Few places in the world balance their storied past and advancing future quite as well as Japan. Explore the streets of cities such as Tokyo or Kyoto and you will soon find yourself travelling through time; passing by ancient temples one moment and a sea of neon lights the next.
Modern Japan has managed to expertly walk the line between adhering to their history with great reverence and consistently advancing the world of information and technology.
These dual ideals come together perfectly in Art Aquarium, a unique art exhibit by Hidetomo Kimura, currently on display in Nihonbashi, Tokyo.
Since 2011 in Nihonbashi, Art Aquarium is an annual installment that seamlessly blends Japanese culture and history with modern digital art.
What truly separates this exhibit from other similar works is the use of a living element: over 8,000 Japanese goldfish, known as kingyo. These peculiar looking fish are a staple in Japanese culture, dating back to the Edo period when they were first collected by wealthy merchants before becoming a popular pastime for the common people as well.
The artist: Hidetomo Kimura
During the often unbearably hot Japanese summers, people would stay cool by sitting near ponds and watching these ornate fish swim about. Hidetomo Kimura has brought this tradition to the modern era through his artwork, as yukata-clad guests can mingle amongst the exhibits while escaping the heat.
We were fortunate enough to be able to speak with Kimura before the public opening of the Art Aquarium exhibit last year. When asked why he chose the kingyo to be the centerpiece of his artwork, he told us: "Goldfish and nishikigoi [colored varieties of common koi carp] are ornamental fish. People outside of Japan might not realize this, but goldfish and koi do not exist naturally in the sea. Instead they are things that human beings have made - not in order to use or exhibit, but in order to appreciate. In that sense, I wish to display these ornamental fish on bright, attractive stages. The fish play the leading role. The fish are the stars. I wish to create a place like that."
With their bulbous features and seemingly hand-painted designs, the kingyo easily steal the show as intended.
To get a preview of what's in store, here's a 360° view of 2018's Art Aquarium:
"Kingyo in the Sky": Above the colorful entranceway, goldfish greet you!
From the moment you enter the room, it becomes instantly apparent that this is unlike any aquarium you are likely to have visited. Guests first make their way through a neon-lit hallway of rhythmically changing colors. Glass tanks embedded in the ceiling house hundreds of fish swimming overhead, setting the surreal mood for what lies ahead.
In the main hall beyond, Kimura has redefined the idea of what we commonly think of as a fish tank. Ornate dishes, hexagonal diamonds, and overflowing spheres are all home to these photogenic fish. The centerpiece, titled “Super Oiran” is a beautifully complex work which contains over 3,000 kingyo.
"Oiran": With more than 1,000 goldfish, this beautiful exhibit changes through seven colors
Perhaps most interestingly during our interview, Kimura explained to us that despite its appearance on the surface, the high-tech landscape he has created is meant to serve only as a canvas for the true art on display: the fish. "I'm not looking to bring digital art to the front of things. It's used just as a supportive role to help represent real living things. So although it can be used as a means to express a living form, digital art isn't really the main focus."
Whether or not it intends to, what Art Aquarium does truly well is to blur the lines between old and new to the point where they are one in the same. By wrapping classical Japanese culture in a shiny new wrapper, the end result is something that can appeal to everyone; fans of both traditional and modern art alike. Something of that nature is rare to come across, and deserves to be experienced.
Kutani Kingyo exhibiton: goldfish swim within these porcelain works (Photo from 2018)
When the sun sets: Night Aquarium
After 7 P.M., the exhibit transforms into Night Aquarium, an ultra-modern lounge where you can peruse the artwork with drinks in hand. A full series of events is planned throughout the summer, including geisha dance performances and guest DJs every weekend. These include Ren Yokoi, Frank Muller and many more.
New for 2019
This beautiful and unique jacuzzi exhibit truly lends itself to the water. The dazzling fish have brought the underwater world with them and float in a scene of ultimate relaxation.
This is a piece that was born from an encounter with Kyoto silk. The beauty of the traditional art of kimono-making is brought into the living world. A pattern is produced using 3D projection mapping, and the living goldfish move from place to place, creating different shapes and shadows. The fish complete the kimono with patterns that stay for only a moment – then the fish move on to create another.
“Lotus” is a word associated with summer, and this 4m squared aquarium gives that word a whole new meaning. A lotus flower needs thick muddy water to create large and beautiful flowers, but after working so hard to bloom, its petals fall after just four days. This ephemeral beauty, in tandem with the delicate goldfish are symbols of the painfully short-lived elegance of nature.
A Taste of the Edo Experience
Items can be found at the following shops: A: Muromachi Sunaba; B: Manzovino
Of course no fancy lounge experience is complete without fancy food. Not content to let the artwork steal all of the visual appeal, a total of 110 establishments in the area will be providing beautiful food and drink in-keeping with the goldfish theme that has proved popular in the past!
Start by whetting your appetite with these delicate ice-cold udon noodles (A above, 702 - 918 yen) or for the meat lovers a "Moon and Goldfish" wagyu tartare (B above, 1,820 yen).
Items can be found at the following shops: A: Patisserie ISOZAKI; B: Nihonbashi Nichigetsudo; 3: The Mandarin Oriental Gourmet Shop
For desserts, your options are as varied as the kingyo themselves. For those who are looking for something with a more traditional ‘Japanese’ taste, try the “Chilled Kintsuba”, a dough wrapping delicious sweet beans (B, 430 yen).
For something a bit more rich, opt for the "Goldfish Jelly" (A, 648 yen); topped with an edible and adorably large-eyed goldfish.
Alternatively, for something refreshing on a hot day, try the Kingyou Rouge, a dessert with a panna cotta base softened by a wonderful aloe vera texture, or Kingyou Jaune, a light mousse with a touch of lemongrass (Both pictured in C above, 864 yen each).
Art Aquarium is running now through September 23rd. Tickets can be purchased online or in-person and cost ¥1,000 for adults and ¥600 for children 12 and younger. Priority admission tickets for special events can also be purchased online.
Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall
東京都中央区日本橋室町2-2-1 コレド室町1 5F［エントランス4F］ / 5F, COREDO Muromachi 1 [Entrance is on 4F], 2-2-1 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Tokyo Metro Mitsukoshimae Station (Ginza Line / Hanzomon Line)
Exhibition Dates: July 5 – September 23, 2019
Price: Adults: 1,000 yen (13+ years old); Children: 600 yen (4-12 years old); under the age of 3: free. (* Tax included)
Hours: Sunday - Friday: 11:00 a.m. - 10:30 p.m. (Last entrance 10:00 p.m.)
Saturdays & days prior to a public holiday: 11:00 a.m. - 11:30 p.m. (Last entrance 11:00 p.m.)
Art Aquarium: 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.; Night Aquarium: from 7:00 PM
Website (and tickets):
All prices include tax.
Mandarin Oriental Gourmet Shop
〒103-8328 Tokyo, Chūō, Nihonbashimuromachi, 2-1-1
Located on the first floor of Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower
3 Chome-3-1 Nihonbashihamachō, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 103-0007
12-14 Nihonbashikobunacho, Chuo City, Tokyo 103-0024
4 Chome-1-13 Nihonbashimuromachi, Chuo City, Tokyo 103-0022
2 Chome-31-13 Nihonbashiningyocho, Chuo City, Tokyo 103-0013
Matt Vachon is a writer, photographer, and recent Tokyo transplant. When he's not working, he can be found taking in the local culture and getting lost with his camera at the ready. Follow along on his adventures on Instagram @mattvachonphoto.