The Original Image of Japan

Period: October 30 (Wed.) 2019 - February 24 (Mon.) 2020

Taro Okamoto was a person who continually asked the question, ‘What is Japan?’ Having decided to leave Paris and return home to fight for Japan, Taro had a fateful encounter one day in November 1951. It occurred at the Tokyo National Museum when he came across some Jōmon-period pottery. The primitive yet sturdy bounty of a hunting people who pursued game in their struggle to survive, their strong vitality representing a magical spirit that conversed with an invisible force. When Taro discovered this aesthetic, which is the complete opposite of the restraint displayed by traditional Japanese beauty, he felt sure that, ‘This is the true Japan.’ Approximately five years later, he set out on a journey to discover the true essence of Japanese culture and at his first destination, the Tōhoku region, he encountered the ‘magical spirit’ of primitive Japan. In this poverty-stricken part of the country, that is cut off from the rest of the country during the winter months, he caught a glimpse of the original image of Japan. Two years later, in 1959, he traveled to Okinawa prior to its restoration to Japanese rule, and what he discovered there was the ‘Japan’ that contemporary people had pushed to one side and lost. In the pure lives of the Okinawan people he could discern his own roots and those of the whole Japanese race. This discovery must have delighted him. Taro’s journey through the Jōmon, Tōhoku, Okinawa…was a voyage of discovery in search for ‘the original Japan’, ‘the forgotten Japan’, or to put it another way, ‘the real Japan.’ The music played in the quiet exhibition hall is made originally by jazz bassist Takashi Sugawa. We hope that you will come and see the ‘deep, rich Japan’ that caught his eye through this exhibition of the photographs taken by Taro himself.

Life in Five Hundred Million Years’ Time — Yōichirō Kawaguchi: beyond AI

Period: June 26 (Wed.) – October 27 (Sun.) 2019

‘Let’s imagine what it will be like five hundred million years into the future, a time when humankind may no longer exist.’ So says Yōichirō Kawaguchi, a pioneer computer graphics artist who has been active on the world stage since the seventies. This is not simply a fancy. His ‘Life in Five Hundred Million Years’ Time’ is created using a computer program based on data regarding the development of shape, growth and evolution that are then simulated mathematically according to an established rule. Learning from the history of the course taken by life over the last five hundred million years, it creates an image of how it will evolve over the next five hundred million years. The thing that first springs to the eye is the ‘spiral vortex’ that undulates along the axis of time. ‘There can be no life in a universe that does not create a vortex. The origin of all life is a vortex.’ So saying, Kawaguchi has continued to use his own ‘growth model’ to express the birth and energy of life. Tarō Okamoto also left a work that expresses the birth and energy of life. This is the ‘Tree of Life’ that he created inside the Tower of the Sun for the Osaka Expo. In this work he gave the ‘Time of Life’ a form, covering a period of four billion years, but the evolution he portrayed ended with the appearance of Cro-Magnon man. In a certain context, this experiment of Kawaguchi’s to portray life five hundred million years into the future can be said to be a continuation of Tarō’s ‘Tree of Life’.

Art of the Sun—Tarō Okamoto’s Public Art—

Period: February 27 (Wed.) – June 23 (Sun.) 2019

Art is like the sun. The sun provides limitless light and heat.
Even if you have been sunbathing, the sun doesn’t put out its hand and say, ‘Hey, that was lovely and warm, how about giving me some money?’ does it? Art is like the sun. That is what Tarō Okamoto thought.
This was based on his belief that ‘art belongs to the people.’
Art does not belong solely to a small group of snobs or those with great wealth.
It belongs to the common people, to those who have to struggle against various contradictions and difficulties in the course of their daily lives; it is in ordinary life like this that art comes into its own.
This philosophy is what drove Tarō to produce public art.
He left lots of works in public spaces where they are always accessible to everyone.
Sculptures, murals, reliefs, memorials, clocks, plazas, temple bells, fireplaces…even if we only count his major works, there are several dozen, with a wide range of variations on each, and more than a few of them break with the accepted concept of art.
Okamoto’s public art plays such a crucial role that is impossible to discuss his oeuvre without reference to it.
For this exhibition we welcome as guest curator, Hiroshi Ōsugi, of the Kawasaki Tarō Okamoto Museum of Art, to help us think about the ‘Art of the Sun’.

