable pieces from Phase Two of the collection, which will be on display March 28-June 4, and is devoted to themes of spring:

Kitchen model

This meticulous work is on loan from the Museum of Omihachiman City—Grand Rapids’ Sister City in the Shiga Prefecture. It is a perfect scale model of a traditional Japanese kitchen and its wide range of instruments and utensils. Originally, it would have been commissioned by a wealthy merchant family for young children. More than simply a toy, it would have been essential to their success in future life. Note the complete mastery of numerous materials in wood, metal and ceramic, which replicate everyday objects in minute detail.

Miniature kitchen model
Shōwa Period, 20th Century
Wood, material, stoneware
Collection of Omihachiman City
Courtesy of The Museum of Omihachiman City

Koto Ware

Koto Ware, a highly refined form of ceramics from Shiga Prefecture, flourished in 19th century. The kiln where this nest box was created opened in 1842 in the city of Hikone, and produced luxury items until 1862. The delicacy and decoration of Koto Ware was the antithesis to the irregular shape and earthy colors and textures of Shigaraki pottery.

This multi-tiered stackable box was meticulously made and decorated by hand. The square shape and flat bottoms of each level would have been difficult to create and could only have been produced by an artist of the highest skill. It originally functioned as a type of luxury lunch box perhaps given as a royal gift and used only for special guests.

The namesake decorative elements of the peacock and peony are found across the exterior. Such forms were undoubtedly influenced by the art of China. So too, the use of porcelain with blue underglaze also evidences an interest in Chinese art and pottery.

Koto Ware, Nest of boxes with peacock and peony
Edo Period, 19th Century
Porcelain with blue underglaze
The Museum of Shiga Prefecture, Biwako-Bunkakan

Dainnichi Nyorai

This figure represents the central deity of Esoteric Buddhism. Simply put, he represents the Supreme Buddha seated atop the iconic lotus flower. Traces of gold leaf can be found across the surface of the cast bronze figure suggesting the prominence of the sculpture. An extremely rare loan from the Binman-ji Temple, this sculpture is among the oldest objects on display in this exhibition. Located in the rural city of Taga Town, this temple was one of the most visited and prosperous temples of medieval Japan (13th-16th century).

The firmly seated position and contemplative demeanor are iconic for Buddhist statuary. Although the body and floral form are decidedly iconic, there is a strong vertical structure to this composition. One can easily follow a visual central core that stretches from the conical headdress through the torso of the figure down to the pedestal upon which the Buddha rests. Such a strong central core grants the illusion of monumentality to the sculpture.

Dainichi Nyorai

Kamakura Period, 13th Century
Cast bronze
Collection of the Preservation Meeting of Binman-ji Temple’s Historic Relics and Culture
Courtesy of the Museum of Taga Town


Throughout the course of Splendors of Shiga: Treasures from Japan, we will be featuring some of our favorite works of art from the exhibition and providing a more in-depth look at some of these pieces.

This week, we’re featuring two beautiful kimono from the collection:

Kimono, Flowers

The tradition of the kimono carried through the 20th century and increasingly became more of a pictorial art form rather than a functional object. This example is by the master designer and artist Moriguchi Kakō, recognized as a Living National Treasure by the Japanese Government during his long career. In many ways he elevated the art form in the postwar period with many of his works considered so significant they were shown on exhibition rather than worn on special occasions. Depicted are flowing branches of plum blossoms, which are traditional reminders of springtime. The material was hand dyed in an ancient tradition the artist learned in Kyoto and continued in his workshop in the city of Moriyama in the Shiga Prefecture. This is one of three original kimono designs by Kakō that will be on display over the course of the exhibition.

Kimono, Flowers
Moriguchi Kakō (1909–2008)
Shōwa Period, 1983
Yuzen style dyed, silk
The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga

Kosode Kimono with young pine trees and flying cranes

This full kimono from the 18th century served as a bridal dress, and was passed down for generations in a single family in the mercantile city of Omihachiman. The blue silk was tediously hand knotted and tie-dyed to create the expansive design of flying cranes and young pines. Both traditional symbols in Japanese culture, the birds represent long life and the trees stand for resilience as well as longevity. As a bridal gown, this garment would have originally had long flowing sleeves that were shortened at some period to be worn by a married woman throughout her life. This rare loan will be the last public exhibition of this kimono owing to the fragility of the centuries-old silk. This is one of three traditional kimonos that will be on display over the course of the exhibition.

