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Japanese Tsunami Artifacts Featured at Portland Japanese Garden

Saturday, July 25, 2015


A kasagi washed up on an Oregon beach. Photo by: Lisa Hill.

There is officially something more authentically Japanese in Portland than a mom-and-pop sushi restaurant. However, as with many happy endings, there was a spot of tragedy along the way.  

The massive tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011 scraped Japanese citizens, coastlines, and nuclear plants, but it also threatened Japanese history. In particular, one Shinto shrine had part of its architectural heritage damaged by the natural disaster, with its kasagi (e.g. bowed crossbeams of a torii, or entrance gate) ripped off the hinges and lost to the expanding sea. So where did the beams end up? On two separate beaches off of the Oregon coast. The problem: when they were uncovered, they lacked any specific identifying marks. 

Fortunately, the beams ended up in the hands of the Portland Japanese Garden. The CEO of the Portland Japanese Garden Stephen Bloom, Dorie Vollum (a member of the board’s trustees), and Sadafumi Uchiyama (the Garden curator) decided to pursue an extensive search for the beams’ home, a search that quickly unveiled their best bet -- Japan.

It took two years before the Portlander-led investigative team was able to identify the geographical origins of the kasagi. Bloom, Vollum, and Uchiyama had resorted to showing pictures to cab drivers, restaurant owners, and locals throughout three prefectures of the Tohoku region that had taken particularly difficult hits in 2011. 

Upon hearing of the return of the kasagi, a local named Toshimi Takahashi admitted that he was the one who initially dedicated the same kasagi to their former (and future) shrine. The reunion was an emotional one for him. “This shrine shows enormous resilience and recovery, calling back all of its lost elements,” said Takahashi.

So, what’s the takeaway? The kasagi are soon to return to their shrine in a symbolic move that has inspired hope and intrigue in both Japanese locals and Portland cultural enthusiasts. The good news: you can still see the kasagi right here in Portland. From July 21st through August 2nd, the Portland Japanese Garden will showcase the kasagi as part of Kasagi: Gates of Hope, an exhibition dedicated to the story behind the return of the kasagi. Experience it firsthand. 

Also, any Portland visitor to the exhibit can contribute a handmade note, folded into a paper crane, which will travel with the kasagi back to their birthplace in Japan.


Related Slideshow: Ikebana: Japanese Flower Arranging In 10 Steps

Ikebana, the ancient art of Japanese flower arranging, is all about less. Less is more. Here are 10 steps to help you create the perfect arrangement. 

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The process is just as important as the end product. Put on some relaxing music, breathe deeply and spend time with the intricacy of each branch and leaf in your arrangement.  

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Arrangements should use three stems, all of differing sizes.

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When designing your arrangement, look to your organic material for inspiration but dig into your depths to find a beautiful memory or passion within. Ikebana is about capturing a specific landscape or a single moment in nature, just like a haiku.

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The tallest should stand upright and represent the heavens (shin). The medium length represents man (soe). The shortest represents the earth (hikae). One should also consider what altitude each plant specimen comes from. A flower that grows in the mountains should be placed above a branch that grows in a lowland prairie.

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You are free to incorporate any leaves or flowers that complement the shin, soe and hikae, but only in odd numbers. This is called the jushi. 

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A kenzan, or floral frog, is used to support the stems upright or attractive angles. It has a weighted base and spikes to spear the stems onto. This frog is placed in a shallow water dish. 

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No putty, floral tape or glue allowed. 

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Working slowly, place each stem into the frog. When ready to place on the frog, trim the ends 1.5” from the bottom for maximum water intake. 

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To create a truly stunning living sculpture, hide your frog and water container by tucking leaves or moss around the base of your arrangement. Sometimes flowers are placed in a wide shallow dish with river rocks placed around the frogs to look like a tiny placid pond. 

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Let your arranging be a fun and relaxing meditation, one that celebrates the simple beauty of spring blossoms. Happy spring.


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