Living Moment by Moment —Tarō Okamoto and Jazz—

Period: October 17, (Wed.) 2018 – February 24 2019 (Sun.) 2019

‘In my life I ignore the past and I ignore the future. I live in the present, exploding, moment by moment.’
Neither clinging to the past nor presuming upon the future.
This was the way that Tarō Okamoto lived.
He bet everything on the present moment.
There is a type of music that embodies this outlook on life perfectly.
The essence of jazz is to be found in improvisation and dialog. In jazz there is only the ‘now’.
Good jazz radiates enthusiasm, thrills and vitality.
Okamoto’s art is the same.
In this exhibition we will make a new departure and focus on ‘sound’.
An unexpected encounter between Okamoto’s paintings and jazz through the medium of sound.
We hope that you will come and enjoy this slightly different experience.

The Road to the Tower of the Sun

Period: May 30 (Wed.) – October 14 (Sun.) 2018

In March 2018, the Tower of the Sun was finally reborn. After half a century of neglect the interior has been restored and reincarnated as a permanent exhibition facility.
In our last exhibition we took the opportunity to trace the history of the tower from 1967, when Tarō Okamoto was first invited to act as producer of Osaka Expo ‘70, to the completion of the restoration of its interior in 2018, considering the significance of the Tower of the Sun and the message that Tarō Okamoto tried to transmit through the Osaka Expo.
The current exhibition continues this theme, focusing on Tarō Okamoto’s work during the 1960s in the lead up to Osaka Expo ‘70 to examine ‘the Expo and Tarō’ from a different angle. During the 1960s, Tarōs style of work underwent a major change.
Prior to that he had employed delicate brushstrokes to fill his works with large numbers of motifs, but then black, abstract forms, resembling Sanskrit characters and creating a mystical atmosphere began to take on a central role.
These works were doubtlessly strongly influenced by his discovery of primitive Japan through his study of the Jōmon period and his travels through Okinawa and the Tōhoku districts. Perhaps, this might have provided a hidden theme for the Tower of the Sun and the Osaka Expo Theme pavilion.
In this exhibition we will present a birds-eye view of the magical works he produced during the 1960s in order to experience how Tarō Okamoto must have felt on the eve of the Expo.
It represents yet another circuit through which to perceive the Tower of the Sun.

Tower of the Sun 1967–2018 —What did Tarō Okamoto Question—

Part I. October 13(Fri)2017 – February 18 (Sun) 2018
Part II. February 21 (Wed) — May 27 (Sun) 2018

In March 2018 the Tower of the Sun will finally be reborn. Taking advantage of the opportunity presented by seismic retrofitting work on the tower, the long-neglected interior has been renovated and transformed into a permanent exhibition space. ‘“The Tree of Life” is the Tower of the Sun’s bloodstream, the folds in the interior walls are the ‘folds of its brain’.” That is how Tarō Okamoto described it. The Tower of the Sun is a ‘living being’ with internal organs. The Tower of the Sun has recovered its internal organs and reawoken after half a century. We would like to take this opportunity to ask ourselves once more, ‘What is the Tower of the Sun’? In this exhibition we will trace the fifty-year history of the tower, from 1967, when Tarō Okamoto participated as producer of Osaka’s Expo ’70, until 2018 when the interior was recreated, and consider Tarō Okamoto’s intentions in creating the Theme Pavilion/Tower of the Sun. With the full cooperation of the Kaiyodo Company, a leading manufacturer of figurines, we ventured to recreate a miniature three-dimensional model of the Theme Pavilion. All that remained of this artistic exhibition space was photographs but this model allows us to re-experience it in three dimensions. It is something that has never been tried before. What was the question that Tarō Okamoto confronted Japanese society with at that time? What will it provide for us living today? What will it change? I would like to think about this together with the reincarnated Tower of the Sun.

