This eye-catching mural depicts the tragic explosion of an atomic bomb. In the center, a skeleton erupts into flames, trailed by a train of ghosts and others humans running from the fire, a Guernica for the atomic age and to remember the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The artwork’s history is just as captivating as the images it portrays.
Japanese artist Tarō Okamoto started this work in 1967, when he was asked to paint a mural for a new hotel in Mexico City. He completed the giant mural in September 1969, but the finished work was never on display—his client had gone bankrupt before the hotel’s completion. The mural then went missing for decades.
Tarō’s secretary and life partner, Toshiko Okamoto, kept looking for the masterpiece even after the artist’s death. She finally discovered it in 2003 in a Mexican suburb. Due to decades of negligent storage, the work was heavily damaged. Toshiko and her supporters decided to transport the artwork back to Japan and restore it there.
The restoration was a huge project that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The mural was separated into several parts then shipped to Japan in a container in 2005. Sadly, Toshiko died just before its arrival. The mural was restored by Emile Yoshimura, who worked with other pieces made by Tarō.
After a few temporary exhibitions, those in charge of the painting started looking for a place to permanently display the work. Several cities participated in the bid, and it was decided it would be put in a passageway in Tokyo’s Shibuya Station so the maximum number of people can see the mural as a public art. It has been on display since November 2008. Since then, billions of people have passed by this giant masterpiece, many completely unaware of its history.
Know Before You Go
The mural is on the second floor of Shibuya Station, near the entrance gate to Keio Inokashira Line. Please note there's no direction to the mural in the station. The easiest way to get there is to follow directions to Keio Inokashira Line (京王井の頭線, IN). If you reach Shibuya Station using Keio Inokashira Line, just go through the central exit and keep going straight, the mural will be on your right.Please be aware of other passengers while watching the mural. There's no space for observation and the passageway can get insanely busy, especially in the mornings and evenings.