Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Stuck on a Bench

Tokyo is a vast city incorporating an ever-changing mix of districts and neighborhoods, places differing in style and color and constantly offering up small architectural gems that chart the city’s growth. One of Tokyo’s most handsomely refurbished areas is the commercial district of Marunouchi, located in Chiyoda Ward between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace. The name translates as “inside the circle” and comes from its location within the outer moat of the palace. Marunouchi is a major center of Japan’s financial industry with three of the country’s largest banks headquartered there. In recent years the area has become a magnet to tourists because of its tree lined streets and imposing architecture, as well as its world class shopping. You will find museums, department stores, multi-floored bookstores, historical buildings, elegant boutiques, theatres and of course the incomparable Tokyo Station.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Marunouchi Shopping center, in cooperation with Chiyoda Ward, the Marunouchi Executive Committee presented a street side exhibition of Bench Art for five weeks in September and October of this year. The exhibition was of twenty sculptures either seated on or standing near specially made benches. The figures included famous characters, personalities, athletic heroes and historical figures and also names connected to the area of Marunouchi.

Looking at the sculptures (statues) the first thought is that none of them are very well executed in terms of modeling or delicacy. Some might even suspect that the artist didn’t understand his medium. Still it’s important to realize that because of its scope the project could never be envisioned as a collection of fine art. The artists are unnamed and it would surprise no one to learn that none are well-known names. But the concept is both valid and interesting.

Four of the sculptures (and I imagine the benches as well) are being auctioned for charity with the starting bid of $500.00. The four selected for auctioning are: Albert Einstein, Tatsuno Kingo, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Saigo Takamori. The last two are not included in the photos below.

Not sure why the sculptor chose to accent his portrait of Albert Einstein with the famous tongue-out pose, but it comes across as odd in this case. My guess is the idea was to make identification more immediate, since most are familiar with the 1951 Albert Sasse birthday photo of the famous physicist.

Not well-known outside of Japan, Tatsuno Kingo was an architect who made major contributions to the area during the Meiji period. He is remembered for his 1914 design of Tokyo Station. He also set up the Japanese architecture course at Kôbu University, which later became the Tokyo University Engineering Department, laying the foundations of modern Japanese architecture.

The Masked Rider is a Japanese superhero with the abilities of a grasshopper. The character first appeared in a manga-based television series, where the hero, an ordinary man is transformed on his high performance bike to battle various monsters. The role was first played by Hiroshi Fujioka.

Icon of silent film, Englishman Charles Chaplin was not only an actor, but director, writer, composer and producer of films.

Ryoma Sakamoto was a loyalist involved in the plot to overthrow Japan’s ruling Tokugawa Shogunate in the years between 1853 and 1867. He played a pivotal role in bringing about the 1867 Meiji Restoration.

Ryo Ishikawa, a professional golfer who became youngest money-title winner and the youngest overall winner on the Japan’s professional tour. His shy smile and good looks have attracted legions of fans.

Japanese professional baseball player Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui who in 2009 led the New York Yankees to a World Series win, receiving the series MVP award.

Shun Oguri is a Tokyo-born actor and director well-known for his numerous film and television appearances. He made his directorial debut as the youngest director in Japan with the film Surely Someday in which he also appeared.


  1. Very interesting post. These figures look foreign to be placed in Tokyo as when we were over there I don't remember seeing anything like this. Maybe I just didn't go to this district. Anyway, very enjoyable post.

  2. Too bad the sculptures aren't going to be left there permanently. Nothing wrong with art always being part of everyday life in that area--or any area of any city for that matter. For however long, even a moment, art can remind us of something beyond the ordinary of each day, something attainable while pursing daily doings.

  3. Hmmm-the benches look inviting, and not roped off, I think. Wonder what would happen if a lady with sore feet sat down.
    I love outdoor art.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America