Katsuhiro Otomo’s relief
Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of Akira, the 1988 Japanese animated cyberpunk action film, is one of the most well-known manga artists, animators, screenwriters, and film directors in the world.
Though he is best known for his manga series and film adaptations, Otomo crossed over into the sculpture world when he was asked to design a relief for the 1st floor of the terminal building at Sendai Airport in Japan.
The completed mural was based on an illustration created by Otomo. Even though the mural features numerous components of traditional Japanese art, the relief still managed to retain the artist’s dark, playful style, which can be seen in this relief in the form of the boy wearing thick-rimmed glasses.
What the relief shows
The mural at the Sendai Airport depicts a boy riding a robotic goldfish in the face of the storm while he’s being bordered by Fujin and Raijin, the formidable Japanese gods of weather. Specifically, Raijin is the god of storms, lightning, and thunder and is usually depicted in many artworks holding hammers that are surrounded by drums.
In these depictions, Raijin is typically seen with three fingers on each hand to symbolize the past, present, and future. As you can expect, Raijin is one of the most dreaded deities in Japan.
Fujin, on the other hand, is the god of wind, which is why he is habitually portrayed holding a bag full of wind. That’s why Fuijin has wild hair and a messy appearance, due to all the wind surrounding him. Throughout history, Japan has always dealt with massive typhoons that cause extensive damage and, worse, deaths in the hundreds.
A disaster inspired its creation
Based on the two gods, Fuijin and Raijin, the mural at the Sendai Airport was therefore created to commemorate the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, a severe natural disaster that took place in March 2011.
The earthquake and tsunami killed 20,000 individuals and is still recorded as the strongest earthquake in Japan’s history. The quake struck 81 miles east of Sendai, the largest and most populated city in Tohoku, which is situated in the northern part of Honshu island.
The natural disaster ruthlessly crippled the country’s infrastructure while also destroying homes, roads, businesses, railways, and more in their thousands. The tsunami also led to the meltdown of three nuclear reactors situated at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
This breakdown consequently released radioactive materials into the environment, thus causing the residents to evacuate everything that they had built behind.
Why Otomo was the perfect artist for this project
Otomo was the perfect person to design the mural because he grew up in Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, which is part of the Tohoku region. The relief was designed and created by a team of 10 artists at the popular CREARE Atami-Yugawara Studio, thanks to the financial support given by the Japan Lottery Association.
The planning process was undertaken by the Japan Traffic Culture Association, which has always served its mission of installing public works throughout Japan’s stations and airports. The 24-square-meter mural was completed in March 2015 just in time to commemorate that fateful day of the earthquake and tsunami.