The global pandemic has inspired some artists around the world to work on projects reflecting the anxiety and isolation of life under lockdown in recent months. Others, however, have found inspiration in the tranquility that descended on the country’s cities when businesses closed and people generally observed the government requests to stay at home.
The streets were quiet, the air was clean. Oblivious to human woes, nature went about its business. Here in Tokyo, the cherry blossoms, azaleas and hydrangea went through their regular life cycles one by one, reminding us of nature’s resilience.
An artist going by the moniker Tokyo Genso has taken this sentiment to another level, publishing a book of illustrations that show prominent landmarks in the capital in various states of decay that have been reclaimed by nature.
In Kasumigaseki, the Diet building sits in a lotus-filled pond, its foundations bending slightly from the weight of the stone structure.
Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba sits on dry land, its sagging pillars covered in botanical growth.
In Shibuya, a waterfall has formed next to the neighborhood’s iconic 109 building, while wild lupine flowers sway gently in the breeze across the street.
No humans appear in any of the illustrations, and yet there are signs of human life. Outside Shinjuku Station for example, water buffalo graze alongside a rice field. Someone’s been here recently, planting rice to harvest in autumn.
Geijutsu Shinbunsha Co. published the title on May 15. The timing of the release was interesting, coming hot on the heels of the easing of restrictions following the state of emergency in Tokyo in April. In fact, one can remember a time in central Tokyo when the streets did almost appear as desolate as they do in the artist’s illustrations.
“When I think of ruins, words such as decadence and fantasy come to mind,” wrote one person in a review on Amazon. “That said, the ruins in this book remind me of life.”
For his part, Tokyo Genso says he was inspired by his own experiences overseas.
“I became really interested in ruins 20 years ago when I backpacked my way through Southeast Asia,” the artist says. “When I saw Angkor Wat (in Cambodia), I was struck by how nature was about to swallow up that massive structure. It was a terrifying spectacle, but also very beautiful.”
He adds, however, that his own upbringing also played a part.
“I’m also from a generation that grew up watching Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’ (1986),” he says. “In my mind, these two influences merged into one and it filled me with a sense of nostalgia. I try to re-create this sentiment in my work.”
These small details aside, very little is known about the artist behind the illustrations. He has published a blog as Tokyo Genso for more than a decade and yet his private life remains off-limits.
“I’ve been working professionally, mainly through social media, for more than 10 years,” he says. “I’ve attracted a lot of support but, at the same time, I’ve also experienced my share of being trolled and stalked. I know that kind of goes with the territory, but I have real qualms about identifying myself online.”
Tokyo Genso says he wants to create a space that will make “viewers enter a page and walk around or go exploring.”
“In times of disaster, people seem to want to look at my work,” he says. “I think that, subconsciously, they want to escape from everything — the past, the present, their jobs, families and obligations. Disasters are terrible, but perhaps what’s more frightening is the urge to be free from the shackles of this ultra-controlling, modern society.”