The meaning of toto is a Japanese word which means trellis. It literally means the trellis or curtain of a vine or toad. So toto is a type of Japanese maple tree. Toto is an uncommon exotic hardwood tree with its deep green canopy and deep green roots which grow in very thickets.
It was in 1797 that the American Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors of the era, received a box of nails from a Chinese merchant. It was these nails which led him to pursue a lifelong passion for woodcraft and eventually to create one of the most influential and well-loved appliances of all time – the electric toaster. His new invention was a revolution, and it paved the way for many other inventions to come. But for me, the real invention is the toto itself, the very structure from which the toto was fashioned. That is why toto continues to be linked to the Tin Man in the popular imagination, and why it continues to be seen as an icon from Japan.
In more recent times, the toto has come to play a different part in Hollywood Forever. The Tin Man himself has made appearances in later films such as Toy Story, Rise of the Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four and Inglourious Basterds. He is even featured in the video game Metal Gear Solid, set in the later years of the Cold War. All of these modern day versions of the Tin Man owe a debt to the original Japanese artist.
I am therefore not the least bit surprised when I see a child’s drawing of the Tin Man, or when I see the toto appearing on T-shirts, mugs and in more modern pop culture. It is clear that the toto still holds relevance in Japanese culture, particularly with the younger generation. I remember seeing one of the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the ship that belonged to the Enterprise, USS Voyager, carries the image of a Tin Man. The Captain took it from a Chinese restaurant.
Today, toto still works quite powerfully in the Japanese art world. One reason for this is that the toto has been adopted by contemporary artists. Many modern Japanese artists have adopted the toto as an image of creativity, perhaps as a device to help them find visual imagination and expression. This has led to some truly magnificent art.
One of the most popular art forms to display the toto figures in is still life. It is perhaps this popularity that leads people to confuse the toto with a teddy bear. While the two may look alike to the untrained eye, they are very different creatures. Teddies are soft, furry creature whereas toto figures are large, solid figures with a very rigid pose. A toto is much more than a stuffed toy.