One year ago, an extraordinary team came together to create a multisensory theatrical experience. Mingling cuisine with music, vocal work, and dance in a cabaret setting, each course of the menu is paired with a unique presentation. Arranged by co-directors Nick Ishimaru and Kyoko Yoshida, artists were given a dish as inspiration and rehearsed on their own before combining the ensemble.

“The biggest initial challenge was how to get everyone on the same page,” Ishimaru explains. Mariko Grady of Aedan Foods led the group in preparing miso, a traditional Japanese seasoning, which they were able to bring home to ferment over the year apart, a symbol of the percolating artistry and ideas that became the performance.

Chef Eri Shimizu - Fermentation Symposium

Chef Eri Shimizu displays tofu dengaku and tamagoyaki. Photo by Megumi Konishi.

Fermented foods transition on a microscopic level, as organisms are transformed into a new set of flavors. Ishimaru feels that yugen shares a similar process, “a subtle, hidden, intangible grace, in that mysterious, invisible world.” Chef Grady confirms the importance of koji, the basis of fermented foods, which she grew up with. “I see both cooking foods and performing on stage as an art that requires creativity, skills, memory, and philosophy, so working in a combined setting of the two felt natural.”

Theatre of Yugen worked in collaboration with the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network (CTN) to develop the Fermentation Symposium; Yoshida has assisted the theatre’s leadership, and the CTN facilitated bringing their “Moon of the Scarlet Plums” to Japan at the Aichi World Expo in 2005.

Yoshida describes the importance of performing arts as a cultural exchange, “arts connect people on an emotional and visceral level, which is much stronger than an intellectual level. When people share a special experience, it becomes a tie to bond, even with cultural differences.” Concepts such as diversity and social justice can be joined with a balancing connection to nature and sustainability through an understanding between Japan and the United States.

Fermentation Symposium

Mariko Grady (left) explains how koji is developed. Shinichi Iova-Koga (right) looks on. Photo by Kyoko Yoshida.

Sharp & Fine contemporary dancers, a San Francisco company founded by sisters, are contributing to the event, along with inkBoat physical theater and dance, specializing in site specific performances.

Dr. Carol Ishimaru, from the University of Minnesota, gives a scientific background on the chemical process of fermentation through her expertise in plant biology.

This collaboration is an intriguing experiment, combining the senses with a specific artistic concept. Rather than splitting out the disciplines, Theatre of Yugen has brought them into a unified piece for the audience with a delicious menu of Tofu Datemaki, Kabura-sushi, Shiokoji-chicken with root vegetables, Miso Dengaku, Zouni, Kuromame, and Amazake Dessert.


Saturday, December 30 at 4:00pm
Sunday, December 31 at 2:00pm

$20 student, $30 under 30 years old, $40 general admission, $50 VIP (free drinks)
Tickets at Theatre of Yugen
2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco (415) 621-0507