Tarō Okamoto’s Tōhoku

Period: July 1 (Sat.) - October 9 (Mon.), 2017
In association with Taro Okamoto Museum of Art, Kawasaki

In 1957, five years after he discovered Jōmon culture, Tarō Okamoto set out on a trip in search of the true essence of Japanese culture and the first place he visited was the Tōhoku region, where he encountered ‘primeval Japan’.
Tōhoku was a poor region, cut off from the rest of the country in the winter, but there he discovered a ‘spirit of magic’ in dialog with an invisible power, still existed.
Having caught a glimpse of primeval Japan in the Tōhoku region, Tarō next found that the same spirit had been inherited by Okinawa. After his second visit to Tōhoku in 1962, he became convinced that the spirit of the Jōmon period still existed in the blood of the Japanese people. This experience was to decide the future direction of Tarō’s art and led directly to the creation of the ‘Tower of the Sun’.
The Tōhoku captured by Tarō Okamoto’s eye sixty years ago represents a solid and rich Japan. We may never have seen it ourselves but it is not irrelevant to us because it is our Japan and part of our true being as Japanese.
We hope that you will come and experience this ‘True Japan’ that has been cut out and preserved through eyes of Tarō Okamoto.

Twenty Year’s of the TARO Award/Twenty Enfants Terrible

Exhibition Period: March 12 (Sun)— June 18 (Sun), 2017

Left alone following Tarō Okamoto’s death, Toshiko proved much more resilient than many of us had feared. She said that it was her job to transmit a knowledge of Tarō’s work to the next generation and set about achieving this without delay.
Her first projects were the establishment of the Tarō Okamoto Memorial Museum and the TARO Award. In order to carry this out, she first set up a incorporated foundation, and despite her small build, she devoted her last nine years to working actively on these.
We are delighted that the TARO Award has now continued for twenty years and what began as a small event, organized by Toshiko, has grown until now it is widely recognized as a major contemporary art award.
Over the last twenty years a total of four hundred and ten artists (groups) have been selected for award and the wonderful thing is that all of these artists have gone on to play leading roles in their various fields. I believe that this is what upholds the significance and value of the award.
To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the TARO Award we will be holding an special exhibition featuring ‘twenty enfants terrible’ together in one place. All of them are unique artists and so the result will undoubtedly be chaotic.
We hope that you will enjoy the unrivaled richness of art presented here.

The Tarō Okamoto Contemporary Art Award, 20th Anniversary Committee (Noi Sawaragi, Hidee Hōjō, Yuji Yamashita, Kōichi Watari, Akiomi Hirano)

Participating Artists

  • UJINO Muneteru/UMETSU Yoichi/OIWA Oscar/OLTA/KAZAMA Sachiko/KATO Tsubasa/KATO Tomohiro/
  • KANAZAWA Kenichi/Kyun-chome/AITO Kouheita/Saeborg/SEKIGUCHI Koutaro/TENMYOUYA Hisashi/
  • Is it possible“TOHOKU-GA”?/SNAGASAWA Takahiro/NISHIO Yasuyuki/MURAI Yuki/YAMAGUCHI Akira/
  • YOSHIDA Shinnosuke/WAKAKI Kurumi

Noritaka Tatehana, Aesthetics of Magic

Exhibition Period: November 3, 2016— March 5, 2017

Taro Okamoto is an exceptional artist who goes far beyond my comprehension and makes me want to think that he himself is the magic. All his life, Taro never sold his work with his own hands. For Taro, resisting the society was his way of interfering with the society with all his might. Presenting an exhibition at the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum, a place that can be called a shrine, is a homage to Taro who represents primitive art, and gave me a chance to reconsider the past that won’t go away. I hope that the viewers encounter the series of works that I created by casting a spell to myself, or the works that reject any understanding from the outside world.

