Art & Culture

Oct 1, 2014

She’s On A Roll!

Food artist Takayo Kiyota, better known as Tama-chan, has taken the unassuming Makizushi to breathtaking new heights with her avant-garde designs. Following the launch of her first book “Smiling Sushi Roll”, the prolific artist chats with Oishii about the inspiration behind her work.

Because I work with food as an art medium, people sometimes misunderstand that I am primarily a chef. The truth is, I’ve always seen myself as an artist. Although my designs are all edible, how they taste is secondary to me. What’s more important is the concept I’m trying to convey as well as the overall aesthetics. That’s because I hope to communicate with people through my work; I want to connect with the audience and create thought-provoking art that will tickle their imaginations.

How It All Began

I’ve been an illustrator for over 20 years, but only got started with sushi art about nine years ago. I started by making simple Makizushi art for my friends, who found it very interesting. Makizushi is a cylindrical piece of Sushi, which is rolled with the help of a bamboo mat. Initially, I experimented with simple designs such as flowers or teddy bears, but I wanted to explore more interesting designs.
I’ve always believed in pushing the envelope when it comes to my designs. Even if the commissioned theme is something familiar such as “Summer”, I’ll steer clear of stereotypical images like, say, “watermelons”. I prefer to use unconventional images that will put a smile on people’s faces.

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch©Tama-chan

Where I Get My Inspiration

My ideas come from everywhere; sometimes, inspiration hits even when I’m sitting in the bathtub! I am often invited to present my artwork in front of an audience so I’ll try to gauge what to create based on their demographics. For example, I won’t create the same type of art for a government agency and a young, arty crowd.
Some of my more memorable works include “Pillow Talk”. When you first slice the Makizushi, you see a man in bed with his teddy bear. With the second slice, you see him in bed with a woman. And with the third slice, you see him in bed with another man, which is both shocking and intriguing to the audience. I like invoking that kind of response from people; to send a message that says, “I find this funny. What do you think?”
I’ve also been inspired by classical artists and have created Makizushi such as “Picasso’s Lover” and Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’.

Going Forward: Smiling Sushi Roll

Even my book is a type of art form. For example, there are certain pages that have been folded in a certain way to mimic the erotic magazines you can find in Japan. I’ve also included a recipe page for readers to try re-creating ‘The Scream’. I hope to encourage people to stretch their imaginations and use traditional foods as a medium to express themselves.”

Tama-chan conducts a Sushi Art workshop in Japan.
Smiling Sushi Roll Author: Tama-chan Published by: Little More

(Text Vanessa Tai images Tama-chan, Time out tokyo)