Kosode Kimono with young pine trees and flying cranes
Edo Period, 19th Century
Tie-dyed figured silk
Collection of Omihachiman City
Courtesy of The Museum of Omihachiman City

Preschool Story Time: Cozy Tales for Chilly Days

By Shelly Kilroy, Meijer Gardens Librarian 

Story time is such a great way to introduce children to the wonderful world of reading, and Cozy Tales for Chilly Days Preschool Story Time here at Meijer Gardens does just that.  On a very chilly day last Tuesday twenty children learned about reptiles while volunteers Miss Marge and Miss Betty read from several fun and interactive stories about turtles, chameleons and more.

Cozy Tales

One favorite was Eric Carle’s The Mixed Up Chameleon.  Children delighted in the story of this unique and colorful reptile, while also learning about primary colors.  An opportunity to touch real turtle shells helped introduce another favorite, Turtle Splash: Countdown at the Pond by Cathryn Falwell.  With these and other books, interaction and hands-on activities were highlights for both the children and their grownups.

Cozy Tales for Chilly Days is in its 5th year and going strong.  We hope you can join the other moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas who have come back week after week.  For more information on dates and themes for future story times, click here.

Cozy Tales
  Cozy Tales

New Year Traditions Around the World – Japan

The Japanese New Year, Shogatsu, has been celebrated on January 1 since 1873. The original celebration of Shogatsu is still marked on the same day as the contemporary Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese New Years which in 2015 falls on February 19.

Shogatsu is an important Japanese celebration, both Shintoism and Buddhism honor this special time of renewal. Shogatsu signifies seasonal changes, begins a new cycle and expresses the importance of ancestry.

At midnight on December 31, Buddhist temples in Japan ring their bells 108 times to symbolize the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief, and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires. Japanese people believe that the ringing of bells can rid their sins of the previous year. After they have finished ringing the bells, they celebrate and feast on soba noodles.

Bell ringing

Kadomatsu, or gate pine, are traditional decorations that are placed at the entrances of homes & businesses in anticipation of the New Year. Purification is an important ritual of Shogatsu, and preparations take place in homes, businesses and temples.


Kadomatsu are placed to welcome ancestral spirits, invite the divinities to bring prosperity and guard against evil spirits. Kadomatsu are placed in pairs which represent male and female. Designs vary from urban to rural regions and typically they are made with two main components, each element being significant. Pine signifies vitality, longevity and long life. Bamboo signifies strength and growth. The bamboo is sliced at three different heights, representing heaven, humanity and earth.

Located outside of the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory, our Kadomatsu display is adorned with shide, a folded white paper ornament. Shide typically marks a sacred site and is a tool for purification. Straw and rope bind all of the elements together to complete the Kadomatsu.

During 2015, Meijer Gardens is celebrating our 20th Anniversary by Welcoming the World through our exhibitions and the opening of The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden. Come explore more of Japanese culture during our Splendors of Shiga: Treasures From Japan exhibition which opens on January 30.

What are some of the New Year traditions in your family? Leave them below in the comments or post them on our Facebook page here.

New Year Traditions Around the World – Vietnam

The main holiday for Vietnam is New Year, called Tết Nguyên Đán {Day Wen Don}, and is celebrated in January or February depending on the Lunar Calendar. This year the celebration will take place on Thursday, February 19.

Tết Nguyên Đán

Tết Nguyên Đán emphasizes respect for elders and good luck in the upcoming year. To symbolize new beginnings, ancestral alters are decorated with apricot and peach blossoms, and a plate of various fruits is also set out to represent gratitude for the earth, respect for the dead and aspirations for a prosperous life.

Tất Niên offering

Incense is burned in memory of friends and family members who have passed, each stick of incense representing a different ancestor. Singing bowls are played during prayers by rubbing a wooden mallet around the rim of the bowls to produce a unique sound.

