OITA -- A "monster" on display in a glass booth that used to be a smoking room is turning heads at JR Oita Station in this southwest Japan city.
The contemporary artwork is the brainchild of the station's manager, who wanted to brighten up the station and its users amid the gloom of the spread of the coronavirus. The platform smoking rooms had been put out of use following a ban on smoking, so the station adopted the nationally rare initiative of converting them into galleries. This Mainichi Shimbun reporter recently visited the site.
Standing on platforms 3 and 4 at the station, I felt an uncanny gaze. Two large orange eyes were glaring at me from inside the former smoking room, which is 2.9 meters wide, 4.8 meters long and 2.4 meters high. The monster's body is a mix of a tiger and a peacock, and the head is a combination of a peacock and an elephant. Its expressions change depending on the angle of view. When I visited again at night, the pale light from the four corners of the room's ceiling made it even more mysterious.
The unique three-dimensional work, dubbed "Chimera-bune," was created by The Cabin Company, a duo consisting of a picture book creator and an artist living in Oita Prefecture. The artwork was inspired by the Chimera of Greek mythology, which was formed by the merging of different creatures.
The ex-smoking room is decorated in the style of a medieval Western ship, and the work creates an impression of Oita in the Middle Ages, when rare foreign animals were introduced along with Western culture, making it a window for new people and culture. The theme also overlaps with the current Oita Station, which is a place of arrival and departure for people and goods.
The work has been on display since December 2021. In January this year, a passenger humorously posted on Twitter, "monster at Oita Station," which drew a huge response of about 100,000 likes.
"I was startled for a moment, but it has brightened up my impression of the lifeless platform," said a 45-year-old woman who got off a train arriving at Oita Station and saw the artwork.
With the full enforcement of the Health Promotion Act in April 2020, Oita Station, like other stations, has gone completely smoke-free and abolished smoking rooms. Oita Station manager Hiroaki Kai, 58, who studied industrial design in high school and has a deep knowledge of art, came up with the idea of turning the smoking room into a gallery to exhibit the works of Oita-related artists.
Kai thought, "While people are avoiding crowded areas due to the coronavirus crisis, I want people to feel cheerful -- if only while on the platform -- like a single flower blooming in a field."
With the cooperation of the Oita Art Museum, Kai has been exhibiting works of Oita-based painter Naoto Kitamura in the former smoking room of platforms 5 and 6 since July 2021. Next came "Chimera-bune" in collaboration with Oita Prefectural Art Museum. In the ex-smoking room on platforms 7 and 8, name plates from the front of limited express trains that were once in use are on display along with large model trains and other items.
The station plans to continue to replace artworks and introduce a variety of them in the future. Kai said, "I was surprised by the response on social media. We would like to make this gateway where people gather a source of rich culture."
(Japanese original by Yuki Imano, Kyushu News Department)