Columns/Interviews

Getting to Know the Expo

#6

Astronaut Naoko Yamazaki × Miniatures Artist Tatsuya Tanaka
Change Perspective to Change the World! Space and Miniatures—Two Perspectives for Solving Problems

Change Perspective to Change the World! Space and Miniatures—Two Perspectives for Solving Problems Change Perspective to Change the World! Space and Miniatures—Two Perspectives for Solving Problems

A world expo is a place where ideas from all over the world come together, including cutting-edge technology, culture, and art. Expo 2020 Dubai and the Japan Pavilion introduces various attempts to solve the planet’s problems. In this article, miniature creator Tatsuya Tanaka and astronaut Naoko Yamazaki explore the perspectives we need to find solutions to problems. For the Japan Pavilion, Tanaka has created miniature exhibits using the traditional Japanese approach of mitate, while Yamazaki is an astronaut and Japan Pavilion PR ambassador.

Seeing the World in Miniature, Seeing the World from Space

Tanaka

My style of work is called mitate (literally, resembling), in which I transform a scene that everyone knows into something else. For the Scene 3 section of the Japan Pavilion at the Dubai Expo, I have made exhibits on the theme of “today’s solutions” across four areas: city, sea, space, and land. The hardest challenge was creating miniatures where the viewer would be able to understand the solution properly without necessarily having to know the details behind how it works. For example, to show the Hayabusa spacecraft’s target marker, I started by pondering certain basic questions. How many people outside Japan know Hayabusa’s shape? And how well known is the shape of the target marker? The beanbag idea came from how the technology that allows the target marker to land on an asteroid was inspired by the way in which a beanbag toy works. And since beanbags can have both bright and dull colors, I decided to make it resemble an asteroid.

Hayabusa2: Space Beanbags (Japan Pavilion Scene 3)

Yamazaki

I was excited just looking at the exhibit, but now actually hearing you talk, I could really understand the idea behind it. I heard from the Hayabusa development team at the time about the design’s beanbag parallel and it made a lot of sense, though I’m delighted that you could show this by combining it with elements of Japanese culture. There’s also an exhibit of the Japanese H-IIA rocket that launched a probe as part of the Emirates Mars Mission.

Tanaka

When you’re drawing a design or working on something, you will make a mistake and then crumple up that sheet of paper into a ball. In the exhibit, I was expressing how over the paper balls of failures piled up into the mountain of hard effort from which the rocket then launches.

H2A Rocket: Success comes from trial and error (Japan Pavilion Scene 3)

Yamazaki

I was really impressed by how rather than simply producing a straightforward visual representation of the water vapor that comes out of a rocket when it launches, you expressed the accumulation of time and ideas.

Tanaka

For all the miniatures I made, not only those in the space area, I wanted to make exhibits that could convey the essence of something without the viewer needing to know the mechanics in detail. In the sea area, I really struggled with the tsunami warning system exhibit. A tsunami has a negative image, but I didn’t want the exhibit to be a turnoff. I hit on the idea of showing a tsunami as toppling dominos. The warning system does not stop a tsunami; it allows us to escape the tidal wave. I had to go so far as to create the scene of dominos mid-topple to ensure people understood that nuance.

Tsunami Warning System: It’s OK if they fall (Japan Pavilion Scene 3)

Yamazaki

I hope visitors to the Dubai Expo gain a sense of how the world is not limited just to the one that they see, that the world is a big place full of other perspectives. Your exhibits are also conveying this message. In my case, space was a special place that I really longed to go to but my attitude changed when I actually went there. In a micro-gravity environment, I looked up at Earth shining in the darkness of space. I realized that the truly special place—the place I really yearn for—is Earth.

Changing Perspectives Offers Hints for Solving Problems

Tanaka

Earth looks special when seen from space. Talking of which, cola looks a bit like space. The fizzy bubbles are like stars. If space is cola, then the tiny carbonated bubbles are like Earth. From the perspective of space, Earth is about that size. At the same time, when we consider that we can’t yet find planets that would seem capable of supporting extraterrestrial life, it really is special.

Yamazaki

Space is like cola—I love that idea! It really makes me wonder what it would be like to go there! [Laughs] You’re right, there are two ways of looking at this. When we pull back and see Earth from the expanse of space, the planet looks like a dot so small we can’t even tell it’s blue. It’s like a grain of sugar or little bubble. But if viewed up-close, just how special our planet is really stands out. When I returned to Earth, I was amazed by how heavy gravity felt. A single sheet of paper felt heavy. When I was talking, my own tongue felt heavy. My head felt like a stone weight. It really brought home to me that this was the planet, that this was nature. The breeze, the smell of plants, the texture of soil in my hand—I felt a deep gratitude for each and every element of life. Leaving Earth and experiencing what it is like to be in space makes you want to know Earth better. The things I had looked at until then suddenly looked different. It’s similar to how when you look at Japan from abroad, it looks different.

© NASA

Tanaka

Yes, and that’s exactly what mitate does. At both macro and micro levels, quite a lot of things are similar. If we magnify a human cell, it looks like the universe. When we look at the arrangement of the streets in a city on an aerial photo, it looks just like an integrated circuit. The more you think about it, the more you find these intriguing connections.

Yamazaki

I’m so glad there are things like that in common. And I hope visitors to the Dubai Expo will be able to experience different kinds of perspectives by being in a place where so many cultures, technologies, and ideas gather together.

