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SIMOSE Art Museum 1st Anniversary: Déjà vu in Several Aspects

It would seem that the longer I spend living in and traveling all over Hiroshima Prefecture, the faster time flies. Though it may not feel like much time has passed since the SIMOSE Art Museum in Otake had its grand opening, here we are, celebrating its one-year anniversary this March. In honor of its first birthday, the museum put on an exhibition almost identical to its inaugural one, and since it was Hina Doll Festival Season, that meant a lot of traditional dolls and cherry blossom artwork. Of course, if it were the exact same exhibit as back in March 2023, people wouldn’t pay the museum a visit, so I took it upon myself to make the trip down to Otake to glean the subtle changes between the exhibit then and now.

The easiest way to get to the SIMOSE Art Museum without driving or taking a taxi is to take the JR Red Sanyo Line from Hiroshima Station all the way to Kuba Station before hitching a ride on the Koikoi Bus to YouMe Town, walking through the supermarket and back parking lot, crossing the street, turning right, and entering the gated area in the direction of a huge playground before seeing the SIMOSE complex entrance on your left. Do bear in mind that the Koikoi Bus departure schedule isn’t well-aligned with the JR train arrival schedule, so it usually means choosing between waiting for the next Koikoi Bus (saving energy) or walking all the way to YouMe Town (saving time and money). Regardless, I recommended alighting the train at Kuba rather than Otake Station because it’s a slightly shorter walk or bus ride to the SIMOSE Art Museum.

Difference of One Year

Since I bought a virtual ticket online (for cheaper to boot!), all I had to do when I entered the museum was to have my QR Code scanned by the lady at the counter, and I was all clear. As expected, the bulk of the collection when I went on the 30th of March was the same as when I visited the year prior, but with the items in different locations. However, I seem to not recall this set of ornately painted shells that was used to play “Concentration,” but even if I had seen this last year, I’m a better photographer than I was in 2023 so I was elated to be able to capture better-quality versions of this nostalgia. The primary reason I decided to visit on the 30th was that I knew there would be a human guide giving free tours of the exhibition, and I was bound to learn more listening to her explanations (in Japanese only). Tours happened at preset times during the day, but there was no pressure to show up on time for the start, and participants are free to leave the guided tour at any point.

It wasn’t until I left the first chamber and was about to enter the section with the shipping containers that I noticed the sign telling me not to film the exhibits, but oh well. The subject of my video clip was the guided tour and not the works on display, so I don’t feel as guilty taking the video I did. As for the shipping container segment of the exhibit, the items inside really didn’t change from last March (or even last fall) and I was in too much of a hurry to stop and take pictures of everything, so if you want images of that stuff, please refer to prior articles covering the SIMOSE Art Museum. One different thing about the exhibit that did stand out in my mind was that there were more things relating to the legend of Momotaro, a mythical boy from Okayama Prefecture who was born from a giant peach, befriended a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant, and ventured with them to an island in present-day Kagawa Prefecture to fight the resident ogres who terrorized a nearby village. The sculptures of victorious Momotaro, his animal companions, and the apologetic ogres were rather striking, but wondering how that pheasant could draw its katana in a fight had me brooding for long after I left the museum.

Natural and Architectural Artworks

It’s not just the interior of the museum that’s chock full of beauty, for there is still much more to admire just by leaving the building and climbing up the ramp to the rooftop. Even before reaching the top of the ramp, I could look back and simultaneously have a view of the museum building and the Seto Inland Sea with ships on the horizon, a rather neat combination in one shot. I then continued up the ramp, walking past the solar panels on the roof to the terrace where I could gaze upon the museum garden on my left and the SIMOSE French Restaurant to my right, with the floating shipping containers in between them. Having access to the rooftop terrace where I was treated to a panoramic vista like this felt like being shown an extra painting, as the exteriors of all these buildings are works of art in and of themselves.

The wind blowing at the top was also refreshing, and it was amusing to see all the people below that looked like ants. We up here certainly had fun observing them, but at the same time, I wondered if they noticed us in return. I honestly could’ve stayed on the roof for a lot longer, but seeing the French restaurant again and again made me want to eat lunch, so I descended the ramp and went back into the museum to check out their café.

Petit Café Lunch

One part of my visit this March that wasn’t déjà vu was having lunch at the café, which I had never tried up until this point. I had read the café menu online beforehand and was pleased to know that they actually sell meals in addition to refreshing drinks and sweet treats. Surprisingly, there were a lot of vacant seats in the café area considering it was a Saturday afternoon during the spring school holidays, so securing a seat by the window facing the French restaurant was no problem at all. Seeing as it was my first meal at the café and the museum’s first anniversary, I was feeling splurgy so I ordered a beef stew set that came with a side salad and some bread, and added on a lemon squash to drink. The bread and salad came to the table first, and they both tasted every bit as good as they looked. Not too long after those two were served, the waiter brought out my main course and beverage along with a square of dark chocolate for dessert. Add on such a succulent seascape before my eyes, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a perfect museum lunch experience!

