Little wonder - Issue 171 - Magazine | Monocle

thumbnail text

Artist Tatsuya Tanaka doesn’t see the world like everyone else. Where we see a paper cup, he sees a drum; where we see a bunch of parsley, he sees a forest. He looks at any object, no matter how humdrum, as potential material for one of his tiny creations: witty, miniaturised versions of daily life. Tanaka’s scenes are funny and fascinating. But just as impressive is his productivity: he has created an artwork every day since 20 April 2011.

Before he became a full-time artist, Tanaka (pictured) was working as a graphic designer. “When Instagram was starting up, I had a few miniature models at home and started posting pictures of them as a hobby,” he says. “But people said that they wanted to see something daily.” 


Tanaka’s studio is on an upper floor of a regular block of flats in the laid-back Japanese city of Kagoshima. “Studio” might be a stretch: his workspace is a compact – and meticulously tidy – room in the home that he shares with his wife and two sons. He sits at a desk surrounded by drawers of carefully sorted and labelled miniatures – miniscule Converse trainers, diminutive dogs and tiny jeeps, scooters and camper vans. There are crowds of tiny people too, all grouped by profession, from surgeons to snow jumpers and sumo wrestlers. There are pagodas and wooden houses; even a troupe of Japanese festival musicians; and many versions of Tanaka himself.

The artist works with a small team – his wife, an assistant and a manager – and rents another apartment in an adjacent building that is full of figures, plastic food and old electrical appliances. “I collect everything,” he says. “You never know when it might be useful.” Apart from the odd gifted camera lens, Tanaka has mostly resisted sponsorship. Snack companies have asked him to feature their products in his work but he always says no. “If I had to stick to certain brands, it would limit what I do,” he says. He writes books (several of which have been translated into English and French), publishes a physical calendar every year and is touring his Miniature Life exhibition, which has attracted more than two million visitors.

“Books can take you to places you will never experience,” he says. “It’s the same with my work. I can create miniature worlds and go anywhere.” And he’s bringing along people from all over the world. “Most adults are so busy living their lives, worrying about work, food and laundry – there’s no time to think about creativity,” he says. “Seeing these miniatures seems to bring out the inner child in people.” That’s no small feat. –– L

Share on:






Go back: Contents

The Agenda: Global briefings


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio


  • The Continental Shift