Kenjiro Hashida sees things. “I would be doing something, with my eyes focused on what is in front of me, perhaps slicing sashimi or plating a dish. And out of the corner of my eye, I would see things that are not there. It might be a person, or an object, or a scene of another place. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about this. It sounds too crazy.”
The chef behind Hashida Sushi and Hashida Garo is not talking about paranormal sightings. Instead, the restless 36-year-old who sketches, doodles and scribbles throughout the interview is explaining how he gets ideas and inspiration for his art. And by that, we refer not to the edible pieces of culinary art that comes from his kitchen, but the paintings and installation work displayed on the walls of Hashida Garo, his gallery, restaurant and tea-room unveiled in July.
(RELATED: Stay tuned for coverage of Hashida Garo in our November issue of Gourmet & Travel.)
Hanging off cables on the art tracks is a slightly random collection. Muku, a three-dimensional, all-white landscape of cones, casts menacing shadows under the spotlights, representing how an innocent child’s unfiltered reaction and response to situations might prickle some. A painting titled Falling In Love has a rainbow of colours dripping out of tin cans positioned on the top of the stretched canvas frame, representing the overflowing playfulness one experiences during courtship. Look down and you will find minuscule drops of paint that have rolled off the canvas and onto the floor; yet beneath the vibrant hues is a swirling mess of charcoal tones, representing the underlying turmoil and pain of romance.
This freewheeling style is quite a departure from the Hashida we know – the second-generation chef of the Tokyo celebrity restaurant of the same name who fiercely upholds and even elevates the reputation of his father’s life work through his own; the sushi master whose dishes are executed with intense, uncompromising precision. But Hashida will tell you that canvas, plates and even T-shirts are just diff erent platforms on which he expresses his creativity.
NO TEXTBOOK REQUIRED
To hone his culinary skills, Hashida apprenticed under his father, master chef Tokio Hashida, and went to Japan’s top culinary school, the L’Ecole Tsuji Tokyo (Tsuji Culinary Institute). But when it comes to art, he is pretty much selftaught. Initially, it was a form of play. To preoccupy a young Hashida who had yet to enter school, his mother would crush a piece of paper, trace the creases and get the boy to colour in between the lines. “My mother is very creative. In fact, she graduated from the most famous sewing school in Japan, Bunka Fashion College, where (designer) Kenzo Takada graduated from,” reveals Hashida.
She also indulged his need to create pictures. “One of my mum’s friends is an artist who hangs lots of paintings in his house. They mesmerised me. Whenever we visited, I would stare at one of the pictures for the whole day. Then I would be gripped by an urge to draw. Thankfully, my mum always had pen and paper with her.”
And, if he ever had a teacher in art, it was Uchiyama-sensei from Hashida’s elementary school in Tokyo. He was a strict tutor feared by all in the class, but that didn’t stop eight-year-old Hashida from defying him. “We had to sketch a friend’s portrait for class, but I felt there was no originality in copying something – I would just take a photograph if I wanted to do that. So I stopped and did nothing for two hours.”
Needless to say, this errant pupil was summoned to see Uchiyama sensei. “He told me to go to his room after school with my textbook. I was so scared that I almost cried,” recounted Hashida. “But he just took my textbook and said that he would hold on to it until the day of my graduation. ‘Textbooks kill your identity,’ he said.”
Uchiyama would frequently pick Hashida’s art for competitions and exhibitions. “I won quite a lot of art supplies. It was all just fun for me as a child.” Yet, a visit to Uchiyama’s personal exhibition in Ginza opened his childish eyes to realising that there is more to art than just doodling and colouring.
“His paintings depicted a character that was half-man, half-praying mantis. It was surreal, and it shocked me. That was when I realised art is more than just having fun, it is also a form of expression and a way of diving into another world.”
