The Art Aquarium has been a huge summer hit in Tokyo over the past few years, attracting a total audience of close 5 million people. The large scale installation, housed in a darkened space features several thousand Japanese kingyo “goldfish” in a series of stylized illuminated tanks that , is the work of Hidetomo Kimura who started working with tropical fish at the age of 19 years. The whole thing is melding of art, light, sound and aquarium technology with lashings of Japonisme.
This summer, the installation is not only on show in Nihonbashi in Tokyo and Hiroshima, but also overseas in Milan. Kimura, before cutting the tape to open the Hiroshima event, spoke of his initial unease at talking on the Hiroshima event with so much else going on. He pointed to the 70th anniversary of the A-bombing as the deciding factor in going ahead. Commenting that these ornamental fish, unable to survive in the wild, are only able to thrive in times of peace and, as such, thinks of the pretty fish as symbols of peace. We were asked to notice that every few minutes the displays turn red for around 30 seconds: A reference to chinmoku, a respectful moment of silence of the kind observed at the peace memorial ceremony and around the city at 8:15am on August 6.
After taking a look at the website, I went to the pre-opening event fully expecting to scoff at the concept. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. I was captivated by a very well designed animated display in an 8m long tank which takes you through Japan’s four seasons.
You are then led past an array of tanks housing some spectacularly strange varieties of kingyo. Since their arrival from China at the beginning of the 16th century, have been bred as ornamental objects and they brought to my mind some of the more bizarre-looking dog breeds.
The main event space contains several large terraced tanks, the steps also with smaller illuminated asymmetric “bonborium” tanks. The piece de la resistance is the Oooku [大奥] display – taking its name from that of the quarters of the Shogun’s harem in Edo Castle.
One might dismiss this as a summer attraction of marginal interest to most, but that will be packed with young families and dating couples looking to escape the heat during the long summer holidays, but for one interesting twist. After 6pm the Art Aquarium turns into a Night Aquarium. Nothing actually seems to change in the display, but the music switches from the etherial backing track to changes a club lounge selection and the adjacent cafe starts to serve alcoholic drinks and special cocktails which can be enjoyed in the display area.
On weekends, DJs will pump up the volume and the space will have more of a club atmosphere. The roster includes a couple of Japan’s most well known techno DJs, Ken Ishii and Takkyu Ishino, plus many local selectors. Ken Ishii gave the assembled suited sponsors and media a taste of the Night Aquarium at the opening reception, and they weren’t shy of cranking up volume, though I did wonder how some of the fish were handling the vibrations.
By all accounts, the Art Aquarium in Tokyo has become a popular location for stylish schmoozing. It will be interesting if the same can be achieved in Hiroshima, or if the place will be full of confused young families and dating couples not knowing quite what to do.
At the quite (and somewhat surprisingly) reasonable price of ¥1000 and ¥600 for children, it’s certainly somewhere to check out over the summer weeks.
There is of course a gift shop, which, along with the inevitable kawaii stuffed kingyo has some pretty stylish things that would make good presents and souvenirs. There is also a cafe with a limited menu of sweets and drinks, and which serves drinks and special colorful cocktails after 6pm.
Art Aquarium Hiroshima, Prayer of Kingyo runs from July 25 to September 6 on the 11th floor of Palcela Motomachi Cred in Naka-ku in Hiroshima city.