New digital exhibit on Japanese cuisine filling visitors’ senses

by

Kyodo

An exhibition in downtown Tokyo is offering unique opportunities to experience washoku (Japanese cuisine) using the five senses in interactive digital displays that allow visitors to follow the scent of soup stock and actually taste traditional dishes.

“The Mysterious Restaurant of the Food God” highlights the richness of Japanese food culture through digital images, with seaweed, dried and shaved bonito and other ingredients changing to dashi, the soup stock that forms the basis of many Japanese dishes, as visitors hold a hand over a digitalized screen.

The restaurant-type exhibition on washoku, a UNESCO-designated intangible cultural heritage, also offers a hands-on experience with 1.8 meter-wide bowls filled with real rice grains, on which digital images are projected. The light display changes as people touch the rice and make different shapes with it.

These digital arts, also showing images of fermentation processes and sake production, are produced by Moment Factory, a Montreal-based entertainment studio that has been doing project-mapping on world famous architecture and offering art direction at concerts by famous artists. This is the studio’s first exhibit in Japan.

At the end of the show, all visitors are treated to a special inari, a pouch of fried tofu filled with sushi rice and some vegetables, presented by Hisato Nakahigashi, chef of Miyamasou Inn in Kyoto. The exhibition also has a restaurant space offering traditional Japanese cuisine presented by prominent chefs, including those at Michelin-starred restaurants.

Tomohiko Suzuki, 41, who planned and organized the event, said he decided to hold it out of a “sense of regret” at the decline in domestic interest in Japanese food culture, including traditional home cooking, amid the spread of fast food, even though the popularity of Japanese cuisine has been growing overseas.

“I thought digital arts can be a unique way to convey the charm of washoku to a wider variety of people, including young people who had not cared about the culture,” said Suzuki, producer of Tokyo-based event organizing firm Kirinzi Inc.

“We gave great thought to creating the real scent of dashi,” Suzuki said, adding he hopes people who are accustomed to dashi soup made from instant bouillon sense the difference.

Michika Akiyama, 19, was busy moving her hands from one screen to another, including those showing Japan’s changing seasons on which warabi (edible wild plants) emerge from the land in a spring scene and bamboo trees grow similarly in the summer scene.

“I thought this exhibition on washoku may be difficult to understand. But now I feel like I have thoroughly experienced it,” she said. “I came to think about what I’ve kind of known for a long time, but never really considered.”

The event is running through May 21 at the Heiwa Building in Tokyo’s Kayabacho, which co-hosts “Super Ukiyo-e: The Edo Code,” an exhibition of digitalized and animated ukiyo-e artworks.

It is not an ordinary exhibition with framed pictures on the wall as it is aimed at enabling visitors to “jump in” to the Edo Period (1603-1868), said Suzuki, who also organized the event.

The exhibition starts with a scene of Nihonbashi, a major mercantile center during the Edo Period, with videos on big screens showing busy Edo residents walking in the town, which visitors can see next to them while crossing a real small bridge built to enter the digitalized Edo town. By looking down from the bridge, visitors can see fishes taken out of ukiyo-e pieces swim in the river.

The different fashions of Edo women and what the kabuki theater looked like are also displayed.

The highlight of the exhibition is a 22-meter-wide digitalized work of a famous ukiyo-e print by Katsushika Hokusai — “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” from the “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” series — showing moving images of jumping fishes in rough waves.

There is no single real ukiyo-e artwork at the exhibition.

“By cutting out people from ukiyo-e and making them move, we can make ukiyo-e an entertainment for everyone, not artworks that some may feel are difficult to understand,” Suzuki said.

“This exhibition is the entry-level model of ukiyo-e,” he added.

“The Mysterious Restaurant of the Food God” is being held at the Kayabacho 1-chome Heiwa Building in Tokyo through May 21 (10 a.m.-9 p.m.; till 11 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and the day before a national holiday; till 7 p.m. on Sundays and national holidays). Tickets cost ¥2,000 for adults and ¥1,000 for children. For more information, visit www.tabegamisama.com.