Tanaka

And at the same time, I hope people get a sense that we are all human beings, members of the same species. I show my work mainly on Instagram and 70 percent of my followers are outside Japan. So when I make something, I try to ensure anyone in any country will get it. Here’s an example. I did a mitate miniature with a blue face mask as a swimming pool to create an image of the Olympics held in 2021 during the coronavirus pandemic. It got shared a lot by news websites around the world and regardless of the country, everyone left comments saying that it had really encapsulated the Tokyo Olympics. In terms of the common challenges and problems we face, I really felt how the world has come together as one. The Scene 3 section of the Japan Pavilion at the Dubai Expo is the same. Though made by Japanese people, it’s not just for Japanese people: I hope visitors from all countries will see the exhibits and realize they think the same way.

Yamazaki

We are all members of the same species—I can certainly agree with that sentiment. On a spacecraft, people from different countries live, eat, and work together, so you realize that you are all part of the team manning the spacecraft, that you are all fellow inhabitants of the same planet. Resources are limited on a spacecraft and you just have to make do with what you have on board. Through a process of trial and error involving everyone, you eventually realize what can be achieved. It gets more and more fun to wonder what other things are possible.

Tanaka

New technology is really important, but ideas are ultimately about putting things together. If we think in terms of finding workarounds with what already exists, we can make things we didn’t see before. My mitate approach also requires me first to reach a creative dead end before the ideas appear. If we are fixated on an approach, we’ll probably reach a dead end, but the things that already exist provide surprising hints. For instance, kids don’t need toys to play tag; they start playing with whatever they have around. This is also a kind of mitate. When kids play house, they don’t actually cook a burger on a frying pan; they turn a paper circle into a burger. In this way, you don’t have to think so deeply. Just try gathering together what you have at your disposal and this can help you solve problems.

Yamazaki

That’s right. The world today faces many challenges and not all of them can be solved on Earth. We may have to look to space for some of them. With energy and resources, for instance, our options can seem really restricted if we think only about what’s on the planet. Though we haven’t found a concrete way yet, I continue to do work related to space with the desire to keep the idea alive that space may provide the solution in the future, should the need arise. There is also Space Week at the Dubai Expo, which is packed with all kinds of events about space and the future of the planet. I plan to attend many of them.

Showing Japanese Perseverance at Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai

Yamazaki

I mentioned the Emirates Mars Mission launch before. Japan and the UAE have actually been deeply involved in space education for several years. What the people on the UAE side really emphasized was that wanting to develop technology was a given, but they also want to cultivate the country’s next generation of talent for the next decades. Space is an extreme environment and contains many challenges, so cultivating people who want to overcome those will also be useful for solving the UAE’s problems. That’s why they want to pour their efforts into space exploration and astronomy. I also think this is so important. Japan has accepted students from the UAE and is beginning an education program that includes hands-on experience with space technology.

Tanaka

And new collaborations will surely emerge at the Dubai Expo.

Yamazaki

I certainly hope so. I hope that collaborations that start at Dubai can lead to projects at Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai.

Tanaka

That would be interesting.

Yamazaki

Japan is strong in many aspects of space technology. It has comprehensive capabilities in the field, allowing it to make everything from rockets to artificial satellites, but the superpowers of the United States and Russia are nonetheless stronger in this respect. Where Japan is at the cutting edge is with sample-return missions, like Hayabusa and Hayabusa2. Japan is also leading the world in developing space elevator technology. Unlike a planet probe like Mars probe, Hayabusa was designed to land on an asteroid. It did this by getting closer to wait for the right moment, going back and then getting closer again, repeating that process over and over dozens of times, until finally it found the right spot and the right time. That kind of perseverance is something at which Japan really excels.

Tanaka

Perseverance is interesting, right? It’s fun how the work I do every day gets gradually better. I don’t know if this is “Japanese” per se, but I feel more suited to that style: instead of just suddenly doing the full thing, I make progress little by little until I finally finish the piece.

Yamazaki

That’s really similar to Hayabusa.

Tanaka

Perhaps you could call me a Hayabusa-type artist! I have so much perseverance that I get called “crazy” by foreigners! [Laughs] Japan should put that on show at the Osaka-Kansai Expo!

Yamazaki

Be it for space technology or solving the challenges we face on Earth, Japan excels at pushing on and pioneering new innovations at the point where other countries tend to give up. With this in mind, I hope Japan can propose approaches in which everyone cooperates together.

Profiles

YAMAZAKI Naoko

YAMAZAKI Naoko

Astronaut
Japan Pavilion PR ambasador

In 2010, Yamazaki was onboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on the crew of STS-131, an assembly and resupply mission to the International Space Station. Currently, Yamazaki is serving as a member of the Japan Space Policy Committee, Representative Director of Space Port Japan Association, Director of Astro Tourism, and a chairperson of “Sorajo (women in aerospace)” under the Japanese Rocket Society, among other roles.

田中達也

TANAKA Tatsuya

Miniature and mitate artist

Miniature and resemblance artist. Born in Kumamoto Prefecture in 1981. In 2011, he began creating a “MINIATURE CALENDAR”, a form of art that sees him use alternative items to recreate everyday things in miniature form. Since then, he has been updating and uploading content to present online on a daily basis. His exhibition, “MINIATURE LIFE Exhibition: Tatsuya Tanaka’s World of Resemblance”, which is being held both domestically and internationally, has had a total of over 1,500,000 visitors (as of July 2021). As part of his main job, he designed the title sequence for the 2017 NHK serial TV drama, Hiyokko, and the movie used for the opening of the Nihonbashi Takashimaya S.C. department store. And Expo 2020 Dubai Japan Pavilion Participate as an exhibit creator. He currently has over 3,300,000 followers on Instagram (as of Octber 2021). Some of his works include “MINIATURE LIFE“, “MINIATURE LIFE 2“, “Small Wonders“, ”MINIATURE TRIP IN JAPAN“, and “「MINIATURE LIFE at HOME」“.

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