'Fossils of the 20th Century Civilization' – Tokyo, Japan - Atlas Obscura

'Fossils of the 20th Century Civilization'

Composed of scrap metal, a pair of platform-length murals chronicle Japan’s history, from the Big Bang to the development of modern Tokyo. 

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All of the stations on the Toei Ōedo subway line are adorned with some form of public art, from unusual sculptures to technological marvels such as the computer-designed “Web Frames” lighting at Iidabashi Station. The most fascinating of these may be found inside Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Station.

Titled “Fossils of the 20th Century Civilization” (20世紀文明の化石), this mural was created by contemporary artist Shōichirō Higuchi and installed here in 2000, the same year the station opened. It was created from scrap metal produced in the area during the so-called “economic miracle” era (1946-1992). The piece is located on the walls of Platforms 1 and 4, stretching from one end to the other.

The massive pair of murals tell the history of Japan, from the beginning of the universe to Tokyo’s development over the years, then to its bright future. Platform 1’s side depicts the city’s technological growth, such as in the automotive and computer industries. The artwork contains several pieces of pressed metal relics, including stepladders, iron nets, chain links, an entire bicycle, and what seems to be a bunch of car tires lacking rubber.

Once part of a vast industrial area and now home to the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and numerous art galleries, it’s no surprise that Kiyosumi-Shirakawa has such an inventive subway station. Still, these murals are quite a sight to behold and it’s nearly impossible to take it all in a single look, whether by eye or camera.

Filled with intriguing details, this scrap metal piece of art is sure to make your otherwise boring subway-waiting time here a worthwhile experience.

Know Before You Go

If you decide to get off at Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Station, keep your eyes peeled for more public art on the premises, including a randomly-placed set of ceiling lights and an abstract 3-D sculpture encased in semi-transparent glass.

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