It’s not unusual for someone to wake up one day and decide to start a cafe, however, few people would then decide to theme that cafe around a hospital ward complete with a scan of their own brain as part of the decor, but not everyone is Fukuoka-based artist Sumi Takamasa – and not every cafe is the Sanatorium WONDER MUSEUM.
Welcome to his playground.
Sanatorium is located in the Tenjin district of Fukuoka on the Japanese island of Kyushu. You’ll find it tucked away on the top floor of a nondescript building on a grey looking road. Even as you climb the stairs towards it, it feels a bit more like you’re visiting your accountant than the showroom of an artist.
Get to the top of the stairs and you’ll see a sign asking you to remove your shoes and knock at the door. Depending who is working is what you’ll see next.
It might be one of the Fushigiko-chan, the Santorium team of staff, dressed as a nurse, or, if you’re lucky, as. I was, you might be greeted by the smiling face of Takamasa-san himself, dressed in a white doctor’s coat with a stethoscope around his neck.
A rack of slippers is the first sight you see inside, all marked with a single character which apparently means strange in Japanese, don these and you’ll enter a whitewashed world of oddities.
You see Takamasa-san uses Sanatorium part as a cafe, part as an art gallery and his work appears everywhere; mostly he’s is famous for creating new species of animals from his imagination.and his visions are everywhere – from the lights and glasses with their tentacle design to the models of Toneriko, a kind of fat cat creature that’s one of his most famous creations and who greets your entry.
His quirky style, and the intimate setting it’s displayed in at Sanatorium might trick you into thinking he’s just a hobbyist, but Takamasa-san’s art is highly respected and he’s exhibited at the Fukuoka Art Museum And MOMA Contemporary Art Museum so get to get to see his work up so close is really cool.
And then there’s the medical side of things.
The place is stuffed full of dummies revealing their organs to the world, the main lighting is an old operating theatre lamp, a stuffed penguin proudly sports a nurse’s cap and stethoscope and, yep, up on the wall on top of a cupboard is a series of photos of Takamasa’s brain – which he proudly shows me, while grinning and pointing at his head. The only thing missing is the faint smell of disinfectant.
When I first arrive, there are a few other folk in the cafe quietly reading from the line of manga books that line the back wall.
When they leave, it’s just me, Takamasa-san and Google translate but we get by, me taking photos and exploring the quirky decor and him, looking at manga and pointing out his favourite pics.
I order a beer, mostly because the menu is all in Japanese and Biru is about the only word I recognise when he reads it to me.
I’m delighted though when it comes served on a specimen tray, in a medical beaker with a small handful of almonds on the side.
Apparently though, my limited Japanese means I missed out on the banana ‘Barium’ shake and the rather fabulous sounding homunculus jelly.
There’s no way I would have got that one in Japanese. I had to look it up in English, but apparently a homunculus is a tiny person and without giving too much away, from the pictures I’ve seen, it kind of fits the way the dish looks…with a unique Takamasa spin.
The cafe does offer one main meal a day, but, I’m not sure Sanatorium is somewhere you really go for the food, this is more a place you to go to explore whatever Takamasa-san has deigned to add to the place next.
The art on the walls is a mix of his own creations and work by local artists and each corner has another treasure for you to find.
Sanatorium is not going to be a place for everyone who visits Fukuoka, but if you’re into art or, simply into places that reflect the odder side of Japan, it’s a fabulous place to spend an hour and grab a beer or a coffee (I don’t know the Japanese word for coffee).
You’ll find the Sanatorium WONDER MUSEUM tucked away on the third floor of 3-3-23-3F Tenjin, Chuo-ku.
It’s open 12pm to 2am every day but Wednesday.
The only real clue to its existence is the model of an anatomical dummy in the window. Only when you step inside do you realise how cool the place is. So, if any part of this write-up has filled you with joy or a bit of curiousity please do step inside to the mad, medical world of Sumi Takamasa. You might like it in there.
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