For several years artist Koshi Kawachi has been putting a favorite children’s snack called “umaibo” to an unusual use — sculpting the puffed corn sticks into little statues of the Buddha.
At his home in Tokyo he has 107 of these “Umaibutsu” (“Tasty Buddha”) under a glass case.
Kawachi sculpted these five years ago. The number is one short of the 108 earthly desires of Buddhism, and although he continues to create the final piece, he says he always yields to greed and ends up eating it.
The 40-year-old artist models the statues on those crafted by Enku, a monk and sculptor from the Edo Period known for creating wooden Buddha statues with humorous expressions.
Kawachi held a public event in April, while the Tokyo National Museum was running an exhibition featuring Enku, in which he carved a Tasty Buddha using an electric file.
He said Enku’s works are “friendly Buddhist statues engraved on a wooden stick that you can find anywhere.”
“If Enku were alive today, I believe he would have sculpted statues out of umaibo.”
Kawachi, who hails from Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture, and studied at Nagoya University of Arts, is also known as a bookbinding designer.
He started making his Tasty Buddhas after his grandfather died five years ago.
“I realized that a human dies someday and I wanted to turn my sorrow into art,” he said.
Kawachi said he was exposed to Buddhism for the first time during his grandfather’s wake and funeral and felt that everyday life had suddenly become extraordinary.
To express his feelings, he linked umaibo, which he regarded as a symbol of his everyday life, with the Enku Buddhist statues he finds so moving.
Kawachi said that among the various flavors, cheese and corn potage umaibo are easy to engrave, while the “takoyaki” octopus-flavored ones are stiff and hard.
“I want people to enjoy my work however they want,” he said.