By Shingo Masuda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer“Art is explosion!”
This statement is forever etched in the minds of those who remember the artist Taro Okamoto. He suggested that art is life itself. Rather than referring to the way explosions rip things apart with a bang, he said, explosion means “our spirits, which point to the cosmos, suddenly open.”
Okamoto’s greatest work, “Tower of the Sun” at the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, is also a manifestation of his spirits.
The theme of the Japan World Exposition 1970 was “Progress and Harmony for Mankind.” At the time, Japan was at the zenith of its growth, and the United States and the former Soviet Union were ruthlessly competing to develop their space programs.
Okamoto, who was in charge of devising an exhibiting theme for the world expo, chose not to openly glorify scientific accomplishments. He felt there was no point in creating another national fair that would exalt the nation’s prestige.
Instead, he wanted to float the idea of the mystery of life. He set up the Tower of the Sun at the world expo — which conceptualized visions of what the future might hold — to serve as “the priest to explode humanity’s pride.”
“He said if we want to think about the future, ‘focus on our source,’” said Akiomi Hirano, 58, the nephew of Okamoto’s adopted daughter, Toshiko, and someone who knew Okamoto as a child.
Inside the tower, expo-goers could see the “Tree of Life,” a tree 41 meters tall and full of creatures that harkened back to the origins of life on Earth, including amoebas. Aquatic creatures, dinosaurs and apes were set on the tree, with advanced species higher up on the branches to represent the process of evolution.
“Why do we have science? Don’t forget everything stems from vibrant life,” Okamoto seems to be saying with his spirited Tower of the Sun that emits strong energy of life. Hirano said he thinks it serves as exactly this kind of warning to humanity.
After the expo, part of the inner tower was removed, and the tower became only viewable from the outside. The prefecture is working to reinforce the tower’s ability to withstand earthquakes, and is also preparing to reproduce the inside. Plans are for it officially reopen on March 19.
In this day and age, when science that includes nuclear power is a double-edged sword, we seem to have come to an age where humanity is being put to the test. What great question will the giant of a tower that has been asleep for nearly half a century pose to humanity when it awakens?
The past comes alive
About 64.2 million people flocked to the expo in the half year after it opened in March of 1970. After it closed, most of the pavilions were removed, and the space where they once were — which could fit about 65 Koshien Stadiums into it — was turned into the lush Expo ’70 Commemorative Park.
“No matter how many times I look at the Tower of the Sun, I never grow tired of it,” said Prof. Atsushi Nobayashi, 50, who works on the park grounds at the National Museum of Ethnology. “It’s a unique object that has not been standardized, and I love the grand scale of it. It’s on par with being able to see Mt. Fuji again and again without tiring of it.”
Taking a stroll inside the park, this reporter found something about the tower to appreciate from every angle. Walking closer to it and looking up, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of such a massive tower. Seeing the tower from EXPOCITY’s Ferris wheel is also highly recommended. It’s true you don’t get sick of seeing the tower. Before I knew it, I’d been looking at it from morning till night.
Expo ’70 is an exhibition facility that was converted from a pavilion that featured iron and steel. On the ceiling of the facility’s theater, which reminds visitors of space, many speakers are set as if they are stars.
In a pond within the park, there are fountains produced by Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. The fountains represent heavenly bodies.
The country’s great folk crafts can be found at the Japan Folk Crafts Museum, Osaka, originally a pavilion at the expo before being converted into a museum.
Osaka is bidding to host the 2025 World Exposition.
“We hope to connect our telling of the world about the renewed Tower of the Sun with our bid for the expo,” said Kazuhiro Masuyama, 58, the chief of the memorial park’s operations.
What “idol” will appear, if another expo comes to Osaka?
From Tokyo Station, take the Tokaido Shinkansen Nozomi to Shin-Osaka Station, a trip of about 2½ hours. From Shin-Osaka Station, take the underground Midosuji Line that is connected to the Kita-Osaka Kyuko line to Senri-chuo Station, about a 15-minute ride. Take the Osaka Monorail for about five minutes until you arrive at the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park. For more information, please contact the Suita information plaza at (06) 6170-1014.
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