Widely known and popularly used as meeting points, statues in Tokyo are seen by many but the story and meaning behind their creation is sometimes lost. While statues of people can somehow still speak for themselves, statues of animals are more often than not unrecognizable. Do you know these famous animal statues?
Undoubtedly the most recognizable animal from this list, Hachiko was the dog who waited. Tokyo University professor, Hidesaburo Ueno, adopted Hachiko as a pet in 1924. Hachiko would wait at the train station for his human friend everyday and walk home together after work. In 1925, Ueno suddenly died and Hachiko continued to wait for his master until the end of his days, nine years later. There are movies and books written about Hachiko and his loyalty continues to touch many hearts. A statue commemorates Hachiko’s life near the spot where he waited.
This owl roosts in the east exit of the JR Ikebukuro station. Owl in Japanese is “fukuro”, so the statue is playfully called “Ikefukuro”. Owls are associated with good fortune in Japan; the word “fukuro” can be written in characters that mean “coming happiness” and “no suffering” both of which are desirable things. Many people decorate their houses with owl figures in hopes of warding off suffering and inviting happiness into their homes. In the case of the Ikefukuro, it was merely created as a symbol for Ikebukuro, and the statue itself was erected as a gift to Ikebukuro in 1987 by the JR rail company.
Outside the Mitsukoshi Department store, there are two bronze lions guarding either side of the entrance. These lions were based on the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square in London. When Mitsukoshi had just merged with Mitsui Clothing store in 1956, the assistant manager at the time, Hibi Ousuke, had the idea of putting two lion statues by the entrance of the building. Hibi had grand ambitions for the company and wanted a strong and powerful symbol for it, but also simply liked lions, so much so that he named his son “雷音” which can be read as “rai-on”. Today, Mitsukoshi is a famous, high-class department store with many stores all over Japan.
Famous statues in Tokyo are almost always surrounded by people waiting to meet friends and family yet the statues themselves are inconsequential. Statues help to remind people of something significant; whether it’s one dog’s loyalty, or one man’s ambitions or a symbol to invite happiness, the statues of Tokyo want to speak to us all. So next time you see one, why don’t you take a closer look to see what it represents.