Regent in Olives has been an artwork that I had wanted to visit since the 2013 Setouchi Triennale. When I first saw it, I knew I had to see it someday. While I didn’t get to Shodoshima in 2013, I made sure I visited in 2016 and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Regent in Olives by Hisakazu Shimizu really plays to the pompadour hairstyle from the 50s and 60s, most popularized by Elvis Presley. This is a must see artwork if you are in the area but it loses something in the cultural transition.
Regent in Olives is located in the Umaki area and it is nestled in a grove of olive trees. The artwork is a simple olive with orange mikans and other fruits and vegetables as the pit of the olive. There is a “regent” or pompadour on top of the olive, hence “Regent in Olives”. The more you read about it and the more you think about it on your own, the more it takes on a meaning of its own.
When I visited, there were oranges or mikans in a small hallowed out section of the olive. At the time I thought it was just a regular offering or something akin to an offering to the gods. Many temples and shrines have oranges and other foods and drinks placed next to the temple or shrine as an offering to the gods. Unfortunately I was wrong as this is actually a shop! Reading about this on the Setouchi Triennale site, I was surprised to learn that it was an unmanned shop that is common in the countryside of Japan. Many farmers just put their wares onto tables next to the road. Prices are marked and the honour system is used for payment. It is a wonderful symbol of the trust Japan has within its culture, especially in the countryside. This would never work in Tokyo itself as it has become “corrupted” by big city values.
The olive itself has a dual meaning too. While I consider it to be a simple olive that is painted white, I read that it was actually an olive shaped head. It could be a translation conflict where the literal Japanese translation calls it a “head” but the interpretation could be different. Without hearing the author’s intent, it is difficult to say what the real meaning is. Either way it is fun to see a huge olive shape nestled among the olive trees.
Lastly is the “regent”. In Japan, “regent” is a niche hairstyle that is worn by people who love the rockabilly lifestyle. You can often see them dancing in front of Yoyogi Park in Tokyo and it is amazing to see the men and their huge regents. I’m not sure how the name came about but it is a really interesting subculture of Japan. The regent of Regent in Olives is pretty big and they even have pompadour wigs for you to try. While I wanted to try them on, it was the middle of summer and with the sweat beading down my head I didn’t want to soil the wigs. I also didn’t want to think of how dirty they were from other visitors who wore the pompadour wigs. Needless to say, I was sad that I couldn’t take a photo with my own “regent” but you can be sure that if I visit again in a cooler season, I’ll risk my health and give it a try.
Regent in Olives didn’t fully live up to my expectations but I was also tired at the time. I didn’t do everything that I wanted and the artwork was a little busy at times. I believe people who arrive on the buses really arrive at all of the artwork at the same time. If you are cycling through Sakate, you should take your time and visit things in a way that avoids the crowds. It isn’t difficult and if you can get Regent in Olives to yourself, you will really enjoy it.