If you have an interest in modern Japanese art, you may be familiar with the name Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883 – 1959). As it happens, the versatile Japanese artist is currently the subject of a an innovative and unique exhibit being held at the Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall in the Coredo Muromachi shopping, dining and entertainment complex.

Rosanjin, who was known not only as an artist, but as a very discerning food connoisseur and a man well ahead of his time, is considered to have had a huge influence on modern Japanese art and cuisine. He has even been the inspiration behind one of the central characters in the popular gourmet comic Oishinbo, so when we heard that the exhibit combined digital technology with elements of both his art and love of food, we knew we had to go and experience it ourselves. And from what we’d already heard,  this was going to be an exhibit that you not only see, but hear and taste as well!

The L’art de Rosanjin exhibit is actually a digitally revamped version of an exhibit by the same name that was held in Paris, France in 2013, which apparently was well-received enough for the show to be brought to the artist’s native country.

▼The Coredo Muromachi, a complex that includes numerous gift shops, restaurants and even a movie theater, is located in Nihonbashi in central Tokyo, which is a business district as well as a shopping area with two major department stores.

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▼ The beautiful promotional poster for the show seemed to combine images of digital art, Japan and food quite beautifully.

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▼ Here we were at the entrance of the Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall.


▼ We bought the entrance ticket (1,000 yen [US$8.28]), and since we weren’t about to miss the collaborative food menu served on the exhibit site, we also purchased two different types of “Special Gourmet Tickets” — one for a sampler plate of sushi from the famous restaurant Ginza Kyubei (1,800 yen [$14.91]) and the other for a mini plate of an innovative duck creation by Michelin chef Keisuke Matsushima.

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▼ With our tickets in hand, we were now ready to experience (and eat in particular) the world of Rosanjin as we went up a flight of escalators to the main hall.

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▼ The entrance of the exhibit was decorated with a striking noren, a traditional fabric sign commonly hung in front of Japanese shops and restaurants. The maker of this particular noren, the Tsutaya, is a noren manufacturer with a 80-year history and also created fabric signs for Rosanjin.

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▼ Once we passed through the noren sign, we were greeted by a photograph of the artist himself.

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▼ The first few panels briefly described his work and gave a timeline of events in his lifetime.

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For those of you not familiar with Rosanjin, he was definitely a man of many talents, distinguishing himself in various fields such as ceramics, painting, calligraphy, lacquer art, poetry and of course, fine cuisine. His real name was Fusajiro Kitaoji (Kitaoji being his family name), but he is best known simply as Rosanjin. He is probably best recognized for his ceramics work, particularly Oribe-ware ceramics, and for his exploits as a gourmand. (It’s said that when he dined at the Tour d’Argent in Tokyo, he found the sauce to be not the ideal match for the duck, and used his own wasabi and soy-sauce based sauce instead.)

His family situation as a child was very complicated, as he was born out of an extra-marital relationship. His mother’s husband committed suicide after finding out Rosanjin was not his child, and after his mother disappeared, Rosanjin spent many years in various foster homes. He eventually began apprenticing as a calligrapher, and from there went on to expand his pursuit of art in numerous directions.

Food, and the wares used to serve food, was particularly important to Rosanjin, and his passion was such that he opened a members-only cafeteria called the Bishoku Club (Gourmet Club) where he cooked dishes himself and served them on wares he created.

Gaining recognition for his Oribe-ware works, Rosanjin was designated a Living Japanese Treasure (Ningen Kokuho) in 1955, but surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly considering his unconventional personality) he declined the honor, something very few people have done to date. A man with a complex personal history and numerous exceptional talents, Rosanji truly is an individual who cannot be described in a few words.

▼ And now, back to the exhibit! We guess it’s befitting that the first item we saw was a giant replica of one of his famous Oribe-ware plates . Here, the plate which depicts birds at the riverside has been recreated in a size 20 times that of the original.

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▼ This is what the main exhibit hall looked like. We went on a weekday evening, so it wasn’t very crowded.

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▼At the far end of the hall, we found the original Oribe plate we just saw a replica of, displayed securely in a glass case.

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▼ The original plate is actually owned by the sushi restaurant Ginza Kyubei, who are serving sushi at the exhibit.

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▼ Next, we turned our attention to this long row of tables at the center of the hall.

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▼ We saw pristine white plates lined up on the tables.

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▼ Apparently, this was one of the digital exhibits, the “Seasonal Table Projection“, and the instructions told us to get close to the table, watch the white plate in front of  us and once we’ve seen what happens, move on to the next plate. There were eight plates in total, each a part of an eight-course traditional Japanese meal.

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▼ So, what happens? We saw an empty white plate like this …

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▼ … gradually turn into this complete Japanese dish, courtesy of projection mapping technology!

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▼ Here’s another white plate ….

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▼ … that was transformed into this beautiful dish right in front of our eyes!

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▼ And this bowl ….

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▼ … turned into this lovely dish of mixed stewed ingredients.

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▼ This lavish plate featuring a lobster ….

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▼ … and this pretty dessert plate of fruits are also just plain white plates decorated with digital projections!

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▼ Next, we had another virtual reality exhibit to experience, called the “Gourmet Sound Listening Counter“.

