The Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art is located in Yamazaki, a place of historical significance in Japan since medieval times when it served as a field of battle for Toyotomi Hideyoshi to avenge the betrayal and murder of his lord Oda Nobuaga. The museum is currently hosting an exhibition that pays homage to the samurai of those ancient times, in a very modern and surreal fashion.

Yamazaki in current-day Kyoto is famous for the Battle of Yamazaki, the conflict that arose in 1582 after warlord Oda Nobunaga was forced to commit seppuku by one of his retainers, Akechi Mitsuhide.

After hearing news of Nobunaga’s death, Toyotomi Hideyoshi marched from Takamatsu Castle towards Kyoto to avenge his fallen lord. Sandwiched between Tennozan Hill and Yodogawa River, Yamazaki was known as the final ‘gate’ on the road leading up from Osaka to Kyoto, and this is where Mitsuhide made his stand. However, Hideyoshi’s forces soon defeated him, and he would go on to take over Nobunaga’s position and succeed in bringing an end to the era of warring states and uniting Japan.

With such a famous and serious historical legacy, you’d expect such a place to have a special reverence for samurai, and so it comes as no surprise to hear of a samurai art show being held at the museum. However, when you take a closer look at these warrior statues, you’ll find that there’s something a little…off about them.


The title of said exhibition is ‘Tetsuya Noguchi’s Illustrated Guide to Samurai Classifications’. Noguchi is an artist who uses resin and plasticine to create armored samurai that bring to life his own unique worldview. His subtle humour is reflected in the worldplay in the title of the exhibition: the Japanese the word for ‘samurai classifications’ is read as ‘mushabunrui‘, which is similar to ‘mushaburui‘, the word for ‘trembling with excitement’.

This weird display of samurai includes the ‘Chanel Samurai’, who at first glance appears completely normal until you notice that his white chest plate is emblazoned with the famous Chanel brand logo. There’s also ‘Rocket Man’ blasting through the air with a jet pack, ‘Talking Head’ who sports some kind of bizarre rabbit-like creature as a hat, and ‘Positive Contact’, who appears to have a receiver attached to his helm. As well as figures, Noguchi is also adept at painting, as seen with his surreal depiction in acrylics of a samurai riding out to battle on a penny farthing.

His extremely modern take on samurai may be considered trite by some, but others will see them as true works of art. On the one hand they’re clearly a joke, but on the other they’re very detailed and realistic looking figures caught in life-like poses, and as such his interpretations may help us to feel a common affinity with these historical figures.


If you have the chance to visit the museum, you should also drop by the cafe which will be offering three special cakes in collaboration with the Kyoto Rihga Royal Hotel during the course of the exhibition. Two of them sound delicious: ‘green tea and yuzu’ and ‘cinnamon, dark chocolate, and dried mango’. Then, in keeping with the bizarre art, we also get a combination of orange and…charcoal bamboo?! The taste is described as ‘refreshing’, which may be a euphemism for ‘terrible’, but it seems like the most fitting thing to finish with after the rabbit hole journey into Noguchi’s imagination.


Source: Japaaan Magazine
Images: Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art