Cyberpunk goldfish at Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art AquariumCulture
A quintessentially bizarre and beautiful Tokyo experience, the Art Aquarium in Nihonbashi electrifies an ancient, living artform with over-the-top staging and impressive lighting. The cavernous hall in COREDO Muromachi is transformed around dusk into a dance club with DJs spinning hard trance and women in kimonos cavorting alongside neon-lit katanas.
It was in the Tang Dynasty or thereabouts, perhaps in a villa in distant Chang’an, that bored aristocrats first toyed with the genetics of carp to produce miniature and brightly colored fish to write poems about while drunk on wine. The same tinkering with animal genetics that turned Tibetan mastiffs into Shih Tzus was brought to bear on the species of carp that were raised in the rice paddies of China. In the 17th century, the practice of keeping and breeding goldfish (kingyo) spread to Japan, where it quickly became incredibly popular.
The Art Aquarium’s main hallway, where visitors enter, is the best place to see the fish, displayed in a space that is completely dark except for the lighting in the aquariums. Even for those not familiar with the culture of goldfish, these delicate descendants of rice paddy carp are a wonder to behold. They come in nigh-infinite variations, ranging from inky black to nearly transparent, speckled to solid, tiny to footlong monsters. There are signs along the way, in the first hall, explaining the history of the goldfish and introducing some of the rules for grading the purebred fish.
The Art Aquarium’s attempts to make kingyo hip are perhaps somewhat ill-conceived and hamfisted, but they’re also probably not necessary. The main hallway gets things right, presenting the fish in as simple a setting as possible. The beauty of the goldfish is undeniable. And, just think, the path that these fish took, from a clay basin in Chang’an, to a literatus’ quarters in Yangzhou, to a ship across the East China Sea—and they have ended up in what is essentially a goldfish-themed discotheque in Central Tokyo. Behold, the march of history.
The vibe at the Art Aquarium, especially when it turns up at dusk, is hard to put into words. There are various themed nights, including an oiran-themed night when women dressed as Edo Era courtesans parade through the space; and other nights, a bar is hauled out and international and local DJs spin tunes. It’s a sight to behold, for sure. The concept is roughly this: the esthetic charms of the Edo Era filtered through a near future theme park.
Tickets for the Night Aquarium concepts can be bought at 7-11 stores. If you want to make sure you get in on the Disco Night Aquarium, make sure to reserve early. It’s a good idea to check the website, as themes, concepts and performers change regularly. The events begin at 7pm and run into 11:30pm. When the lights get low and the music starts pumping, Dassai-brand sake flows like water.