You don’t have to be insane to go to Sanatorium.
Hidden away on the third floor of a rather unremarkable building on an easy to miss side street in Fukuoka’s lively North Tenjin area you’ll find (if you know where to look) a little cafe/art-gallery hybrid called Sanatorium (サナトリウム). Although not that well-known to the public at large, this place is pretty famous among people who are into the unique and wacky. So, of course, when I found out about this place shortly before a recent trip to Fukuoka I instantly knew that this would be a place I’d be visiting. Here’s what I found.
Sanatorum is a branch of a quirky art museum located deep in the mountains of Fukuoka. Called the Fushigi Hakubutsukan (不思議博物館), or Museum of Mysteries this unique and very out-of-the-way art gallery was started in 2008 by a sculptor named Takamasa Sumi as a place to display his wacky pieces of art and random interesting items that he had managed to collect over the years. Now Mr. Sumi also displays other people’s works and the xhibits at the museum seem to change fairly frequently.
Check out this “commercial” for the Fushigi Hakubutsukan below. It’s… interesting.
Unfortunately, Mr. Sumi’s museum is quite far from the Fukuoka city center and overall just very hard to get to. On top of that, as of 2017 the museum is (normally) only open from 12 to 6 on the last Sunday of every month, so it can be pretty much impossible for the average person just passing through Fukuoka for a day or two of sightseeing to visit. However, in 2015 Mr. Sumi opened up his little cafe/art gallery in downtown Fukuoka (only a short bus ride from Hakata Station) and so now you can get a small taste of the Fushigi Hakubutsukan even if you’re only in Fukuoka for a short amount of time. Unless you pass through on a Wednesday… that’s their day off.
Much like the hard to visit museum, Sanatorium acts as a place for people (not just Mr. Sumi) to display their artwork and random curiosities. However, aside from the art gallery aspect of this place, Sanatorium is also a fully functioning cafe, which takes a lot of its design cues from medical facilities.
If you happen to go when there’s no other customers (like I did), then you may be greeted by the Fushigiko-chan right at the door. This is what the waitresseses/staff are called. Fushigiko-chan literally translates to “mysterious girl.” The Fushigiko-chan greets you much like a nurse at a Japanese hospital would and politely asks you to change into slippers (again much like you would in an old-fashioned Japanese hospital). The Fushigiko-chan on the day I visited seemed to be going for the “doctor” look with her white lab coat and surgical mask. However, there are also Fushigiko-chan that dress in nurse outfits.
Keep in mind that you are not allowed to take pictures of the Fushigiko-chan. And as the sign below indicates you are not allowed to touch them or ask for their contact info.
Once inside you are immediately flooded with a sea of strange artwork and oddities hanging from the walls and in display cases.
Although Sanatorium is quite small, they really pack it in with all sorts of weird art and peculiar items. And, as the Fushigiko-chan that was on duty the day I went told me, they change out the items quite regularly. On average they do about 10 different exhibits a year. Each of these exhibits usually has a unifying theme, such as a recent one that was all about “sea life.” However, occasionally they also have “anything goes” exhibits where people can just submit anything interesting to be displayed. The pieces you see on display in the pictures below are part of one of these free exhibits and so that’s why you won’t see any unifying theme between the various items on display.
Nekojiru, the other mascotThe Fushigi Hakubutsukan and Sanatorium have two mascots, one is named Toneriko and one is named Nekojiru. Nekojiru was designed by Mr. Sumi himself (see above).
Check out these human body part-fruit hybrids that were created by a special effects artist. Yum! (not edible).
The walls are lined with all sorts of pictures.
And to go with the whole “medical” theme there’s a bunch of anatomical models littered throughout the cafe.
There’s even a model of a uterus (below).
Unlike a regular cafe with tables and chairs, there’s just a long tile counter with stools (see below). This results in Santorium feeling somewhat like the lunch counter at an old hospital.
The other side of the counter also has some interesting things to look at, like a stuffed (once alive) real penguin. And some interesting lights (see below).
As for the menu, it has a mix of fairlr normal things and interesting items in a variety of peculiar containers.
The specials change regularly, however, Sanatorium doesn’t really specialize in full meals. For example, when I went they only seemed to have a Pork demi glace sauce curry dish (800 yen. In terms of drinks and snack though, Sanatorium has quite a bit to choose from.
Some of the more interesting items on the menu include Homunculus gelatin (not sure what’s so homunculus about it), Sanatorium pudding (probably just pudding), a Dr Pepper float (to go with the medical theme), giant cream sodas, tea in some interesting cups and barium.
Barium is of course, not the actual chemical used by doctors during a barium swallow test. Instead, it’s a type of smoothie, which is supposed to resemble barium. It costs 700 yen, comes with a little side dish of laxatives (not actual laxatives, just a snack). One note though, even though it says on the menu that it’s supposed to be made of melon, it actually seemed like it was made using bananas so… it probably had both? And for you drinkers, for an extra fee, the Fushigiko-chan can add some alcohol and make it into a cocktail.
The cram soda is essentially a large ice cream float. It also costs 700 yen and you can choose from either strawberry (like in the picture above) or melon soda.
As for the tea (600 yen), it comes served in a special teacup that has “roots” sticking out from the bottom of it. This special teacup is called a nekappu, which is a mixture of the Japanese word for root ne and the word for cup, kappu. The syrup for the tea also comes in what appears to be a surgical tray. Sanatorium sells nakappu, so you can get your own to take home with you.
Sanatorium also offers a selection of cocktails and a “mini beer,” which is served in a beaker. However, you can only buy the mini beer if you buy a snack or a meal.
Of course, you also get complementary water, which is served in some interesting glasses that make the water look like it is colored (but it isn’t).
And if you really want to take a picture with the Fushigiko-chan (the staff), you can pay 500 yen to take a Polaroid picture with whoever is working that day. Sorry, even when you pay you can’t use your phone.
Final thoughts and how to get there
Sanatorium is an interesting little place that is definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area. It’s a great alternative to generic cafes like Starbuck’s. Not only do they have some creative items on their menu, there’s some pretty interesting stuff on the walls for you to look at… and yes, there’s Wifi. Plus, since the items on display change regularly, it keeps the experience fresh. If you’re an artist in the area, you may also want to pass by since you might be able to get your work put on display.
Again though, it can be a little hard to find, so use Google Maps or ask for directions once you’re nearby. Here’s a picture of the exterior of the building Sanatorium is in and below you’ll also find the address.
In case you want to keep up to date with the latest Sanatorium news, then check out their Twitter page here.
*Here’s one last interesting tidbit of information. The brain scan seen in the top image is an actual CT scan of Mr. Sumi’s brain.