Noritaka Tatehana

 Noritaka Tatehana, the artist who receives attention from around the world has just turned thirty years old. He is known for the fact that the “Heel-less Shoes” he had created for his graduation project caught the attention of Lady Gaga and immediately emerged into the art scene; however, it is completely wrong to conclude that he simply had talent or that he was just born under a lucky star.
 After deciding to become a world-class fashion designer as a high school student, he studied weaving and dyeing at the Tokyo University of the Arts, and chose the path to internalize the techniques and thoughts of Japanese clothing. Normally, one would choose to learn at a fashion college then jump out abroad, but Tatehana didn’t; he daringly turned his back to the ordinary and made a gamble with his life. His decision was based on deep deliberation about how to arm himself with a weapon that enables him to fight on the global stage.
 Back when he was in high school, he had spent eight years visiting COMME des GARÇONS to grab the chance to present his works, and later splashed hundreds of e-mails all over the world to promote his “Heel-less Shoes.”
 Creative ambition is what backs up Noritaka Tatehana, and strategic vision and strategic action is the driving force behind it. His mentality lies exactly on the opposite of typical “die-hard” spirit. Logical thinking and passionate action are the source of his power.
 It was the same for Taro Okamoto. He is often misconstrued to be the typical artistic type whose motives are based on impulse and instinct, but that is completely different. Take, for example Taro having studied philosophy and ethnology at the University of Paris to witness the beginning of movements of abstract art--his thinking is highly logical.
What is striking about Taro is that not only did he think but he actually made an action with passion. It should be obvious if you look at the Tower of the Sun. (Anyone can understand it when he sees the Tower of the Sun.)
 To fight in the global arena, Taro Okamoto went to Paris, Noritaka Tatehana remained in Japan. The paths they had taken were different, but the mentality prepared to confront anything that comes in front of them is the same. They both challenged common practice and standards, and they choose their direction depending solely on their faith. Their engines were pride and their absolute faith.
Take a look at the number of works that Noritaka Tatehana created specially to face Taro.
I hope that his splendid prowess will be exposed especially to the eyes of young viewers who are about to venture into the creative world.
 The “living testimony” who best exemplifies the hint to how to comprehend future creativity exists right here.

Akiomi Hirano, Director of the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum

Tarō Okamoto’s Okinawa

Period: July 6 (wed)— October 30 (Sun), 2016
In association with
Okinawa Television Development Co., Ltd.
Sachiko Nagata

In November 1959 Tarō Okamoto visited American administered Okinawa for the first time.
It was to be a well-deserved holiday and even Toshiko, who never went anywhere without her writing materials, set off without so much as a notebook. However, no sooner did they arrive than all thought of a vacation was banished. This was because the scenes that awaited them were too stimulating.
What Tarō saw there was the image of the old Japan that modern people had put to one side and lost.
‘Forgotten Japan’, ‘the true Japan’.
He could sense the roots of both the Japanese and himself in the immaculate lives of the Okinawans.
So strongly did he feel this that he shook with emotion as he enthusiastically released the shutter of his camera. Relying on intuition and inspiration, he moved in as close as he could to his subjects, taking numerous pictures. We are able to feel ‘Tarō Okamoto’s eye’ preserved in the huge number of photographs he left behind.
We would like you all to witness this image of Okinawa that Tarō captured—to relive Tarō’s passion. That is our motive in holding this exhibition. In addition to the photographs Tarō took, we will also present a valuable documentary movie.
‘This is it! This is what we are! This is the real Japan!’
These are the words of Tarō Okamoto.
We hope that you will enjoy Tarō Okamoto’s Okinawa.

The Dignity of Life — Tarō Okamoto’s Jōmon

Exhibition Period: March 2 - July 3 , 2016

A fateful meeting in November 1951 resulted in Tarō Okamoto finding a ‘lifelong friend’. Five years after he had resumed his artistic activities in Japan following the war, he happened to visit Tokyo National Museum in Ueno where he encountered a pot dating from the Jōmon period (14,000–300 BC).

