Tower of the sun by Taro Okamoto

Tarō Okamoto: Japan’s Equivalent to Picasso

Japanese painting is one of Japan’s oldest and most refined visual arts. The art form encompasses a variety of genres and styles that show Japan’s long and proud history. Japanese paintings through the years display the fusion as well as the competing elements between the traditional Japanese aesthetics and the influence of other Asian techniques and Western ideas.

Tarō Okamoto

Tarō Okamoto (February 26, 1911- January 7, 1996), is considered to be Japan’s equivalent to Pablo Picasso. He was no stranger to the arts, being the son of prominent manga artist Ippei and the poet and novelist, Kanoko Okamoto. Okamoto was educated at Panthéon-Sorbonne (University of Paris ), in France in the 1930’s. He was a prolific artist and writer until his death.

Okamoto began to study oil painting in Tokyo in 1929 and soon after, moved with his family to Europe and continued his studies in Paris. The Great Depression reached Paris in 1931 and this period was dubbed the “Crazy Years” (Les années folles ). Paris saw itself as the capital of art, literature, music, and cinema. The artistic atmosphere and vibe matched with low cost of living attracted artists from all around the world.

Tarō Okamoto’s encounter with Picasso in 1932 led him to the world of abstract art. The year after saw Okamoto further exposed to other abstract artists. He focused on realistic forms and was attracted to primitive arts. This led him to pursue studies in ethnology, psychology, folklore and philosophy at the University of Paris under Professor Marcel Mauss.

Tower of the sun by Taro Okamoto

Tower of the sun by Taro Okamoto.

Okamoto was also associated with the College of Sociology member and mysticism advocate George Bastaille and other artists such as Max Ernst, Louis Aragon, and Andre Breton.

At the beginning of World War II in 1941, Tarō Okamoto was forced to return to Japan. In 1942, he was drafted and was sent to fight in China. He survived the war and returned to Japan in 1946 and discovered that all his art works had been destroyed in an air raid. Many of his later works reflected many anti-war expressions.

You can find the Tarō Okamoto Museum of Art in his hometown in Kawasaki and his studio and home in Aoyama in Tokyo is also open to the public.

Tarō Okamoto began to develop his own artistic philosophy known as Polarism (taikyoku-shugi) advocating the synthesis of opposites. Okamoto is best known for “Tower of the Sun” (1970). It was exhibited in Osaka Expo ’70. It depicts the past, present, and future of the human race. In his later life, he was seen as overly eccentric which affected his artistic value. Nonetheless, his contribution to the Japanese Arts is timeless and will live through history.