Chaos Room: A Kyoto Artist's Retaliation Against a Rule-Following Society No, this isn't the room where you raise your Chaos in Sonic Adventure.

    When you think of Kyoto, your innocent mind probably pieces together images of temples, torii, nature, shrines, and perhaps even statues.

    I also think of statues, though not the 1,001 statues you'll find in Sanjūsangen-dō. Nor the 1,200 Rakan statues at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji. The statues in my mind are more like… old-timey surgery practice mannequins.

    Such has been my fate since visiting カオスの間 (kaosu no ma), a.k.a. "Chaos Room."

    Indeed, it's a Chaotic Room

    entrance to chaos room

    Chaos Room is a short walk from Higashiyama Station. I came across photos of this place in various B級 spot travel websites, so when I found myself in Kyoto late last year, I made a point of going.

    The thing about Kyoto for me is this: I can only see so many temples before they all start melting together. They're beautiful, sure, but I've already seen enough temples for a lifetime (not to mention a reincarnation or two). I needed a taste of the opposite.

    So here I was in a quiet residential neighborhood, standing in front a pile of weird stuff with a small sign indicating that Chaos Room was up a flight of stairs. There's a sushi restaurant on the first floor and a gallery on third floor, in case you're interested.

    sign outside chaos room in kyoto

    All around me was stuff. Most of it was not particularly thought out in terms of where it was placed, but that's the point. It's called Chaos Room for a reason.

    I went up to the second floor where I found another sign verifying that this was, indeed, the room of chaos. I opened the door nervously. At first, my eyes weren't adjusted to the darkness. All I could see were silhouettes and a few splashes of light. Then, a voice from my right welcomed me saying: "It costs ¥500. Do you want to pay it?"

    "Yes," I said immediately. "Wait, can I choose not to pay it?"

    "Oh, no," the man said. "Just, some people walk in and when they realize it costs ¥500 they change their minds and leave."

    "I definitely want to pay it then."

    sunamoto matsuo creator of chaos room

    The owner, designer, and (mostly) sole contributor to The Chaos Room is Sunamoto Matsuo. I'm not sure who I expected to be here, but when I think back on it now, he's exactly the kind of person I would have expected to be here.

    He was outgoing, excited, and… well… artistic, in a stereotypical sort of way. He also liked to talk about his philosophy a lot. I was surprised that so much of his philosophies meshed with my own, but we'll get back to that topic in a bit.

    I paid the ¥500 fee, then walked in a couple more steps. All around me was stuff. Most of it was not particularly thought out in terms of where it was placed, but that's the point. It's called Chaos Room for a reason.

    There were islands of "organization." These islands were still chaotic, but they all fit a theme. Piles of things that fit a category. Clocks, for example.

    pile of clocks

    Or Barbie Dolls.

    pile of barbie and licca dolls

    And a few more, though I think you get the idea.

    There were also a few bigger items that looked like some thought and care were put into them. These stood out the most from the disorder, drawing your attention like exhibitions in a gallery. A few mannequins got this special treatment and in the back there were some manufactured combinations that I guess I'd call art.

    So you have a sea of fairly natural chaos with exhibitions making up islands of a more manufactured kind of chaos in between. It was a juxtaposition of two ideas that made me think a bit. You see, if you work too hard at creating chaos, it doesn't feel so chaotic anymore. But if you work too little, it's not all that interesting to look at.

    What's the difference between walking through a garbage dump and Chaos Room? I think the answer is the contrast and the personality that Sunamoto Matsuo injects into the chaos. It reminded me that in this world filled with so much (perceived) chaos, we have the opportunity to take pieces of it and create islands. These islands stand out and draw people in, no matter how weird they are. The same chaos surrounds all of us and we all have the same opportunity to use it to make something interesting.

    At least, that's what was going through my head. But I'm sitting here projecting my own experiences onto Chaos Room. The owner had slightly different ideas, though I suppose that's kind of the point of art.

    Why All the Chaos, Room?

    work bench covered with tools

    The space itself wasn't large, but I still found myself making seven or eight trips around the room, each time finding or experiencing something new. Among the piles of stuff, there were treasures. A majority of it was just collected "pieces," that is, interesting things in their original form: cameras, clocks, gears, bones, medical equipment, photos, statues, electronics, and so on. Since there was so much, I looked into the deepest holes, hoping to find something I missed. By the way, it was (mostly) okay to touch.

    medical chart and baby in trash can

    As I made my rounds, the owner talked to me. Sometimes we'd stop somewhere and he'd tell me the story behind an item. Other times he'd just tell me a story. But the best was when he talked about his philosophy on life, the universe, and everything. I really enjoy people like this, especially in Japan where it's almost a cardinal sin to be "different."

    sunamoto matsuo next to mannequin

    At about my third rotation around Chaos Room, he said, "Oh, would you like the full experience?" Of course I did and I told him so. He walked to the back and turned on a stereo.

    "I just play music that I like and it changes how you experience the gallery."

    Indeed, the music he played sounded like… well, it sounded like he took all the stuff in the room, put it in a magic box that turns things into music, shook it, and turned a crank to play the "Chaos Room" soundtrack.

    He didn't make the music, it was just an artist he liked, but it fit perfectly. Later he put on chanting and once again the feeling of the room changed. I was surprised at how different it became for me. This time I was able to capture some video so you can listen. Keep in mind, this, by far, was the least weird music he put on.

    Indeed, the music he played sounded like… well, it sounded like he took all the stuff in the room, put it in a magic box that turns things into music, shook it, and turned a crank to play the "Chaos Room" soundtrack.

    "Foreigners, they really like the Chaos Room a lot more than Japanese people," he told me at some point.

