While these wooden totems bear a striking resemblance to First Nations artwork of British Columbia, their actual origins lay on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean.
The Ainu are an indigenous people native to northern Japan (as well as Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, both part of Russia). At the heart of their traditional territory is the Japanese island of Hokkaido; on the southeastern coast of Hokkaido is the city of Kushiro, home of Toko Nuburi and sister city to Burnaby, British Columbia.
Toko — already an internationally renowned artist, with commissioned works around the world — visited Burnaby as part of a special delegation from Kushiro in 1985. During the visit, he happened upon a mountaintop visit that inspired him. After successfully pitching his idea for a large wooden sculpture, Toko and his son Shusei began work on the project in 1989, using facilities and logs provided by the city of Burnaby. Playground of the Gods (or Kamui Mintara, in Japanese) was completed and unveiled in 1990, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the special relationship between the two cities.
Playground of the Gods draws on Ainu animist tradition, with animal totems representing the gods descending to create the world, while the smaller surrounding poles represent the Ainu’s intertwined relationship with the divine. The overall overlapping associations among humans, gods, animals, and nature symbolizes the friendship between Burnaby and Kushiro.
Know Before You GoIf you are new to the Vancouver area know that the weather can vary dramatically depending on elevation and proximity to the coast line. Dress warmly to visit the Playground of the Gods as the wind can be quite strong on the top of the hill. Take extra layers and a rain jacket or umbrella.
Playground of the Gods by David Meurin
Ainu Totem Poles, Kushiro Park, Burnaby Mountain, Burnaby B.C., Canada by RSamson. Dji Phantom drone
Submarine of the Gods (knightbefore_99)
Nuburi Toko working on a project in Japan. Photo courtesy Nancy O'Flanagan