Another element to the Vietnamese New Year celebration is inscribing red scrolls with poetry. We have an example on display here as part of our Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World exhibition that reads “Paying respect to our ancestors for our family” and “Returning the favor to our parents for raising us.” Stop by to see them up close for yourself!

Vietnamese Scrolls

A statue of Buddha is also displayed on the alter since the majority of Vietnamese are Buddhist. The Buddha Lady shows compassion by listening to the cries of the people and helping them enter into heaven, and the Laughing Buddha has a large belly and big smile which symbolizes happiness and plenitude. Tradition says that you will receive good luck after rubbing his belly.

What are some of the New Year traditions in your family? Leave them below in the comments or post them on our Facebook page here.

New Year Traditions Around the World – China

The Chinese New Year, Chūn Jié, is the most important holiday in China. This celebration is centered on families traveling home to spend time together. New Year festivities in China take place over a period of several weeks – the celebration begins with a dragon dance and ends with the lantern festival parade.

Dragon Dance

Lantern Festival

Chinese Lanterns

Other customs that go along with the Chinese New Year include lighting fireworks to scare away evil spirits and giving gifts in red envelopes for good luck.

For thousands of years in China, the sound of a gong is used in religious ceremonies, state processions, marriages and festivals. You can view a gong up close as part of the Chinese New Year display during the Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World exhibition here at Meijer Gardens. Also on display is a cut-paper design of a Chinese zodiac calendar based on the lunar calendar. An animal is assigned to each year according to a 12-year cycle, 2015 is the year of the sheep.

Year of the Sheep

What are some of the New Year traditions in your family? Leave them below in the comments or post them on our Facebook page here.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World!

If you are a frequent visitor to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, one of the things that we hope that you’ll observe is that we are striving to be “Always Growing, Always Beautiful and Always New…” Over the past few weeks, our staff and volunteers have been busy making the transition from our fall Chrysanthemums & More! exhibition over to our winter exhibition, Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World. This magical display features over 40 international trees and displays, the enchanting Railway Garden and so much more!

Lena Meijer helps decorate the German tree.

Lena Meijer helps decorate the German tree.

This year’s exhibition jump-starts the 20th anniversary celebrations here at Meijer Gardens and focuses on Asian cultures that celebrate the New Year. A central theme to these celebrations is the way that the past is honored, gathering to show respect and love to their ancestors and remembering those who are no longer with us. In Korea and Vietnam, that respect is shown via alters that are adorned with symbolic objects. Other customs include burning incense in memory of relatives and loved ones who have passed, and preparing ritual foods while dressed in traditional garb. The Japanese New Year, called Shogatsu, is marked with beautiful decorative gate pines known as kadomatsu which welcome ancestral spirits and guard against evil spirits.

Kadomatsu or Gate Pine

Kadomatsu or Gate Pine

A new addition to Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World this year is a display from Ghana, home of our African Sister City, the Ga District. Authentic, brilliantly woven kente and printed adinkra will be on display, handmade cloths that mark the symbolic significance of the Ghanaian people’s colorful history, customs and religion.

The much-loved Railway Garden returns for another year, meandering through four lush indoor garden spaces and bringing together colorful plantings with storybook scenes of West Michigan. The unique horticultural artistry complements the model trolleys, trains and handcrafted buildings replicating over 30 Grand Rapids landmarks that were designed by Paul Busse of Applied Imagination. Visitors will recognize favorites such as the Fifth Third Ballpark created with willow light posts and elm bark seating, the Ada Covered Bridge with a cedar roof and willow trusses and the Meyer May House with oak bark siding and red ruscus leaves.

The crew from Applied Imagination installs the Railway Garden

The crew from Applied Imagination installs the Railway Garden

As you are making your holiday plans, we hope that you can experience our most joyous exhibition! Click HERE for a full listing of events, outings and special activities happening during Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World. 

This exhibition is made possible by Consumers Energy and the Meijer Foundation along with 36 sponsors including: Botanic and Sculpture Societies of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and Henry Mast Greenhouses, Inc. The Railway Garden is made possible by Warner Norcross & Judd, LLP.