    "Why do you think that is?" I asked.

    "Well, when Japanese people come in here, even before they judge my art for themselves, they ask me what university I went to. Or who my teacher was."

    "Japanese people really like doing that, huh?"

    "Exactly!" he said, excited. "But I don't have a famous university. I don't have a famous mentor. So when they hear this, they start judging or looking down on my art. If I told them I went to Tokyo University or something though, I bet they'd love my art. Of course, I'm not doing it to make people like me, but foreigners, they've never asked about that kind of thing. They're just so happy to experience everything. They love it and have a good time without caring what my education was. Japanese thinking is just so rigid when it comes to things like this."

    "I could definitely see that," I replied, laughing.

    "Do you use Instagram? A lot of foreigners find this place because of Instagram."

    "I don't really use much social media, no."

    Ironically, he looked disappointed by my lack of social media use.

    chaos room in kyoto with owner

    "You should just do it," he said to me at some point. I looked around the room for a Nike logo, but couldn't find one. "If a middle-aged man like me can start a gallery like this and survive, that shows anyone can do anything. That's what I want younger people to realize when they see this. I was able to follow my dream, I don't have a boss, and I can do exactly what I want. People don't realize this is an option, but anyone can do it. They just have to do it."

    Put a mark in the checkbox for "things I also tell young people." We had more in common than I expected, right from the start.

    owner of chaos room sunamoto matsuo

    "I totally agree with you!" I said, surprised to find a kindred spirit here. "But I have to ask. Why was it your dream to create a… room of chaos?"

    "Right now, everything in society is so orderly. Everyone follows the same rules, everyone wants the same things, and we are moving farther and farther away from having any chaos in our lives. Life is all set out for us from the day we're born. But in the future I think people will crave some chaos, so that's why I made this place."

    Shoots. Put a mark in the "I also kind of agree with this" checkbox too.

    colored lights next to charcoal drawing

    I don't want to come off sounding like a Batman villain, nor do I want to get on a soapbox, but people today really do avoid chaos.

    I get it. Less chaos equals safety. Safety equals survival. But there is a form of chaos, like this room and the philosophies behind it, that won't hurt anyone. Yet society rejects chaos in almost all its forms and people follow the paths laid out for them.

    But once this path ends or diverges, people panic. They don't know what to do and they don't realize there's another option: step off the path. Instead, they sit there at the fork, paralyzed with fear, unable to make a decision because it doesn't fit with what society originally planned for them.

    Humans were made for this kind of thing, though. We're great because of our flexibility, our ability to react to unexpected events and chaos. When we strip all the chaos from our lives, especially the non-dangerous kind, we lose a bit of what makes us human. Subconsciously, I think this makes people uncomfortable and mildly unhappy. If you think about it, the best chaos come from things we as humans treasure: discovery, unexpected surprises, learning something new, love.

    Like Chaos Room, most chaos isn't actually chaos, it just feels like it. It would be a shame to strip away the good parts. Anyway, I just think Sunamoto-san is on to something.

    Was Chaos Room Actually Chaos?

    chaos room floor

    And, while I'm not in the room itself anymore, I like to think I took some of it with me (mentally, of course). I came away feeling I should produce more chaos for myself and those around me.

    The big question I always ask when coming up with a verdict for someplace is "do I want to come back?" It's sort of the "has replay value" checkbox in a game review.

    Chaos Room was a little tough, because on one hand I want to see what changes, but on the other hand I don't have any desire to see what hasn't changed. That just goes against the idea of chaos, to go see the exact same thing again.

    But that doesn't mean I don't recommend you go, because I think it's worth a visit. It's one of those special places that requires you to experience it to "get" it. This article can never replace the feeling you get from walking around and I think going here is good (or at least "good") for most humans.

    When I asked Sunamoto if the "exhibits" change, he said that they do change slowly. Although nothing has a price tag, everything is for sale and occasionally someone will buy something. Any disappearances of art will surely get refilled with some new chaos. And sometimes things move and shift around too.

    I imagine it's like the tide going in and out. Sometimes when the tide goes out, there's some new debris left behind. And when there's a hole, it's refilled with sand.

    After some time has gone by, I'll probably come back if I'm in Kyoto. At the very least, I look forward to another riveting conversation with the owner, who may have been the most interesting exhibit of them all.

    front door to chaos room art gallery in kyoto

    And, while I'm not in the room itself anymore, I like to think I took some of it with me (mentally, of course). I came away feeling I should produce more chaos for myself and those around me. Not in any way that would hurt anyone, but in the ways that create a sense of discovery in people and put a furrowed brow/smile on their face. That realization alone was worth the ¥500 entry and then some. I can't believe there are people who take half a step in, hear about the fee, and then walk out. All other forms of therapy are way more expensive and time consuming.

    Koichi’s Review8/10

    I enjoy places that allow me to see inside someone’s head. The Chaos room was one such place, plus some. I’ll be coming back in a few years to see how the chaos has changed.

    Chaos Room, カオスの間

    Pros

    • Got that taste of chaos that society was trying to keep from me.
    • A very unique experience you won't find anywhere else, probably because it's like stepping into somebody's brain.
    • Interesting conversation, if you're into that kind of thing.

    Cons

    • If you're in Kyoto for the first time, you probably will want to go to some temples instead.
    • Definitely for a (very) particular type of person.
    • Verging on gore, some of the more sensitive people will feel uncomfortable.

    Overall Rating

    8

    Accessibility Rating

    8

    Fun Rating

    7

    Uniqueness Rating

    8

    Additional Information

    396-2 Sekiseninchō, Higashiyama-ku
    Kyoto, Kyoto 605-0021
    Japan

    View on map

    075-762-5255