Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, August 5, 1999

Temari at Twenty
By Nadine Kam
Features editor


ANN Asakura knows what it's like to rebel against one's culture. "I fought against it for the longest time. I wanted to be Annette Funicello with her big ta-tas."

Growing up in the late '50s and early '60s was "about rock 'n' roll with crinoline, rollerblading and Sandra Dee crooning," she said. "I was in love with Elvis Presley; I couldn't help it.

"Uncle Tom (Moffatt) was on the radio and there was this local song, 'The Rock,' about having to get off the rock, and I couldn't wait to get off."

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Ann Asakura, top, holds "Y2K Buggahs" by
Jason Teraoka, left, and Babs Miyano Young.

That was a long time ago. Today, Asakura's name is closely associated with TEMARI -- The Center for Asian and Pacific Arts, a nonprofit organization she helped to found 20 years ago that offers education in traditional crafts. TEMARI celebrates its 20th anniversary Sunday with a birthday party featuring food, an art marketplace and a silent auction, including an auction of "Y2K Buggahs," a couple dozen footlong wooden roaches painted and embellished by 20 artists.

But don't head over to TEMARI's usual Palolo digs. The event takes place, instead, in an office building near the KHON-TV studio. Could the spiffy venue stem from shame that TEMARI's classroom is showing its age?


TEMARI's 20th-anniversary celebration:

Bullet Featuring: Art marketplace, plus silent auction of jewelry, wearable art, gift certificates, more
Bullet Place: Victoria Ward Garden Office Building, 1210 Auahi St.
Bullet Time: 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday
Bullet Admission: Free
Bullet Call: 735-1860

"You sure you like come?" Asakura attempts to ascertain, when I invite myself over to Palolo. "Messy you know, kind of rustic. We get so much stuff piled up!"

But it's humility, local-style, backed with plenty of pride.

Unlike general crafts classes, which focus primarily on technique, at TEMARI classes, one can't avoid being immersed in the history, language and philosophy of the culture that inspired the technique, whether Japanese, Hawaiian, Chinese or Indonesian.

A quick rundown of upcoming classes includes making a Victorian rag basket (Aug. 15),'uli'uli (Hawaiian hula feather gourd, Aug. 21 and 28), easy batik (Aug. 22) and Chinese double connection necklace (Sept. 19).

Artists saving themselves

"Temari" refers to a Japanese toy, a decorated ball, symbolic of craft, tradition, that has no beginning and no end.

"You can leave and come home again," Asakura says. Motherhood and travel were partially responsible for Asakura's change of heart toward tradition. She came back to Hawaii after attending graduate school in Illinois and living in London two-and-a-half years, and started taking pottery classes at the YWCA. She hooked up with the noisiest bunch of guys in the place. One of them was Reynold Choy, a science teacher who also had an interest in weaving.

At the time, weaving was part of the public school curriculum and the art form was also being taught at the university level and at Bishop Museum.

It was a blow to the artists when Bishop Museum closed its art school.

"I felt we couldn't lose this resource," Asakura said. "It was one of the few places people could go and learn arts and crafts without a degree involved. For me, I had kids and I wondered where were my children gonna go if they wanted to learn?"

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Esther Nowell works on a piece during a recent
TEMARI class, "Pure Collage," taught by
Big Island artist Ira Ono.

TEMARI debuted in February 1979 at Choy's house in Kaimuki. Students made themselves at home in the den and garage, where vats of indigo dye were stored. Classes were a real family affair, with Choy and his brother Brian teaching lei-making, Choy's wife Jennifer teaching Chinese jacket sewing, and Asakura teaching new wave kimono. Asakura's husband Bert -- they have since divorced -- was a chemist who helped unlock secrets of the plantation indigo dyeing process. And Asakura's cousin by marriage, Grant Kagimoto, signed on as one of the organization's board of directors.

"He was already famous then," Asakura said of the founder of Cane Haul Road, a line of local T-shirts.

The group felt they needed Kagimoto's business expertise, but TEMARI had already fulfilled the main need of every business; that is, give the customers what they want.

"A lot of people don't feel fulfilled in a creative sense," Kagimoto said. "To take a class and come back with something physical, tangible, that you made practically from scratch; it's unbelievable the emotional reward that gives you."

Asakura said, "There are so many people who tell me, 'I'm not creative, you know.' I make them come and they're the ones who come back for more."

"I think everybody is creative," Kagimoto said. "Most kids are very creative, but it gets channeled so that in many cases it's completely turned off."

Realizing they had to reach children as well as adults, TEMARI also started an annual Children's Day festival for hands-on learning in arts and crafts. "We tell the parents to go away, 'cause this is what they do: They stand over the kid and tell 'em, 'You color this red over here.' "

Moving on up

TEMARI moved into its current 10th Avenue location when the Choys decided they needed their home back to start a family.

The education center may have been little more than a local phenomenon, had it not been for the caliber of students that made their own contributions to the school. One of them was Barbara Stephan, a Japan arts expert with many contacts in Japan.

"She brought us our first visiting artists," Asakura said. "And it was their knowledge of paper and fabric that brought in so many students."

What did these instructors think of this bunch of renegade artists operating a school out of someone's home?

"They loved it! They thought it was so different from the traditional Japanese system of apprenticeships, where you only sit and listen," Asakura said.

TEMARI classes are now being run by a fourth generation of students, who all teach their crafts the way they were taught.

"We have an obligation to keep what came before," Asakura said. "The old stories, the old traditions impart values."

"I think everybody is creative."

Grant Kagimoto



Kagimoto, who grew up in Okinawa, said pursuit of the arts gives a society a richer, fuller dimension.

"I think people are finally recognizing that the strength of the United States is in individual creativity. It's what makes us a world power. Asians will outwork us any day of the week, but can they be more creative than us?"

Growing up in Okinawa gave Kagimoto an outsider's view of Hawaii which helped him to see beauty in the ordinary, such as pidgin and favorite foods. That was how his Ume Surprise, Musubi & Friends and Teri Beef with Sumo T-shirts came to be. And nowhere else can people so readily identify with the phrase "Eat 'til you sleep."

"My company tries to look at things that make us who we are and tries to celebrate that, take what's good and enjoy it.

"Hawaii's people are eccentrically friendly, almost without regard for protocol, which other people find disarming.

"Barriers have been broken down by aloha that affect us all; that helps us to be more tolerant, forgiving of others, and share of ourselves.

"We want to be inclusive."

Looking to the future

And there lies TEMARI's direction at the turn of the century. Kagimoto and Asakura talk about forming partnerships with other arts organizations.

If there's anything positive about Hawaii's economic troubles, it's that they've forced people to think more creatively about surviving.

"Everybody's much more willing to talk to one another about pooling resources, sharing office space. It's not just talk story anymore. There's actually support," Kagimoto said. "It's learning to think like a surfer, just go for it."

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