The sculptor Mitsuaki Tanabe is using his monumental work to form links between the countries of the Pacific Rim from his base in Japan. His work has reached Korea, China, the Philippines, Thailand, India, and the United States. With the addition of Nepal and Australia, where he will install new works soon, Tanabe has succeeded in creating a ring around the Pacific Ocean. This globally-oriented artist was born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1939. His sculptures are often large in scale; he has installed a 40-meter-high metal tower in Japan, a 33-meters-long cast stainless steel sculpture in Thailand, and an eight-ton wooden sculpture the Philippines. Most of his work goes beyond the boundaries of conventional sculpture.
I was introduced to Tanabe about thirty years ago at the solo show of a painter who was his classmate in art school. He was a young man with piercing eyes and a bold expression. In reply to my questions, he said that he was making a monument to donate to a certain place. I had forgotten this meeting and conversation when I suddenly received a call reporting that the work was finished. According to Tanabeユs exhibition history, this work, In Praise of Yamauchi, was completed in 1976. Yamauchi is the name of an area in the suburbs of Yokohama. The artist guided me to a piece of land owned by the city of Yokohama, where I saw a huge structure (16 x 7 x 2.5 meters) that looked like a huge mud pie coated with cement. It reminded me of a site for playing "king of the hill." Instead of just standing next to the piece and looking at it, a viewer could climb up and down, slide, or roll around on it. There was a light in the artistユs eyes that revealed the playful spirit of a child. This spirit had been turned loose in the broad world of perceptual phenomena.

In the early days of my friendship with Tanabe, we often talked excitedly about public plazas. He said that he was especially impressed by the fan-shaped Piazza del Campo while he was traveling around the world to experience foreign cultures during a ten-year period after he graduated from art school. I praised the layout of Madrid, where the streets converge and disperse at one plaza after another. I also told him about the ideas of the poet Taro Yamamoto, one of the last of the generation to serve during the Second World War, who said, "Do not make a center in a plaza. Do not issue orders from the top." As if trying to be the first of the postwar generation to respond to this imperative, Tanabe created a series of sculptures called Konzai (Mixed Existence) for solo exhibitions and outdoor sculpture competitions that mounted a challenge to hierarchy (pyramidal order). He explored art forms that required being experienced by all the senses, including hearing, touch, and internal sensations, rather than vision alone. The Konzai series won three prizes in outdoor sculpture exhibitions between 1979 and 1981.

I was delighted with this evidence of late-flowering talent, but Isamu Noguchi, who Tanabe regarded as his mentor, was somewhat critical of his approach. Noguchi was a well known practicing artist as well as a teacher and did not approve of making art for competitions where the ultimate site of the work is undetermined. He felt that this sort of work was no better than making plans on paper. Tanabe finally had a chance to create a permanent work in 1982 when he planned a monument specifically for a site in front of a new city art museum being opened in Saku City, Nagano Prefecture, and he organized a staff to carry out the plan.
This work, entitled Saku, was composed of a cylindrical "wind guiding" tower 40 meters in height, a 20-meter-long underground corridor made of Saku stone leading to the tower, and a 70-meter-long walkway that intersects the corridor. This large structure brought together all the elements of Tanabeユs early artistic ideas.
Saku is located on a high plateau exposed to the north wind. The wind arises far away in Siberia, crosses the Japan Sea, passes over Mt. Asama and moves up the valley of the Chikuma River. The structure is designed to guide this air flow from the tower to the corridor, circulating air between the upper atmosphere and the underground space. The walking path traces the form of the Chikuma River, and the curving corridor at right angles to it shows the configuration of Saku City. People walking through the corridor experience the clean, cool air of the sky from the faint outside light passing through the marble slabs in the ceiling. Moving closer to the exit where the air flows outside, one can smell the fragrance of the surrounding fields and hear the chirping of the wild birds, which resembles grass whistles, and sounds of the city that approach and recede.

The late Ichiji Yui, a businessman who was born and raised in Saku and the founder of the Shinbijutsu Shimbun (a Tokyo-based art newspaper, published in Japanese thrice-monthly), invested his own private funds to construct the Saku City Museum. Tanabeユs monumental installation was the last, and most remarkable, work to be commissioned by Yui and donated to the museum.
Translated by Stanley N. Anderson