Art@Site Yoshiko Miyashita The Eye of Shinjuku

Yoshiko Miyashita


The Eye of Shinjuku

Shinjuku Station
Every day millions of people pass through Shinjuku Station, the massive transport hub in Western Tokyo, transferring between public and private railways, subways and bus lines. In the underground passageway near the western exit is a ten-metre-wide acrylic sculpture, known as ‘Shinjuku no Me’/‘L’Oeil de Shinjuku’ (The Eye of Shinjuku). This gigantic eye, set into the wall, has looked out over the commuters since some time in 1969. Most people just walk past the sculpture without paying much attention on their way to the high-rise buildings just outside the western exit, or on their way to the nearby bus terminus. The ‘Eye’ is also, however, a convenient landmark for meeting friends. It can be difficult to find people in the largest railway station in the world.
Shinjuku Station has for some years been the site of conflict over the use of public space. For decades, homeless people sought shelter in the warmth of its underground passages. The Tokyo Metropolitan government, however, has made repeated attempts to banish the homeless from the station. In campaigns against the Tokyo government’s anti-homeless policies, the ‘Eye’ has also served as a convenient assembly point for demonstrators.
Sculptor Miyashita Yoshiko has reflected on the inspiration for the ‘Eye’. It seems that she created the work in a spirit of optimism.
How to express the boundless overflowing of energy that is this monster [Shinjuku]. . .? That’s it! An eye which looks at the passing of time, the changes in thought, every part of the contemporary age . . . an eye which will communicate history to the twenty-first century . . . Maybe it is an eye which gazes far out into space. I thought that an eye like this would be just right for the Subaru Building, the linchpin of the Shinjuku Subcentre [fuku-toshin].
Miyashita challenges the viewer to ‘stand in front of the eye, full of confidence, and wink’ at it.2 Critic Takiguchi Sh_uzo¯ (1903–1979), in his appreciation of Miyashita’s sculpture, figured the underground passageway as a womb, and presented the paradoxical image of the ‘pupil of the eye inside the womb’ (tainai no hitomi).3 For others, the ‘Eye’ has stimulated further creativity, in a rock song called ‘Shinjuku no Me’, and in a manga where the ‘Eye’ is a portal to another world.4
Like many Tokyo commuters, I have walked past the ‘Eye’ countless times, barely registering its presence. As I reflect on the cultural politics of the city, however, the image of the ‘Eye’ keeps returning to me. It now seems like a potent symbol of the constant surveillance carried out in places like Shinjuku. Takiguchi’s embodied metaphors for Shinjuku station remind me of the mutual connections between personal, embodied geographies and the geographies of the city.5 Looking back over the history of the ‘Eye’ reminds me of the myriad stories attached to particular places and the emotions stirred by these stories.
Tales of the City, Vera MacKie, University of Wollongong, Australia, 2011.
The Eye of Shinjuku has watched over the city for nearly fifty years, making it one of Tokyo’s oldest public art installations. It’s also the one for which Yoshiko Miyashita is best known. Find it at the West Exit of Shinjuku Station.