Takaki Yamamoto is rooted in the past.
As a diorama artist, his specialty is scenes from the Showa Era (1926-1989), a period of great upheaval and renewal.
From humble beginnings, Yamamoto, 47, is gaining national attention.
Scenes from his diorama are featured in a popular drama series being aired across Japan.
The native of Tokyo's Setagaya Ward has created 32 diorama since he went freelance several years ago. They will be published in an art book to be released this month.
Yamamoto's big break came when Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) featured his creativity for the opening sequence of the morning drama "Umechan Sensei."
The series has been aired since spring.
In one scene, dusk has fallen, and children are captivated by a "kamishibai" picture card show outside a candy shop selling portrait photos of celebrities. In another, a drunken man reels in front of a tiny bar with a doggy bag in his hand.
The diorama is a reproduction of a shopping street in the working class Kamata district of Tokyo's Ota Ward in the decade starting in 1955. It features 60 or so clay figures of men and women, each about 7 centimeters tall. The diorama board measures 2.8 square meters.
Yamamoto lovingly created at least 10 miniature shops and houses made of "hinoki" Japanese cypress lumber.
It took him around three months to complete.
"I wanted to convey the sense of warmth of a town where you could smell the meals of the neighbors," he said.
Yamamoto used to work at a production design company that created sets for films and TV commercials.
The turning point came in 2001 when the company decided to shut its miniature modeling department. After giving the matter much thought, Yamamoto decided to go it alone as a freelance artist.
He wanted to create dioramas featuring traditional wooden homes and idyllic rural landscapes that he recalled from trips he made in his 20s.
Yamamoto had been under great stress. But in his new line of work, he felt the fatigue slipping away.
Although he had never seen "kayabuki" thatched roofs of traditional houses where vegetables hang under the eaves, images he came across left him with a sense of nostalgia that fulfilled him.
Yamamoto created 10 dioramas and pitched his ideas to a publisher.
"Modern Toshi Ginza" (Ginza, the modern city) was featured in a model magazine two years later. He was then offered a series in a quarterly magazine.
Yamamoto began receiving a steady stream of orders. He created 32 dioramas, including one depicting the building that housed the Asakusa Rock-za strip club in Tokyo's Asakusa district before it was torn down, and the Myojin-yu public bathhouse in the capital's Ota Ward.
Yamamoto takes it upon himself to give each of his characters a "life story."
A diorama titled "Yumemachi Rakutenchi" (Yumemachi wonderland) about an entertainment district features a woman who works as a stripper and is extremely popular.
In Yamamoto's mind, she came to Tokyo after leaving her elderly father behind in Tokamachi city, Niigata Prefecture. The city serves as the backdrop for another work, "Yukiguni no Ichi" (Market in the snow country).
"Anonymous people living their own lives make for a lively city," Yamamoto said.
Old townscapes with wooden houses and narrow alleys bring to mind a way of life that cannot be reproduced by a cluster of high-rise steel-reinforced concrete apartment buildings.
His latest art book, "Showa Genfukei" (Illusionary scenes from Showa), features all of his 32 works.
"During Japan's high economic growth period, people set their eyes on the future," said Iwao Sekiguchi, 43, a member of an editorial company in charge of the art book project. "The gaiety and human drama reflected in his works are an endless source of fascination for us."
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