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Osaka Art Explosion: The Fantasy World of the "Tower of the Sun"

Osaka Art Explosion: The Fantasy World of the "Tower of the Sun"

Date published: 14 October 2019
Last updated: 17 July 2020

Expo ’70 Commemorative Park is bursting with nature, and was built where the first Japan World Exposition (a.k.a. Osaka Expo) was held in 1970 in Suita City, Osaka. The Tower of the Sun, designed by the late artist Taro Okamoto, was made as part of the theme of the exposition. The interior of the tower has been reopened to the public in March 2018, the first time in 48 years.

Let’s take a look at what the Tower of the Sun looks like inside.

First thing in sight once you enter from the central entrance of the park is the Tower of the Sun

What is the Tower of the Sun?

The Tower of the Sun, which represents the Osaka Expo is about 70m tall; the diameter of the base is about 20m, and each arm is about 25m long. It is the largest piece of work by Taro Okamoto.

It was built as one of the theme buildings for the Osaka Expo and was planned to be demolished after the exposition, however due to strong requests it. Since it was constructed on the base of removal, technically you could not enter it. With the request of revitalizing the legacy of the Osaka Expo increasing in recent years, the Tower of the Sun underwent earthquake resistance and reconstruction work, and the interior was opened to the public on March 19th, 2018.

According to what Taro Okamoto said, “The things I make are different from modernism. I went against the cool western modernism and it's opposing Japanese style, and aimed to build a crazy shrine that connects the primitive and contemporary.”

The Tower of the Sun has three faces, two in the front and one in the back. The Face of the Sun in the center represents the present, the Golden Mask at the top the future, and the Black Sun in the back the past.

The Black Sun on the back of the tower. It is antithetic from the bright sun in the front, and there are many different interpretations of it other than the “past.”
The relief at the base of the tower depicting the Tower of the Sun during the Osaka Expo. At the time there was the Oyane (large roof) designed by the late architect Kenzo Tange, and the Tower of the Sun stuck out of it

The Osaka Expo had the three themes of “Past, Present and Future,” centered around the Tower of the Sun. Many works were gathered from the world along with Okamoto’s artwork made for the Osaka Expo.

Reservation Required to Enter the Tower of the Sun

To enter the Tower of the Sun, you must make a reservation on the official website. You can make reservations up to 4 months in advance, and reception is on a first-come-first-serve basis. You can make a reservation up to six people at a time. With its growing popularity, making a reservation has become difficult. If you figure out your travel dates, we recommend making a reservation as soon as possible. The entrance fee is the following, 700 yen for high school students and above, 300 yen for elementary and Jr high school students and free for children below elementary school (prices include tax, additional entrance fee to the Natural and Cultural Gardens is required).

The interior route uses stairs, so we recommend comfortable walking shoes. People in wheelchairs and children under 4 can use the elevator to look around.

The central gate remains the way it was from 1970. Go through the automatic ticket gate to enter the park

To reach the Tower of the Sun, get off at the Osaka Monorail Bamapaku-kinen-koen Station and walk about 10 minutes to reach the Natural and Cultural Gardens on the south side of the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park. Once you enter the garden the tower will be upfront. The fee is 250 yen for adults and 70 yen for elementary and Jr. high school students (tax included, fee includes entrance to Natural and Cultural Gardens and Japanese Garden).

The Tower of the Sun is located in the “Natural and Cultural Gardens” where you can enjoy seasonal flowers and plants

Go around the lawn surrounding the Tower of the Sun and head to the back of the tower. The entrance to the visitor's course is located at the bottom of the slope behind the tower.

You can go down the slope, or the stairs along the slope
The entrance is on the 1st floor, which is (confusingly) located underground

Overwhelmed by the Intensity of the “Sun of the Underworld”

The staff will guide you along and explain the highlights. The tour will start at the time of reservation.

*Photos are prohibited in certain areas. For more information please see the official website.

You will find drawings lined up, such as the drawing of the Tower of the Sun by Taro Okamoto

Early summer of 1967, the Osaka Expo Association secretary-general visited Mr. Okamoto at his atelier in Aoyama and asked if he could be the “producer of the theme exhibition.” This was the event that leads up to the creation of the Tower of the Sun.

According to the guide, Mr. Okamoto didn’t accept the offer right away, but he was working on designs and drawings before he officially accepted the offer on July 7th, 1967. Some of the designs on display had dates from June 1967. About 3 months later, in September, the design of the Tower of the Sun was finalized.

You can see many drawings of trial and error in chronological order
The window on the wall opposite of the design drawings. You can see the Face of the Sun and the Golden Mask

Going down the hallway leads to a wide spacious area. An artwork that represents the corona (the aura of plasma that surrounds the sun) that is approximately 11m wide and the Sun of the Underworld about 3m in diameter is placed in the center.