Moment of Joy: Budget Gourmet

I had eaten at the SIMOSE French Restaurant last autumn and thus had an idea of the standards when it came to customer service over there but let me just say that the quality of the customer service at the café was equally good, all the while serving up gourmet entrées at a more affordable price. The beef in the stew just about melted in my mouth, and when I ran out of bread to dip in the irresistible brown broth, I lifted the dish and drank every last drop of it. Some may find the price of the café food out of their budget, but customers get what they pay for and more in terms of taste and quality of service. One may even go so far as to say that a sufficient taste of the SIMOSE complex’s cooking can be had from the café alone, with no need to visit the restaurant itself (even the lunch course is steep, so I don’t blame anyone for hesitating). After finishing my food and drink, I went home and eagerly anticipated the next time I had a chance to dine at the French restaurant.

Déjeuner du Premier Anniversaire

Alas, the day I had reserved to have lunch at the SIMOSE French Restaurant finally arrived, even though it was March 31st, the day after I toured the museum and had lunch at the café. Just like last time, I also went with company, but we opted for lunch instead of dinner to better enjoy the view before and after eating. We showed up on time and were promptly seated and given the menu of course options for the day. On the left side was the usual lunch course with a few mix-and-match options (I initially planned on ordering from this page), but on the right side was the special one-year anniversary lunch course, which was more expensive and required an advance announcement. This page suddenly piqued our interest and I asked our server if we could order the special course unannounced, to which he replied yes. Since the SIMOSE Art Museum only turns one once, we thought, “what the heck,” and unanimously ordered the one-year anniversary course.

First off was the amuse-bouche, which was a vegetable fritter in a green, vegetable purée paired with what looked like a swanky Dorito. That was paired with a savory flan-like baked dish in a sea bream broth. After we finished that, the waiter brought out the bread basket and a dish of sliced butter. We were entitled to free refills on bread and butter but never requested any because we were busy eating everything else as it was coming out. Soon after came the cold hors d’oeuvre, a ceviche-like mixture of chopped sea bream marinated with vegetables in sakura and placed in a pool of celeriac purée.

That was followed by the hot hors d’oeuvre, which was a plate of crab fritters and a piece of butterbur bud tempura in a sesame and butterbur bud sauce. The fritters had this exquisite texture whose appearance was reminiscent of those fried ramen noodle snacks that are so popular in Japan, but when I bit into them, the fluffy yet crunchy exterior tasted nothing short of heavenly. This was without a doubt the best appetizer out of all the lunch courses that day.

Next was the seafood main dish, the Fish of the Day caught in the port of Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and cooked with vernal veggies and clams from the local area. That so-called Poisson du Jour was revealed to be longtooth grouper, topped with sea urchin and lying on a bed made of leeks and white asparagus, all of which was bathing in a verdant sauce made from broad beans. Broad beans and white asparagus are vegetables that are typically disliked by the public (especially kids), but obviously, the chef prepared them in a way that no diner could resist eating, and once again, I felt the urge to finish every last drop of sauce.

Then came the meat main dish, which was a steak of Jinseki Kogen beef grilled and served alongside some mountain plant risotto, caramelized onions, leek tempura, celeriac purée, and drizzled with a sauce Périgueux. What is a sauce Périgueux, you ask? I had to look it up myself, and while recipes may vary, two things they have in common are madeira wine and chopped truffles, the latter of which can clearly be seen in the brown sauce. The beef was firm yet tender, and both the celeriac purée and sauce Périgueux enhanced the flavor of an already juicy steak. This was probably the best food item out of the entire course, though the crab fritters gave the steak a run for its money.

Our lunch course was rounded off with not one, nor two, but three rounds of dessert. The first one was a sakura blancmange in a matcha sauce and crystal-clear bowl and topped with dried cherry blossom petals and a matcha-flavored wafer. When that was finished, the second dessert came out: a mascarpone mousse cake topped with berry jelly containing real chunks of berries and garnished with a pink, crispy wafer of sorts.

The above desserts were also served with a hot beverage of each diner’s choice, but we all chose chamomile tea, which paired with every plate of sweets. A bonus dessert plate with chocolates and madeleines came with our check, and I was rather impressed with the nuts and dried fruits embedded within the dark chocolate. After finishing the last of our chamomile, we paid for the meal, then carried our full bellies out of the restaurant while being warmly seen off by the staff.

The SIMOSE Art Museum complex does anniversaries right in several aspects, from its exhibits to the served in the café and restaurant. From soup to nuts, I had a superb experience joining a guided tour, gazing out to the Seto Inland Sea from the rooftop, and gorging on gourmet lunches in two facilities. I can especially see myself dining again in the French restaurant in other seasons to see how the course menu changes, if only I can find occasions to do so. Let me conclude by wishing a happy birthday to the SIMOSE Art Museum, and I look forward to many more unforgettable memories here as it gets better with age! 

Written by the Joy in Hiroshima Team