The Myth of Tomorrow: Taro Okamoto's Mural In Shibuya Station
As you pass through the pedestrian walk linking the JR Yamanote and Keio Inokashira lines, you may have noticed an impressive, colorful mural over the walkway.
This is the "Myth of Tomorrow" created by the incredible and prolific Japanese artist, Taro Okamoto. An abstract artist and member of the Surrealist movement, Taro Okamoto once famously exclaimed that "Art is an explosion!"
The piece has been compared to Picasso's Guernica, not only because of its size but thanks to its subject matter. Okamoto painted this work in response to the nuclear proliferation that was occurring in the world at the time and as an allegory of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War. In the lower corner, you can see the image of a ship - this is Okamoto's depiction of the Japanese tuna fishing boat, the Daigo Fukuryu-maru, which was contaminated by nuclear fallout during the American nuclear testing at the Bikini Atoll in 1954.
Looking at the center of the main panel you will see a skeletal figure fully engulfed in flames, other figures are surrounded by red flames. It is no wonder that it is compared to Guernica!
This mural was originally commissioned and installed in Mexico, from 1968 to 1969. Then something truly mysterious happened: this massive mural, which fully spans a distance of 30 meters, disappeared. Thought to be lost forever or possibly sold off to a private collector, this masterpiece was not seen again until 2003 when it was discovered in a storage facility in a suburb of Mexico city.
It was repaired and returned to Japan, and installed in Shibuya station in 2008 which sees roughly 3 million commuters every day.
The Graffiti Scandal of 2011
After the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster, this mural once again found itself in the spotlight. Japan's answer to Banksy, the guerilla art performance group Chim↑Pom made headlines when they added a new section to the "Myth of Tomorrow" that depicted the failed reactors of theFukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant on May 1st, 2011.
It was quickly removed and did not damage the original mural - Chim↑Pom had attached the panel to the nearby wall using double-sided tape.
Occurring only a few months after these life-changing events, opinions were divided among the commentators and general public. Some called it vandalism, "malicious mischief", while others felt that it was "pure artistic expression" as it simply added to the theme of the original work. The director of the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum, Mr. Hirano, felt that Okamoto himself would have appreciated it. "Taro would not be upset, if he were alive", as Okamoto was known to be a controversial figure himself.