Sun of the Underworld. The original was lost, and the current one was rebuilt for public viewing using fiber reinforced plastic based on resources.
Masks and idols are surrounding the Sun of the Underworld. During the Osaka Expo, these items were gathered from around the world, and only a portion of it is on display

By using projection mapping to show images of the past on the Sun of the Underworld as a screen, it is replicating the world of “prayer,” part of the “Past: The World of Origin” which Mr. Okamoto expressed during the expo.

Sun of the Underworld with a strong presence along with the numerous idols and masks. With the changing images and mystical music, it creates a fantasy world. Mr. Okamoto’s quote of “Art is magic” really matches the setting.

Going further in, there was even a bigger space waiting for us!

A Spiritual World beyond Imagination, The Tree of Life is Out of this world!

An object that grows up and branches off like a tree. This is the Tree of Life, the symbolic work inside the Tower of the Sun.

The Tree of Life takes everyone by surprise

The Tree of Life goes vertically through the tower. Along the tree, there are many objects placed or intertwined on branches. At the time of the Osaka Expo, there were 33 types 292 biological models, but currently there are only 33 types 183 objects.

Located at the root of the tree are protists like amoeba. Going up objects such as trilobites, fish, dinosaurs, and humankind are on display. It is expressing the evolution of life.

The source of life, such as amoeba and protist. Mr. Okamot said “single-celled organisms are amazing,” and especially focused on them.
We climbed the stairs around the tree, looking at the steps of evolution. It felt like we were evolving as we climbed up.

The information plates on the models are the original plates. The extinct trilobites that lived during the Paleozoic era are on top of the plate. Ther are also prehistoric creatures that look like squids. You can find many ancient creatures all over the place, and the colorful and unique looks are breathtaking.

You can start to see conches, nautili, and fishes. You can see how creatures evolved in the ocean
About midway through, you enter the era where creatures started to leave the ocean and go onto land. The brown creature on the top right is the large amphibian Mastondansaurus that can grow up to 6m.
Looking above you can see the amphibians evolving into reptiles and becoming larger
The Edaphosaurus to the top right is a herbivorous amniote tetrapod (plant-eating four-legged land-living vertebrates) and said to be close to mammal ancestry. The brontosaurus in the middle would grow to 22m

The guide told us that “to prepare for public viewing the creatures were lowered and repaired, but the brontosaurus has never left the Tree of Life in 48 years.”

Also inside the tower, the same unique music that was played during the Osaka Expo is still played. The music "Seimei no Sanka,” was composed by the late Toshiro Mayuzui. It gives you a feeling that you are in another world.

The bumps in the walls were made to increase the acoustic effects. According to Mr. Okamoto, it represents the “folds in the brain.”

After the era of dinosaurs finish, you can start to see mammoths and gorillas.

What is that? It seems like the gorilla’s head is distorted
During the Osaka Expo, the gorilla’s jaw would move with electricity. However, to express that 50 years have passed, they decided not to repair the head and display it as is

We climbed to the top and couldn’t find humankind, but then we finally saw it! The guide explained that “These are not homo sapiens like you or me."

This is the Neanderthal that went extinct over 20,000 years ago
And above that at the peak of the 41m tall Tree of Life is the Cro-Magnon

The Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon were carefully made including their skin texture. The guide also told us, “Mr. Okamoto said that ‘mankind has not evolved at all’ compared to the people who created various tools to live in the harsh world and painted animals in the Lascaux Cave. That is why he didn’t include homo sapiens.”

The top of the tree is the “Spectacle of the Sun.” And the tip of the tree sticks into it. Looking into the space, it feels like it will suck you in.
Regarding the Spectacle of the Sun, Mr. Okamoto commented, “The sun is the symbol of vitality for all life. Through a frenzy of festivals, man absorbs the burning energy and rejuvenates mankind by joining forces with the sun.”
The right arm of the Tower of the Sun can be seen from the inside. The metal framework is amazing. At the time of the Osaka Expo, an escalator was installed, and you could go out to the Oyane from the point of the arm.

The 30 minute guided tour ends here. We went down by the stairs in the back area. The panels along the way explain the Tower of the Sun in greater detail.

There are pictures of the construction for the Osaka Expo and pictures taken by Mr. Okamoto
Here are pictures of the reconstruction for the public viewing

The Tower of the Sun is very intense from the outside. From the inside, you can feel the explosive talent of the artist Taro Okamoto. It made me want to know why he made these types of works.

So Many Sun Towers in the Museum Shop!

So Many Sun Towers in the Museum Shop!
Many goods that can only be bought here

After going through the inside, let’s take a look at the museum shop with many goods motif after Taro Okamoto’s works. The museum shop is located next to the entrance underground.

