Saturday, July 17, 2004

this article made front page

Bon Odori fest honors Japanese heritage
By Katherine Sather

Seattle Times staff reporter

Spring Snow makes flowers.

The 88-year-old woman — her full name is Haruko Shimizu — takes long cords of Japanese rice paper in her hands and bends and loops them together to form chrysanthemums, animals and ships.

She practices Mizuhiki, an ancient art of weaving paper cords that she first learned as a young woman in Japan. In 1996, instructors in Japan gave Shimizu the name "Shun Setsu," or Spring Snow, in recognition of her efforts to introduce the art to America.

Shimizu's family says she may be the only Mizuhiki instructor in the United States. She's spent the past 20 years traveling up and down the West Coast teaching the craft at festivals such as this weekend's Bon Odori, a celebration at the Seattle Buddhist Temple where members of the Japanese-American community honor their ancestors.

She'll give demonstrations and display her work and the work of her students at the three-day festival.

"It's a dying art, so to speak," said George Shimizu, her son. "She wants to expand this knowledge to other people and keep this tradition."

At her home in Seattle, Haruko Shimizu unties a tightly wrapped bundle of rice-paper cords, sent from Japan, and hundreds of strands of red, yellow, gold, silver and blue flash before her small frame.

She learned the craft while in school in the 1930s in Saijo, Hiroshima.

"I thought, 'That's so beautiful, so I'd like to make this,' " she said.

Shimizu was born in Puyallup, but her family returned to Japan in 1921, where she later married Sengo Shimizu. She and her husband came back to the United States to make their home.

During World War II, she and her four children were sent to Santa Anita Assembly Center in California and then to the Gila Relocation Camp in Arizona. Her husband was sent to Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas, where his family joined him in 1943. After the war, they settled in Seattle.

Traditionally, Mizuhiki creations are given at occasions such as weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. Cranes and turtles, or kame, are given to wish a long life. Most start out with an "awaji musubi," or basic knot.

The steps are outlined in a book Shimizu published in 1998 with the help of her English-speaking students. Before she wrote the book, she couldn't find detailed Mizuhiki instructions in English.

"The book is very unique; you'll never find it in Japan, either," her son George said.

Some of her three-dimensional creations grow to be quite large. In the front room of her home she displays a 3-foot-long "treasure ship" with a gold frame and ivory sails. It took her almost five months to finish.

The craft has become an important part of her life. She keeps scrapbooks full of photographs of her students and her creations. Most treasured are snapshots of her standing next to the governor of Hiroshima. In 2000, Shimiuzu and her students constructed a peace tree of 1,000 Mizuhiki cranes and took it to the Hiroshima Memorial for the 55th anniversary of the tragedy.

"I'm very proud," she said. "The governor said it's the first time the peace tree has been made in the cord."

Shimizu also made a peace tree for the cancer ward of Swedish Medical Center where her husband died in 1986. It is still on display, she said, but it's too hard on her to go see it.

"A lot of people suffer, so I make 1,000 cranes," she said. "Maybe some sick people look around and maybe for one minute not think about the pain."

In 2001, Shimizu coordinated an effort to honor her parents. She traveled back to Japan to mark the 100-year anniversary of the day her father, Tsunesaburo Kato, left Hiroshima for Seattle. She and her family erected a monument near her father's property.

"I'm so lucky," she said. "I wanted to do something for [them]."
Katherine Sather: 206-464-2752


At July 18, 2004 at 7:52 PM, Blogger mom said...

it was great being able to read your article-please save a copy for me and don't ever make me make another blogger page. i don't know what i'm doing. mom

At July 18, 2004 at 7:54 PM, Blogger mom said...

i thought i already did this anyway - its great to be able to see your articles. very proud of you.

At July 22, 2004 at 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yo Kat! Are we ever going to hear about your life on this blog?! Also, please consider making "Kitty Boom of Seattle" your new nickname. It would really help all of us.



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