－Your hands reach out toward the rice packed into the giant Chawan bowl… and as they do so, specks of light approach. Is this Tabegami, the good of food, making his presence felt－
“The Mysterious Restaurant of the Food God Tabegami” is an exhibition open now at a special facility in the Nihonbashi,Tokyo. Below, we will report on the new movements in digital art found in the exhibition and how it expresses the themes of Japanese culinary culture.
■A fox named Uka is your guide through the ”Valley of the Four Seasons”!
Inside a previously abandoned building in the back alleys of Nihonbashi,Tokyo. a new digital art exhibition has opened dedicated to the concept of exploring how Japanese culinary culture is seen abroad.
”Valley of the Four Seasons”
After passing the reception desk, visitors are greeted by a first-floor installation entitled “The Valley of the Four Seasons”.
The space is surrounded on both sides by digital screens with projected images of bamboo forests and following the path is enough to convince you that you’ve entered the world of Japanese mythology. Search the screens to find Uka the fox（※1）and the scene will change seasons, a truly thrilling sensation.
Reach your hand out and light gathers at your fingers (Spring scene pictured)
Find the fox and reach out
Uka the fox
Uka leads you through many scenes that occur in the four seasons.
Summer → Fall → Winter
To learn more about the exhibition, we decided to visit with Tomohiko Suzuki, one of the producers on the project.“In 2015, I produced an exhibition about the 20th century artist and culinary specialist Kitaoji Rosanjin. At that time, we created an installation entitled “shoku” (food) that employed digital art and I found the possibilities quite interesting. We Japanese are well accustomed to the world of ‘Washoku’ (Japanese food), but using the latest techniques in digital art, I felt that that we could look at Washoku from a completely new perspective.” Suzuki went on to explain how that moment of inspiration became the starting point for this new project. He also took note of the fact that Washoku receives more attention abroad then it does at home.
“The Mysterious Restaurant of the Food God Tabegami” asks fundamental questions about the nature of Washoku and offers up what it sees as several indispensable elements. That exploration begins on the first floor with the four seasons, an element which, Suzuki explains, has given Washoku its shape and form.
Producer Tomohiko Suzuki
■“４Ways ”－“The Sanctuary of Washoku”
The next floor features an installation entitled “4 Ways” and begins with a square screen displaying the floating 3-d characters ‘煮’ (boil), ‘焼’ (grill), ‘蒸’ steam, and ’揚’ (fry) the four methods in which Washoku is prepared. Approach the screen and the characters will begin to bend and shift. According to Suzuki, the screen has 7 layers that make its 3d effect possible. The room is also fitted with a body sensor that responds to visitors’ movements, creating a truly interactive art exhibit.
The character‘揚’(fry) floats above the screen.
After passing through the 4 Ways installation, visitors will pass to the “Sanctuary” space, a semi-circled hall lit by bamboo lanterns and fit with four screens on the walls. On each screen is footage showing the four essential elements that form the foundation of all Japanese cooking: aging (such as fermentation or pickling), utensils, sake, and dashi broth. Wave your hand in front of the screen and images of Rikyu style chopsticks, Chawan rice bowls, Donabe earthen pots, soy sauce, and miso will appear, along with detailed explanations. Viewers will learn the history and origin of each item and there is a level of discovery that will surprise even native Japanese.
“The Sanctuary of Washoku”
Reach out your hand and the light truly moves, almost as if you were touching it.
At Suzuki’s request, the creators behind the digital artwork were the Montreal collective “Momento Factory”. The group has worked previously on over 350 different events and interactive exhibits, including collaborations with the Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona and Cirque du Soleil. Their projection mapping(※2）technology and scenography（※3）are said to be among the best in the world.This exhibition will be their first time to show their work in Japan.
Negotiations for the collaboration began at the end of 2015 and the final works are the result of many rounds of discussion. Throughout their talks, Suzuki’s consistent priority was to reflect the way Japanese food is seen abroad. Indeed, the focus on kanji and cooking utensils as expressions of Washoku reflects the exoticism with which these elements are seen abroad.
■“A dialog with rice”－ Emerging from the Forest…
Moving upward to the next floor, visitors will be confronted with a space entitled “A Dialog with Rice”, where they will find a giant Chawan rice bowl placed on the floor. Inside the bowl is a massive quantity of rice and if you submerge your hands in the bowl, you’ll be surprised anew at the cold comfort this simple, every day item, possesses. As you sift the rice with your hands, a flash of light approaches. The light shifts shape into contours and turns green, among other changes. As you move, the light moves too, creating an almost spiritual atmosphere.
”A Dialog with Rice”
Sifting rice with both hands
According to Suzuki, the inspiration for this motif was found in the Kojiki an ancient text of Japanese mythology. The Kojiki contains stories about a plethora of gods, but Suzuki was most interested in the gods of food. The name of the fox, ‘Uka’, as well, is taken from ‘Ukano mitama’, the Goddess of the Five Grains.
The narrative of the show is as follows: Visitors are tricked by Uka, the servant of the Goddess of the Five Grains, and become lost in the forest dwelling of the gods, where the images of the four seasons and the preparation of Japanese food appear as illusions. After completing their journey through the forest, visitors finally emerge at the‘restaurant of the gods’.
”The restaurant of the gods”
The restaurant floor is enveloped in the aroma of dashi. Visitors are then handed a sample ‘Oinari-san’ (inari sushi) but the official menu also includes lots of other dishes prepared by famous chefs.
As the writer of this post, I also sampled some of the food. Each dish I tried was excellent but my personal favorite was the ‘dashi maki’. The aroma of the Japanese pepper included was superb.
In this way, the exhibition stirs not only the senses of sight, hearing and touch, through its digital art, but finally also satisfies our sense of taste and smell. Suzuki has stated that his goal was to create a cumulative artwork by way of physical sensation. An artwork that we do not merely look at, and is not merely seen, but is only completed when the viewer enters the space and participates.
’Kami-sama no inari’. One roll is given out per ticket.
An Oyakodashi maki roll with just the right amount of Japanese pepper.
Inaniwa Udon with fragrant dashi
Before exiting, I asked some of the visitors for their opinions. One man in his 20’s commented “I’ve seen a lot of projection mapping before now, but this was by far the most impressive.” Though there are many digital art exhibitions that are of a much greater scale, the fact that he would select this one as superior is no doubt due to its full engagement of the senses and participatory nature. Washoku is a theme that is constantly within our reach and yet, the exhibition presents to us an extraordinary world that is mysterious and spiritual, engaging the five senses in the process. Leaving, I felt that I had gained a quick glimpse of the future of entertainment.
“The Mysterious Restaurant of the Food God Tabegami”
Workshops open now.
（※1）Voice actors：Sayuri Matsumura（Nogizaka 46）、Yumi Wakatsuki（Nogizaka 46)
（※2）A term for a technique wherein CG graphics are applied onto buildings, objects, or open air spaces using film projection methods.
（※3）Light and sound stage equipment.
（Article by： Kenichi Nakamura）
Fields Research Institute (FRI) conducts research in entertainment.
This article was written by a member of FRI, through the original coverage of his/her interests observed in their daily lives.