Taro Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun was inspired by the totem pole! (2011 interview with Ai Shishimoto)
Taro Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun was inspired by the totem pole!
Ten years ago, in 2011, I visited the home (in Tokyo’s Kamata district) of Ai Shishimoto (age 101 at the time). Ai was the mother of the genius editor Shoji Otomo (the father of Japan’s Ultraman boom). On display in the entrance of her home was a hand-drawn illustration by the painter and manga artist Ippei Okamoto.
In the parlor, there was a totem pole that Ippei’s son, Taro Okamoto, had brought from Vancouver as a souvenir. According to Ai, that pole became one of the motifs for the Tower of the Sun, which was displayed at Expo ’70. This astonished me!
In 1968, to commemorate the opening of its first route to Vancouver, Japan Airlines (JAL) invited cultural figures and individuals who we today would call “influencers.” Among the invited were Ai’s husband, the international journalist Hachiro Shishimoto (age 77 at the time), and the artist Taro Okamoto (age 57 at the time).
In 1967, there already existed a sketch of Tower of the Sun, but the trip surely greatly influenced what would become the final Tower of the Sun.
Skipping the tour, the duo went out and explored Vancouver for the first time.
The vast grounds of Stanley Park are home to eight totem poles from seven tribes, including the indigenous Haida tribe.
Originally, totem poles were placed in front homes to convey the legends and family crests of one’s ancestors. The poles were engraved with people, masks, and animals such as orcas, bears, or frogs that represented particular tribes.
Seeing this, Taro Okamoto returned to Japan bearing the same sense of excitement that he had received from Okinawan culture and the pottery from Japan’s Jomon period. He also brought back many totem poles. It was one of those poles that was on display in the Shishimoto main house.
While organizing my hard-disk, I came upon some photos of Ippei Okamoto, so I gathered them in this article.
PS: Incidentally, when I investigated my DNA, I found that I have Haida tribe ancestry.
“My Gene Analysis”
Illustrated book “Remix Shonen Magazine Large Illustration 3” (1992): The lines and dots of Masaru Uchida and Shoji Otomo
I met Ai Shishimoto, mother of the short-lived and genius editor Shoji Otomo that was also known as the “monster professor.” She is 101 years old and full of energy! (2011.0422)