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▼ The exhibit, created in collaboration with the 130-year old Tempura restaurant Tenmo, was set up in a partitioned area, and the entrance was decorated with Tenmo’s noren sign .

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▼Once you pass through the noren sign, you can seat yourself at a virtual tempura counter!

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▼ We could see the tempura being cooked — well, actually a video image of it being cooked projected onto the table.  What’s more, we could also hear the vibrant, crispy sound of the tempura being fried! It’s amazing how just a sizzling sound can stir your appetite.

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▼ Sit in the chair and focus just on the space in front of you, and you’ll feel like you’re at Tenmo restaurant!

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▼ As you can see, it’s all just a projected image!

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See how the food appeared before our very eyes and experience the Gourmet Sound Listening Counter for yourself in the video below!

By this point, we’d had enough virtual food. It was time to make use of the “Gourmet Tickets” we’d bought and try some real food!

▼First we went to Ginza Kyubei’s sushi counter. With roughly an 80-year history, Kyubei is well-known as a high-end sushi restaurant and was a favorite of Rosanjin. The artist even presented Kyubei with original ceramic ware he made specifically for use at the restaurant.

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▼ They had kohada (gizzard shad) …

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▼ … and zuke maguro (tuna marinated in soy sauce) on the menu.

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▼ The sushi chef was very quick, and the kohada and zuke-maguro sushi were ready almost instantaneously.

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▼ Ahhh … that looks beautiful! (But then again, all sushi looks beautiful to us.)

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▼ See how shiny the gizzard shad looks! Now, when we actually tried the sushi, to be honest, we didn’t think it was earth-shatteringly good … it was nice, just not extraordinary. And the marinated tuna seemed a bit light on flavor, despite being seasoned with soy sauce. But maybe we need to cut them some slack here, since they’re serving the sushi at a temporary counter in an exhibit hall, after all.

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▼ Next, we made our way to the “Food Laboratory” exhibit, which involved a mini plate of duck created by Michelin chef Keisuke Matsushima. Inspired by Rosanjin’s ideas, Matsushima prepared the duck with a unique and experimental cooking method using vacuum packing.

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▼ This is how the duck was presented, in three different flavors.

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 ▼ From left to right, the duck came with a sweet soy sauce based sauce, a wasabi sauce and a Japanese pepper (sanshoseasoning. Upon trying the samples, we felt they were using nice duck meat, but since it was a pre-cooked, pre-garnished plate kept in a refrigerator, the duck was very cold, which we thought made the sauce a little harder to taste and the meat a little chewier.


▼ There was also a video being shown of the cooking process of the duck.

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▼ You can see the duck being vacuum-packed in the video.

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▼ And now that we’d had some food, we thought we’d finish with a nice highball drink made with Suntory’s new Hibiki Japanese Harmony whisky. A coupon for a whisky drink came with the Special Gourmet Tickets we purchased, so there really was no reason not to try one.

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▼ Ahhh… yes, the amber liquid looks good, doesn’t it?

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▼ The bartender expertly made a highball for us, first measuring out the whisky …

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▼ … then adding the club soda ….

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▼ … and mixing it all together in the perfect blend.

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▼ The highball was actually very refreshing and mellow and went down quite smoothly — a very satisfying end to our evening at the exhibit.

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So, that’s our round-up of our experience at the L’art de Rosanjin exhibit. If you’re interested in visiting, the show runs until March 24, but the Gourmet tickets are limited to 200 per day for the Kyubei sushi and 600 per day for Keisuke Matsushima’s Food Laboratory, and you’ll also want to take note that Kyubei serves their sushi only from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. each day. In addition, Fukudaya, another Japanese restaurant that Rosanjin frequented, will be offering a plate of appetizers just during lunch hours on March 21 and 22, for which a 1,800 yen Gourmet ticket will need to be purchased.

Now, our honest impression of the exhibit was that the “Special Gourmet Tickets”, at 1,800 yen and 1,300 yen each, were maybe a bit overpriced. An exhibition hall where many guests are expected and ingredients have to be prepared some time beforehand, can’t really be ideal conditions under which to serve delicate foods, and we can’t help but feel that this was somewhat reflected in the quality of the food.

That said, we did have an enjoyable time overall, especially with the projection-mapped virtual eight-course meal, and the show was highly interesting in its use of digital technology to fuse various elements of Rosanjin’s work together and stimulate the various senses. Although it may have been nice if we could have seen more actual pieces of work by Rosanjin, it was certainly an interesting experience, and we would definitely go to a similarly themed show again. Here’s to Rosanjin, artist and gourmand extraordinaire!

[Exhibit Details]
Location: Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall
Address: Coredo Muromachi 5 F, 2-2-1 Muromachi, Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
(Entrance on 4th Floor)
Access: Direct from Mitsukoshi-Mae Station on subway Ginza Line and Hanzomon Line (A6 Exit); or
Direct from JR Shin-Nihonbashi Station
Open: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Last entry 10:30 p.m.), until March 24
(Kyubei hours: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. each day)
(Fukudaya hours: lunchtime on March 21 and 22)

Photos © RocketNews24