ENTERING A NEW WORLD
Thereafter, Hashida visited museums fervently, doing the same thing he did as a child: standing in front of paintings, transfixed and transported into a different world. At 19 years of age, he once stood before a Salvador Dali painting for six hours. As an adult visiting the Dali Museum in Paris, he did the same thing. “All the time I was thinking, ‘how did he start this painting? Why did he paint it that way?’ I was so intrigued.” This fascination led him to create art throughout his life, even while he was training to become a chef.
“We often say we don’t have time for certain things, but it’s really about the choices we make. If I want to draw, I can forgo sleep.”
After graduating from culinary school, he spent a year and a half on the streets, peddling his painted postcards for 300 Japanese yen each. He recalls with a laugh: “My parents didn’t say anything, but they knew I wouldn’t survive!”
He went on to apply his artistic skills to fashion, while studying the English language in Los Angeles. “I don’t like it when everybody wears the same brand or carries the same bag. It’s like a uniform. So I paint my own T-shirts. One day, a guy stopped me on the street and wanted to buy my shirt. I named my price: US$800. And he paid!”
He was then just 26 years old. Hashida would continue to sell his painted T-shirts, and even gifted them to the VIP patrons of his father’s Tokyo restaurant, including Hollywood celebrities. “I sold a lot of the T-shirts – it could probably have been done as a business, but I still decided to go into the restaurant trade,” says the only son.
Even so, his culinary skills have been put to artistic use. The controversial opening scene of 2009 art film Mapa de los sonidos de Tokio features a group of businessmen picking sushi crafted by Hashida – off a naked woman.
In fact, Hashida Garo is also a form of artistic expression. “If I were thinking of profit, I wouldn’t have designed the place this way,” he says of the gallery restaurant dominated by a tatami platform with just 26 seats along a U-shaped counter. He intends the place to be a venue for artistic events and interactions.
And, having experienced the struggles of a budding artist, he is opening the gallery to emerging artists to display their art for free. Yet, there is more to the artistry of this space.
“The Japanese word for gallery should actually be romanised as ‘garou’, but I intentionally took out the ‘U’,” he says cryptically. “I intended for the glass wall of the restaurant to be like a canvas, and within it, a picture that is always changing, with you, the diner, as part of it. I do not need ‘U’ within the name because you are already in this piece of art.”
Despite choosing cooking as his profession and spending most of his time these days running both restaurants, Hashida does not feel that he has given up on painting or fashion, which he still dabbles in.
“It is hard to put a number on the amount of time I spend on creating visual art, for I am constantly coming up with ideas for fashion, food and art – my three avenues for creative expression. I cannot choose just one.”
Hashida has special reverence for artists who manage to bring high art into the lives of the man on the street. “The artists I like make not just abstract art. I appreciate art that is easy to understand,” he says. He identifies his top five.
||01 ALEXANDER CALDER “His works are nice in their simplicity. He created the mobile, which is a super analogue way of translating a static painting into a moving, physical object. And what he created was so simple that people could take what he did to make a common toy.”|
||02 SALVADOR DALI “I feel like I get taken to another world through his paintings. Yet, at the same time, his works are very close to life and the common man. After all, it was he who designed the Chupa Chups logo.”|
||03 JEAN MICHEL BASQUIAT “He is very human. He also sold postcards and sketches in the streets when he was young (which I also did) – I can relate to him. In his short life, he was very consistent in doing what he did, and his graffiti works are close to people’s lives – you don’t have to pay 10 or 15 dollars to go to a museum to see them.”|
||04 OKAMOTO TARO “He is original and has a very distinct identity which is impossible to copy. Some say his works are similar to those by Picasso, but I don’t think so. Also, he is crazy in a nice way: such as making his own “currency”, Taro Coins, which must be used for purchasing his art. He wanted to create his own world, with his own rules.”|
||05 WALT DISNEY “He grew up in Chicago quite poor and he wanted to create a place that is always clean and where people can have good food. He also had a vision of creating a new world – perhaps it is the effect of having gone through war and hardship. He, too, sold sketches to make a living in the early days.”