Recently, my friends and I went to this little canteen in one of the most beautiful parts of town. It was the Vietnam Embassy which opens its doors to the general public to taste some authentic cuisine once a week. And so we did. We ate our weight through pho, spring roll, summer rolls and more. I even tried my hand at using the chopstick without embarrassing myself too much.
The thing with chopsticks is that it looks deceivingly simple. All that finesse required to handle it, and to top it off, the courtesy while using it. Can’t poke your food with it, cannot use it with two hands, cannot stab someone! But cultural learning happens through a lot of things – including the practice of eating food.
All of this is not connected to what I wanted to write about in the first place. Recently I (digitally) came across a guy with a wonderful eye for art. So wonderful in fact that he managed to notice art in the most mundane of places – empty, leftover tables at restaurants.
The guy I spoke to is Japanese Tip founder, Yuki Tatsumi. Tatsumi collects unique pieces of art. Namely, origami art left behind in restaurants. A former server in a restaurant in Japan, Tatsumi often came across people who would leave behind a tip in goodwill. But, not a monetary one. Instead, they wrapped the paper envelops that the chopsticks came wrapped in (locally known as Hashibukuro) into little shapes.
“In Tokyo while working in the restaurant, I realized people were leaving behind these folded origami pieces every day. I picked up the ones I thought was cool. The first one was a crispy and casually folded piece of paper, that I coloured to experiment with it,” says the 28 year old.
His website (japanesetip.localinfo.jp) states , wrapping chopsticks is the way of welcoming the guest. Folding the wrapping is the way of saying ‘thank you’ back to the host. Japanese Tip is a project between restaurants and customers to communicate the appreciation for food, and appreciation for hospitality by using the most common material used in a Japanese restaurant – the chopstick sleeve.
What started in 2012 as a curious step grew to a collection of over 15,000 pieces. Yes, you hear that right 15 effin’ thousand! Tatsumi’s favourite however is a shrimp which made use of the gradation of the chopsticks sleeves. “Most of these pieces are made sub-consciously. Maybe a few of them also make them consciously, especially the more complex shapes of animals, fish, birds etc,” he adds.
The 28 year old is now working as a museum researcher at I’art brut and continues to collect the chopstick-sleeve artwork. He often reaches out to reataurants and keeps a box, where restaurant managers can donate more such leftover artwork for his collection. He has already exhibited in Tokyo and is in talks to bring it to Kyoto, Korea and Paris. Someday maybe even India.
Tatsumi knows that like most traditional art forms, origami too is losing its hold in Japan. Recently an origami manufacturing company of a long-established store collapsed. “the number of people who take interest in it is certainly decreasing. But I was surprised to see so many people continuing to leave origami pieces at the restaurants.” In a way, Japanese Tip stands as a proof that the future of origami stands strong, and stands hopeful.