ITO Mineo


[Photograph]  YAMAMOTO Mao

This article is a translated version, which was originally published in Japanese language on 29 November, 2022.

Reading time:3 minutes

(Date updated)01 August, 2023

(About this story)

ITO Mineo’s life as an artist began when he first started writing his own name. We follow Ito’s daily life as he continues to create letter and line drawings at the Regional Life Support Center 〈Passo〉 in Fukushima Prefecture.


The name “ITO Mineo” crowds the surface of the paper


《Untitled》 / Permanent marker on paper / 210 × 235 mm / Year unknown / Photo provided by Passo

Like a businessman commuting to work every morning, ITO Mineo arrives at the Regional Life Support Center Passo (Fukushima Prefecture) in a suit and tie. He creates artwork quietly at a dedicated desk. When he catches someone raising their voice or not sitting properly in their chair, he gives them a warning, just like a manager. No wonder he was the first artist affiliated with 〈unico〉 to hold a solo exhibition at the 〈Hajimari Art Center〉.


Ito holding a retro flip phone.

Ito’s creative pursuits stem from the practice of writing his own name. He learned to write from his father and was able to write in hiragana (Japanese syllabary) before going to elementary school. Yet it wasn’t until his father passed away in 2003 that he began practicing writing his name in kanji (Chinese characters), determined to sign the documents in his own hand. He continues this practice even now, at the age of 58.


Ito silently writes row after row of his name.


One name eventually becomes a crowd of names.

Bringing his face close enough to the paper to obscure it from view, Ito writes slowly and deliberately, one character at a time, sometimes in hiragana and sometimes in kanji. Rows of characters stretch across the paper free from hesitation, seemingly the work of a skilled craftsperson. At times, the string of names appears as organic as a living creature. Each time he writes his name, it has its own unique shape. All bunched together, the names become a graphic design that transcend their literal meaning.


The kanji characters for “Ito Mineo” overlap with each other.

In 2010, Ito’s work was exhibited at the ‘Art Brut Japonais’ exhibition in Paris. Japanese actor Issey OGATA who saw Ito’s work after the exhibition, was struck by its resemblance to a musical score and was inspired to create a short story from it. As this story shows, Ito’s work has the power to capture the imaginations of those who view it.


《Untitled》 / Permanent marker on paper / 330 × 239 mm / Year unknown / Photo provided by Passo

Written characters aren’t the only thing for which he is known. Like his name artwork, Ito has created powerful pieces which depict row upon row of nothing but human faces. No two faces are alike; some are slightly troubled, some have furrowed brows, while others smile sarcastically. Each face is uniquely expressive and bursting with life.

Ito drew these portraits by looking at the faces of nearby support staff, photographs, and other reference materials. Thanks to his unique perspective and distortion of their features, the faces are full of humor that makes viewers chuckle, conveying the gentle gaze with which “Manager Ito” views others.


《Ultraman》 / Permanent marker and felt tip pen on paper /180×257mm / 2019 / Photo provided by Passo

Among the subjects Ito draws most often are characters from the Ultraman series. Some he draws in black-and-white, but many are colorful, such as Ultraman (of course), as well as Ultraman Leo, Alien Godola, King Joe, and the monster Dada. When asked, “Do you like Ultraman?” Ito replies by singing, “Ultraman, Ultraman,” getting into the groove of the theme song. He sings along with the staff on the ride to and from the group home, and when everyone is enjoying karaoke, he often grabs the mic. Whenever Matsuken Samba comes on, he starts to dance and quickly becomes the leader of the party, enlivening the atmosphere.


“Ito-san, your picture is upside-down.”


“Huh? Aha,” he says, flipping it right-side up.

Creating opportunities to see Ito’s work in person

“Ito-san used to be very particular about many things and a bit uncooperative, but as he has grown older, I get the impression that his personality has mellowed out a bit. He now will draw anything the staff asks him to without issue. He even draws pictures on the spot and gives them as gifts to visitors who come to see Passo. That’s why the staff and I would like to make various proposals so that we can create another exhibition opportunity for visitors to meet Mr. Ito in person and get to know his personality,” says staff member HOSHI Mikoto.


All of Ito’s belongings had a “Mineo” sticker on them.

Recently, Ito has been so focused on washing his lunch box after eating the lunch he brings from home that he has had less time to create artwork at his desk. The many loyal fans of his work will have to wait a while for his next exhibition.


Dates on Ito’s attendance log are stamped with his name stamp from bottom to top, going back one day at a time.

Related people

ITO Mineo

(Profile of ITO Mineo)
ITO Mineo was born in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture, in 1964. Practicing writing his own name led him to develop a unique form of expression which he continues to this day. Ito writes his name slowly and deliberately, one character at a time, sometimes in hiragana and sometimes in kanji. Eventually, the repetitive string of names transforms into its own mysterious form. His work was exhibited at the Art Brut Japonais exhibition in 2010.
(Sites related to ITO Mineo)