Ping Cars Vol.9: Kintoki, a mobile baked sweet potato vendor with a difference!

Masaru Tatsuki’s “Decotora” (decorated trucks) offer a glimpse into another world, one of countless bright electric lights and gaudy mechanical parts. And equal to the visual beauty of the Decotora is the passion of the owners in how they customize their vehicles.

Saying that, if you were to come across a Decotora in a service area on a highway somewhere, it might take some courage just to go up and talk to the owner. But here’s one Decotora that is certainly very approachable. Contemporary art unit Yotta took a Toyota Century, “decorated” it and then converted it for selling stone-baked sweet potato (ishi-yakiimo) on the streets.

But why would two artists want to sell sweet potatoes? Ping Cars found out…

yotta01Hiromichi Yamawaki (left) handled the graphic design for the Kintoki car while the decorations were by Kimitaka Kisaki (right). The actual baked sweet potato vending is done together.

Yotta is an art unit made up of two Osaka-based artists, Hiromichi Yamawaki and Kimitaka Kisaki. The name derives from the “Yota” of Yotaro, a character who often appears in Rakugo and Joruri musical storytelling, as well as yotta, the largest unit prefix. Their work such as their “Ittekimasu Nippon” series rediscovers Japanese “maniac culture”, often peculiarly remixed for overseas tastes.

Hanako (2011-2012)

yotta_hanako

A Kokeshi doll at yotta- size, so giant it peers down over a highway. Kokeshi are traditional dolls for good health and are noted for their cute and colorful design, but there is also undeniably something rather eerie about them. And when one is then enlarged to 13 meters in height, it blows to pieces any previous impressions you had of the dolls. Since Kokeshi are also often from hot spring districts, so this giant Kokeshi had a foot bath installed in its feet. Yes, the day has finally come when you can give your feet a pleasant wash while leaning against a Kokeshi doll. When “Hanako” was exhibited as part of the Osaka Canvas public art project in 2012 it immediately became a much-loved presence in the city.

Kintoki (2010-2014)

yotta_kintokiThe “Kintoki” name comes from Sakata Kintoki, said to be the model for the folk hero Kintaro, as well as the fact they Yotta are using Narutokintoki Satomusume, the very best sweet potatoes (satsuimo) from Tokushima Prefecture.

Let’s go back to what we were talking about at the start, “Kintoki”, the Toyota Century Decotora. With the aroma of baked sweet potatoes wafting in the air, I can’t resist going over to talk to the vendors. The Yotta team originally started selling yams on the street as part of Roppongi Art Night 2010 when they were asked to help with a video artwork for Noboru Tsubaki. Inspired by the “Gospel Baked Potato” trending at the time on YouTube, they asked if they could also become sweet potato vendors for the occasion.

But when it then came to developing this whim into a full artwork, they started to think more about sweet potato vendors and their trucks, and it then became very apparent that these days it is much rarer to see them around.

Now you can buy sweet potato cheap at supermarkets or convenience stores, so it doesn’t make business sense anymore for vendors to brave the mid-winter outdoors and sell yams on the streets.

Yotta wanted to sweep away the “laborer” stereotype we have of a sweet potato vendor and instead turn it into something glitzy. Rather than the usual truck, they settled on a Toyota Century, the same car as used by the Emperor himself, and customized it as a Decotora.

The Kintoki is actually the second version of the vehicle, and is packed with special features and deluxe extras. Let’s take a look at the details!

yotta_kintoki02The oven for cooking the potatoes on top of the truck has a chimney in the “takeyari” exhaust pipe design, the same style as Bosozoku bikers use! And not only that, there are eight of them! The creators made the pipes light and insulated, so, despite the numbers, they don’t weigh down the vehicle.

yotta_kintoki03(1) The lights on the side are decorated with the name of the artist team in the kind of font often used by Japanese restaurants overseas. Exotic!
(2) A major feature of this second version of the car is how the roof rack looks like a castle keep. All the electrical extras use LED for a dazzling finish.
(3) The red light in the middle has been hand-painted by Yamawaki. It looks like Kintaro.
(4) The car shell has been methodically painted with toothbrushes using special coating procured from an old Kyoto gilding shop. The painting was handled by students from an art college.

yotta_kintoki04 (1) Inside the Century, the roof has been reupholstered with gorgeous embroidery patterns, complete with chandelier in the middle! The lace seat covers are just surreal.
(2) The center console is fitted with a control unit for operating the lights, like a James Bond car. Even the steering wheel has a Decotora look to it.

We also went to see what the Kintoki looks like when it’s actually selling sweet potatoes on the street. This was on a Sunday night outside 3331 Arts Chiyoda in Akihabara, the Kintoki glittering in the dark.

yotta02“But why a Toyota Century?” people always can’t help asking.

The sweet potato vendor call is a familiar sound to all Japanese people but here it has been given the Yotta remix treatment!

But what do their baked sweet potatoes actually taste like? Well, I’m not just saying this — the potato was the most delicious I’ve ever eaten. I guess it’s because you’re in fact eating an artwork.

Yotta’s “Ittekimasu Nippon” series is a most perverse collection of works. The unit is drawing on all manner of unusual Japanese culture and presenting it with overseas audiences in mind, while still placing importance on exhibiting in Japan. This includes culture that is these days thought of as unattractive or weird, but was nonetheless originally created from something pure. Yotta is hoping that by gaining a panoramic view on these valuable elements of culture it will sharpen our understanding of things. PingMag is certainly in agreement with that.

Thank you to the Yotta team!

Yotta
http://yotta-web.com/

Kintoki
http://yotta-web.com/kintoki/

yotta03 If you fancy going to see Yotta’s Kintoki and sampling their delicious sweet potatoes, check the special Kintoki website, which gives real-time data on the location of the car. The image above shows the

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Kintoki when it set up shop outside 3331 Arts Chiyoda. Yotta will stop baking the yams at the end of March, though also plans to rev up the Kintoki again from this autumn.

Special thanks: Ohta Sangyo Co., Ltd., Koji Kanaya, HOXTON STUDIO, Takashi F Nishida