Trifold clear case with different faces.Many people who purchase all of them (300 yen each, tax included)
There are 7 types of masking tape (650 yen each, tax included)
Lanyard (1,300 yen, tax included)
The lanyard is the only item with the newly designed logo for the public viewing
Miniature Tower of the Sun around the table (500 yen, tax included)
A mug with the Tree of Life in the inside (2,380 yen, tax included)
An eco bag that is casual yet assertive (1,300 yen tax included)
  • Tower of the Sun
    太陽の塔
    • Address Senri Banpaku Koen, Suita-shi, Osaka
    • Phone Number 0120-1970-89
    • Hours: 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (Time may extend. Please check with the website)
      Closed: Wednesday (open if its on a holiday, closed on the following day). New Years Holiday
      *open from April 1st - Golden Week, October 1st - November 30th
      Fee: Adult 700 yen, elementary and junior high school student 300 yen
      *requires additional fee to enter Natural and Cultural Gardens (250 yen adults, 70 yen elementary and jr high school students
      *tax included
      0120-1970-89 or 06-6155-5601 (Tower of the Sun Reception)

Recommended Facilities in the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park

64.21 million visitors from Japan and around the world attended the Osaka Expo and were charmed by the various exhibits. At Expo’70 Pavilion, you can see how it was during the time.

Expo’70 Pavilion. The Steel Pavilion during the Osaka Expo was renovated and opened on March 13th, 2010

The theme of the Steel Pavilion at the time was “Song of Steel,” and they displayed artworks including instruments made with steel. At the “Space Theater” they implemented the latest audio technology. They played music from 1,008 speakers and held a show using laser beams.

“Space Theater” (it can only be seen through glass). In the pavilion, they have the uniforms of the Osaka Expo promotional models and scale models on display.
  • Expo ’70 Pavilion
    EXPO’70パビリオン
    • Address Senri Banpaku Koen, Suita-shi, Osaka
    • Phone Number 06-6877-4737
    • Hours: 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (last entry at 4:30 p.m.)
      Closed: Wednesday (open if its on a holiday, closed on the following day). New Years Holiday
      *open from April 1st - Golden Week, October 1st - November 30th
      Fee: Adult 200 yen, junior high school student and below free
      *requires an additional fee to enter Natural and Cultural Gardens (250 yen adults, 70 yen elementary and jr high school students
      *tax included
      06-6877-4737 (Expo’70 Pavilion)

The National Museum of Ethnology opened in 1977 and has been called Minpaku. It is one of the largest museums of ethnology in the world, conducting research on ethnology and cultural anthropology from around the world.

Many ethnic materials gathered from around the world are on display
Display of the Oceania area. It introduces the people who travel the vast sea

Inside there is the “Tankyu Hiroba,” where you can learn more about the research, exhibits and the videoteku, a system where you can view original footage of art, lifestyle, and culture of various people living around the world. The footage were taken by researchers of the museum. The museum shop sells crafts and books from around the world, and they also have a restaurant in the annex where you can enjoy ethnic food.

  • National Museum of Ethnology
    国立民族学博物館
    • Address 10-1 Senri Expo Park, Suita, Osaka
    • Phone Number 06-6876-2151
    • Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (last entry at 4:30 p.m.)
      Closed: Closed: Wednesday (open if it’s on a holiday, closed on the following day). New Year’s Holiday (December 28th – January 4th)
      Fee: Adult 420 yen, University and high school students 250 yen (tax included for both price), junior high school student and below free
      06-6876-2151 (National Museum of Ethnology)

The Japanese Garden is located in the northern side of the park. It was created by the Japanese government during the Osaka expo incorporating the best of Japanese landscaping technology. The 26ha garden has a stream and a pond, and it is a beautiful relaxing space where the water and greenery is in harmony.

Looking from above, the Shinji-ike (Shinji Pond) looks like the cursive character of “心” (mind). Walking along the path you can see black pine trees with historical interest and stone arrangements
“Komorebi no Taki” (sunbeam waterfall). Here you can view a beautiful sight of the strong current from the waterfall and burning red leaves.

The Tower of the Sun was planned to be demolished after the Osaka Expo. While other pavilions were demolished according to schedule, it has remained in place close to 50 years. Being able to see the Tower of the Sun is close to a miracle!

  • Expo ’70 Commemorative Park
    万博記念公園
    • Address Senri Banpaku Koen, Suita-shi, Osaka
    • Phone Number 06-6877-7387
    • Hours: 9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (last entrance to park at 4:30 p.m.)
      Closed: Wednesday (open if it’s on a holiday, closed on the following day). New Years Holiday
      *Open from April 1st - Golden Week, October 1st - November 30th
      Fee: Adult 250 yen, elementary and junior high school student 70 yen(tax included, fee for both Natural and Cultural Gardens and Japanese Garden)
      *Viewing of the interior of the Tower of the Sun, Expo’70 Pavilion, National Museum of Ethnology and other require additional fees
      06-6877-7387 (Expo’70 Commemorative Park General Information Center), 06-6876-2151 (National Museum of Ethnology)

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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