Any city with aspirations to be a vibrant international metropolis should invest in interesting, challenging and useful public art, and Tokyo has certainly done so. There are some absolutely amazing artworks scattered around our fair city, but there are also some complete abominations lurking as well.

While acknowledging that art is subjective and one person’s favorite piece is another person’s piece of crap, here are what I consider the seven stupidest public artworks in Tokyo.

  • Maman by Louise Bourgeois


This choice is going to be controversial. Sure, I know this is a really famous piece by a well-respected and important artist, originally commissioned for the opening of the Tate Modern in London, with sister pieces all around the world, and probably worth more than I will ever earn in my lifetime, but…

It’s a giant spider, for Christ’s sake! A 9-meter tall, EGG-CARRYING spider! If that doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies, you are a braver person than I.

Maman does have one redeeming quality, though. It’s made meeting up with people in crowded Roppongi a snap. Even people fresh off the boat know exactly what you mean when you say, “Meet you by the big spider.”

  • Unghia e marmo by Giuseppe Penone


I used to work near this one, and let me tell you, having lunch outside by the fountain sounds really nice until you realize you are sitting next to a giant dismembered toe.

The glass and marble would look pretty neat together, if they didn’t conjure up images of blood and gore leaking into the water. And then you start to ponder exactly what kind of heinous toe jam is under a giant’s toenail. Before you know it, your appetite has disappeared and you are considering heading back to the office early just to distract yourself from the stomach-churning images.

Who puts a statue like that in the middle of a business district?!

  • Shiodome butt sniffers


OK, that is not the actual title of this piece, but it might as well be, because that’s what these bizarre sculptures are doing.

Scattered around outside of the Nippon Television building in the Shimbashi-Shiodome area, these crawlers are supposed to serve as benches, I believe, but who wants to sit on the back of some vaguely humanoid shape with serious back and cartoon measles?

Perhaps there’s some connection to Nippon TV’s programing that I’m missing.

  • 2M Plastic Bottle by KOSUGE1-16


Yup, that’s a 2-meter-tall plastic bottle, all right. With a cat on top. There’s joke here, since in Japanese these kinds of bottles are called “PET bottles”. Get it? Yeah, me neither.

Also, here’s a little tip for budding artists: if your piece has to be blocked off by traffic cones to make sure people don’t run into it, it’s probably not going to be great as public art.

  • Work 2012 by Kimiyo Mishima


Also in the category of unnecessarily large ugly things is this giant trash can in Shinagawa. I’m sure the people staying at the Toyoko Inn in the background are ready glad that’s the first thing they see when they step out the door in the morning!

The artist gets points for very detailed recreations of actual packaging and I’m sure there’s some kind of eco-friendly, anti-consumerist message here, but in all honesty, I’m too irritated by the ugliness of a giant trashcan in the middle of the sidewalk to care.

  • Chords by 1 to 2 to 4 on the Circumference of a Circle of 24,000mm in Diameter by Yoshiharu Maekawa


This is the kind of thing that makes people hate modern art. It’s a big chunk of grey rock. It has a stupid name. It’s too big to be a functional bench. It’s not nice to look at. It looks like some masonry work gone awry and abandoned. Perhaps I’m missing something, but seriously, what is the point of this thing?

  • Manneken Pis at Hamamatsucho Station


Japan has a somewhat unfortunately fondness for replica art, such as the mini Statue of Liberty in Odaiba. Another example is this replica of Brussels’ famous Manneken Pis statue. First, why just copy an existing statue? Second, why do you need a working fountain on a train platform? That just seems like a recipe for disaster. Third, do you really want people sitting in a train thinking about urine? Not a good association.

However, this particular statue is somewhat redeemed for me by the fact that station staff have taken to dressing it in a different costume each month, from traditional Japanese formal wear to a Santa costume. That takes the kitsch to a whole new level, possibly into coolness.

Well, readers, that’s my 10 yen. Any stupid public art I’ve forgotten? Want to tell me why I’m an artistically illiterate Philistine? Take to the comments!

Images: Wikipedia (Manneken Pis), @ART, Salimbol (butt sniffers)