Miniatures Artist Tatsuya Tanaka Sees the World With Whimsy and Joy

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Have you ever looked at a stalk of broccoli and thought it resembled a tree? Or perhaps you’ve seen leaves floating on a lake and imagined them as small boats.

Welcome to the mind of the Japanese miniature and mitate artist, Tatsuya Tanaka, who has made a lasting impact in the realm of miniatures by seeing the world from this whimsical—and frankly—adorable perspective.

Every day for the last decade, Tanaka has been creating and photographing miniature scenes using household items like food, office supplies, and, most recently, face masks with diorama figurines, to depict commonplace activities and situations. Tanaka started this as a fun way to photograph his figurine collection back in 2011. However, it quickly became a project called the Miniature Calendar. Each delightful image has a superimposed superscript caption that reads, “Miniature Life by Tatsuya Tanaka” and the date posted.

Tanaka’s scenes have an “I Spy” quality to them, as it might take viewers a second or two to identify what household item is getting utilized and to portray what scenario, which leads to a satisfying ah-ha moment. Dominos as a rock-climbing wall, a jewelry box with pearl suds as a day spa, a slice of vanilla cake as an iceberg tiny penguins are jumping from—each concept is as charming as it is meticulously executed, with the deftest of touches. You can’t help but adore Tanaka’s point of view and the playfully delicate way he interprets life, which is at once rich with child-like wonder and sophistication of craft.

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There are over 3,500 diorama figurines in Tanaka’s collection, and he aims to shoot three different miniature set-ups per day in his studio in Kagoshima, Japan. The ideas for his scenes come to him throughout his day-to-day life, which he jots down in the notes app on his phone. Opting to use identifiable, everyday objects in his scenes, the finished products are widely accessible and appealing to people across nationalities and ages.

Folks are clearly taking note, as Tanaka has amassed over 3 million followers on Instagram with his daily posts and traveling show. “MINIATURE LIFE Exhibition: Tatsuya Tanaka’s World of Resemblance” is on view at museums throughout Japan. The exhibit contains 50 real miniature displays and 120 of his photographs, including a selection from his COVID-inspired “Stay Safe” series, which incorporates pandemic-related items like face masks, plastic gloves, and thermometers into the scenes as a lighthearted way to encourage safe practices like social distancing and hand washing.

If a trip to Japan isn’t in the cards, you can check out Tanaka’s products on his online store, where he sells shirts, books, and, of course, wall calendars featuring his designs.