Ken Kawasumi depicts Mt. Fuji not on canvas but in sushi, by elaborately arranging sliced salmon, mackerel and other ingredients. When his sushi rolls are cut, motifs of helicopters and others can be seen on their cross sections, greatly entertaining diners.
Kawasumi, 58, a teacher at a school for sushi cooks near the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, has made efforts to promote such art overseas.
"In Japanese cuisine, there is a saying that means 'A [dish's] appearance is part of [its] good taste.' [Decorative sushi] is part of Japan's 'omotenashi' hospitality that we can present overseas with pride," Kawasumi said.
He has been devoted to sushi since his late teens. He also began making and studying decorative sushi about 20 years ago.
Since 2006, he has given demonstrations of decorative sushi preparation overseas. He often gives these demonstrations in Japan to foreign students and tourists, too.
Many people are surprised to see his sushi cooking demonstrations, saying that they did not know about such kinds of sushi at all, Kawasumi said.
"When I cut a [decorative] sushi roll and some motifs are seen [on the cross section of each cut], people are really delighted. The response is the same regardless of where they come from," he said.
This year, he plans to spend more of his time and energy on developing human resources at home and abroad by introducing how to make such sushi - in detail and in English - on online video streaming sites, making learning materials and so on.
"I hope people overseas will have more opportunities to enjoy sushi art," Kawasumi said.
Make 'deco sushi rolls' at home
The Japan Deco Sushi Association in Minato Ward, Tokyo, gives lessons on how to make "deco sushi rolls," thick sushi rolls in which ingredients are placed to make its cross sections reveal motifs of flowers, animals and others.
According to Emi Tsuneoka, also known as Makiko Kazari, a member of the association, such sushi rolls with motifs of kanji characters and flowers are traditionally made in the Boso region in Chiba Prefecture and served at celebrations and festivals.
"Deco sushi rolls" are a modern arrangement of the local dish, with a simplified cooking process so it can be prepared easily at home and also incorporating motifs that can entertain children, such as those of popular characters, Tsuneoka said.
Tsuneoka suggests the following recipe: Make five thin sushi rolls, each wrapped with a sheet of nori. Then, bundle them and wrap with sushi rice and nori again. When you cut it, its cross section bears the motif of a flower with five petals.
Using sausages of which cross sections are round, instead of thin sushi rolls, is an easier way to depict round petals.
Color variations of sushi rice can be made by using furikake rice seasoning in various colors such as pink and green.
According to Tsuneoka, the association has trained instructors to make deco sushi rolls. Currently, about 300 instructors give classes or are dispatched on request.
"As they're visually appealing, they can be a good conversation topic at the dining table," Tsuneoka said. "Even 3-year-old children can make them. Even if they include ingredients the children don't like, they still feel like eating them as they make the sushi themselves. [The sushi rolls] can be evaluated highly from the viewpoint of dietary education."
Tsuneoka's book, titled "Tsukutte tanoshii! Tabete oishii!! Makizushi" (Sushi rolls: Fun to make, delicious to eat), shows about 40 motifs for deco sushi rolls.
The book's English version, Deco Sushi Roll Recipe Book, is also available.
Foreigners choose sushi for family, friends
Half of the foreign residents in Japan say that among washoku cuisine, sushi is the dish they most recommend for their family members and friends, according to a survey conducted by Takara Shuzo Co., a Kyoto-based manufacturer of alcoholic beverages and seasonings.
The survey was conducted last year via the Internet on residents aged in their 20s to 60s - 50 men and 50 women - who were not born in Japan but are residents in this country, to hear what they thought of washoku cusine.
Sushi was followed by tempura, fish grilled or boiled in broth, and sashimi - all representative Japanese dishes well known overseas - among the respondents' choices.
Eighty-six per cent of the respondents said they like washoku. Asked why, with multiple answers allowed, 77.9 per cent said it is delicious, 46.5 per cent said it is healthy, and 40.7 per cent said it is nutritionally well-balanced.
About how often they eat washoku at home, 77 per cent said they eat it on a daily basis.
The survey also found that 76 per cent have cooked it themselves and 63.2 per cent cook it on a daily basis.
Asked about their favourite washoku dishes, with multiple answers allowed, 60 per cent mentioned grilled fish and simmered fish, the most popular choice.
They were followed by udon, soba and somen noodles, tempura, and then other simmered dishes. The survey showed that these people like dishes that remind them of home cooking.