‘I was astounded. I had no idea this kind of Japan existed. No, this was the real Japan. I felt my blood grow hotter, my enthusiasm caught fire!’

Unrestraint, vigor, dissonance, dynamism, asymmetry…its boisterous, discordant form represented a veneration of nature, an awe of nature; it bore the stamp of the spirit of the Jōmon people who lived in perfect harmony with nature.
The primitive power and prodigality of spirit of a people who chased game and fought other hunters; their burning life force. Tarō realized instinctively that their aesthetics, which stand in direct opposition of the subdued refinement of traditional art, represented ‘the original Japan’, ‘the lost Japan’.
For Tarō, this encounter with the Jōmon was a rediscovery of Japan, a discovery of himself. He had finally found a comrade in arms. That is how he must have felt. Not only did Tarō take the Jōmon, which had previously been confined to archeology, and release it into the art world, but he also employed it as the basis for his view of own life and art.
Okamoto’s art is an expression of the spirit of the Jōmon. I think that this is a statement that nobody could object to.
I wanted people to be able to experience Okamoto’s works together with Jōmon pots within the same space and it was with this in mind that I planned the current exhibition. It was curated by Takumi Ishii of the Kokugakuin University Museum, who is simultaneously carrying out research into the Jōmon and Tarō’s art. He was also involved in the restoration project for the ‘Myth of Tomorrow’ mural.
This is the first Jōmon exhibition to be held in the Memorial Museum and we hope that you enjoy it.

Akiomi Hirano, Director,
Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum

Memories of a lost past—the Jōmon period (14,000–300 BC). The Jōmon period pottery that so delighted Tarō consisted of ceramic pots people used in their everyday lives. In order for them to make a stew, it required a pot, water and fire, fish they had caught, foods they had found in the mountains, fields, rivers and seas, stones to create a fireplace and wood.
For the Jōmon people, animals and plants, natural and manmade objects were more than merely food, resources, or tools. All of them represented an irreplaceable form of life. Basically, food is life that risks itself to take life, then by eating life, combines with it; eating food is a solemn religious ceremony.
‘Sharing the joy of life’ — For Tarō ‘Jōmon’ meant a literal fusion with another life, a living together. As he said ‘Life is art’. The act of life and death, of sharing the joy of life. That is Tarō Okamoto’s art.
16,000 years after the appearance of pottery in Japan, Tarō was able to share the joy of life with Jōmon pottery. Having discovered an ally in the ‘brutal asymmetry’ that adorns the Jōmon pottery, he began to fight to destroy the ‘formalism of symmetry’ that was introduced during the Yayoi period (300 BC to 300 AD) together with rice agriculture.
Rice farming led to a system of control of nature. The beginning of this can undoubtedly be described as the ‘first industrial revolution’. It was this that gave rise to the restrained mood of Japan that continues to this day. Mankind and nature parted ways; in a society centered around humanity that strives for the efficient control of nature, the joy of life ceases and vitality is emasculated. This makes the Jōmon ever more necessary. That is what Tarō believed.
Tarō set off to travel the world in search of the Jōmon that he believed writhed in its depths. This was when he made his fated discovery of the Utaki holy sites of Okinawa. These consist of only stones and trees, but these spaces, in which god and mankind share the joy of life, are filled with ‘an indescribable cleanliness’. In his heart he felt a ‘rapport with life’ that was the same as he experienced through Jōmon pottery.
Japan had been forced into a morass of conflict, but Tarō Okamoto had a mission whereby he exchanged his own life in order to recapture the forgotten Japan from the morass and let the people today retrieve the ‘dignity of life’.
The alchemical formula of Okamoto’s art magic can be summed up as being ‘self x Jōmon = creation of life.
’ What will ‘you x Jōmon’ create? The answer lies within yourself.

Takumi Ishii,
Curator: Kokugakuin University Museum/Visiting Researcher: Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum