Katsuhiro Otomo at the Sendai Airport – Riding the Waves

Katsuhiro Otomo - Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2015, ceramic relief, 8.7 x 2.8 meter, Sendai Airport
Katsuhiro Otomo – Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2015, ceramic relief, 8.7 x 2.8 meter, installation view, International Arrival Lobby on 1st Floor, Passenger Terminal Building, Sendai Airport, Japan

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.

Katsuhiro Otomo - Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2015, ceramic relief, 8.7 x 2.8 meter, Sendai Airport
Katsuhiro Otomo – Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2015, ceramic relief, 8.7 x 2.8 meter, installation view, International Arrival Lobby on 1st Floor, Passenger Terminal Building, Sendai Airport, 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.

Katsuhiro Otomo - Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2015, ceramic relief, 8.7 x 2.8 meter, Sendai Airport
Katsuhiro Otomo – Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin (detail), 2015, ceramic relief, 8.7 x 2.8 meter, installation view, International Arrival Lobby on 1st Floor, Passenger Terminal Building, Sendai Airport, Japan

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.

Original painting of Katsuhiro Otomo - Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin
Original painting of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin

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.

Katsuhiro Otomo - Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2015, ceramic relief, 8.7 x 2.8 meter, Sendai Airport
Katsuhiro Otomo – Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin (detail), 2015, ceramic relief, 8.7 x 2.8 meter, installation view, International Arrival Lobby on 1st Floor, Passenger Terminal Building, Sendai Airport, 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.

Original painting of Katsuhiro Otomo - Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin
Katsuhiro Otomo with a sketch of Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2014

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.

Model of Katsuhiro Otomo - Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2014
Model of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2014

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.

Production of Katsuhiro Otomo - Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2014
Production of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2014

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.

Cutting, shaping, Backside cutting, Drying, Unglazed firing of Katsuhiro Otomo - Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2014
Cutting, shaping, backside cutting, drying, unglazed firing of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2014

This breakdown consequently released radioactive materials into the environment, thus causing the residents to evacuate everything that they had built behind.

Color determination, Glazing of Katsuhiro Otomo - Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2014
Color determination, glazing of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2014

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.

Final firing of Katsuhiro Otomo - Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2015, ceramic relief, 8.7 x 2.8 meter
Final firing of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2015, ceramic relief, 8.7 x 2.8 meter

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.

Preliminary assembly, Installation, Completion of Katsuhiro Otomo - Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2015
Preliminary assembly, Installation, completion of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Kinka Doji Riding the Waves Accompanied by Fujin and Raijin, 2015

 

All images: Courtesy of Japan Traffic Culture Association unless otherwise noted..

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