030 Objections to a newspaper contribution – vol.1

After problems with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics emblem surfaced, the Organizing Committee revealed the original plan of the winning design on August 28, 2015 and expressed its wish to continue using the design. Yet the planners were forced to scrap the Olympics logo on September 1. The Organizing Committee continued to refrain from revealing the whole truth; as a judge on the selection committee I found myself viciously hounded by the media. On September 28, the Organizing Committee called a press conference, calling it a “Report on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics emblem issue”, during which the existence of guest artists per invitation was revealed. Three days later, a weekly magazine went on sale with an article reporting on the guest artists. On October 2, the chief of marketing and the creative director of the Organizing Committee were sacked. The fiasco seemed to be spinning out of control when, out of the blue, on October 5, a submission by someone involved in the Olympics logo competition was published in the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.

“(…) From the participant’s viewpoint, I would say this ‘public competition’ was quite open. Let us consider past competitions that were held for logos of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, the Winter Games in Sapporo, the Expo 2005 Aichi—these were all closed competitions with a few designated artists. In comparison, this time, it was a competition among designers, all 104 of them, who cleared the entry qualifications. It was hardly closed but it was a truly open competition as never seen before (…) (From the Mainichi Shimbun, evening edition)”. This is an excerpt from a submission made by Mr. Kenya Hara, a graphic designer who was identified as one of the guest artists for the former Tokyo 2020 Emblems Selection Competition, and whose design came in second place. The article was entitled “In want of clear-cut competition criteria—Professional expertise essential in Olympic Emblems”. (The article in whole can be found in the Mainichi Shimbun digital edition and Mr. Hara’s company website)

“It was a truly open competition as never seen before.” Mr. Hara writes, inducing a misconception—as if a healthy competition had actually taken place. He continues, “Furthermore, we are now seeing media reports cropping up that suggest invitations being issued to specific designers were wrongful acts.” By this statement he seems to imply that this secret rule of inviting guest artists, a rule which was somehow never revealed and kept under the wraps, was indeed a valid way of action. It reads like a manipulating ploy to shape our impression for his self-protection. I could not believe that he was using the newspaper as a tool to make his point. I was appalled.

The phrase “a truly open competition as never seen before” sounds great on paper. But he gives no basis to back up the validity of the statement. Because the invitations were issued in secret, Mr. Hara was ultimately looked upon with suspicion. Yes, I can feel his pain. Yet by making a statement that gives credit to the former emblem competition, that was in fact riddled with problems and had to be scrapped—and now that it has been revealed that the evaluation process was rigged—he should take back his comment. Unless he does that, doesn’t that imply Mr. Hara, is in fact, standing by the crooked evaluation process? His statement says so. In this chapter, I would like to give thought to the Olympic emblem issue once again, focusing on Mr. Hara’s statement that was issued in a major newspaper, a public arena.

One of the requirements for the former Olympics emblem competition was that the entrant had to be a previous award winner. Not just any award. The awards were such that had been bestowed upon numerous creators who belong to Japan Graphic Designers Association (JAGDA), Tokyo Art Directors Club (ADC), The Tokyo Type Directors Club (TDC) and art directors who belong to major advertisement agencies. This requirement confined the field of activities for potential entrants and gave cause to a “closed competition”. This time, compared to 104 submissions for the former Olympic emblem competition, the new competition received 14,599 submissions. A simple comparison of the number of entries is a tell-tale sign. If I may be more specific, because of the previous awards clause, Japan’s leading design teams such as GK Graphics, PAOS, Landor Associate, all groups with tremendous professional expertise in the field of corporate identity development were barred from entering the competition. For the same reason, neither could researchers who teach and study design in educational facilities including elementary schools and universities, nor young designers out there could take part in the competition. I am assuming that designers who specialize in typography and design had to give up submitting their work. I believe we must draw a lesson for the future from the biased qualification clause that prevented specialists who specialize in designing identities for shared consciousness taking part in the competition. It resulted in stagnation and loss for the competition.

I am going to raise a different viewpoint. In Japan we have such artists like Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara who are revered around the world. The world is their field; they are artists who are living each moment through their creative activities. In the realm of arts and crafts there are numerous prime artists who continue to pursue their individual aesthetics on a daily basis, aiming at perfection. What would they have come up with? I am immensely curious what kind of emblem they would have produced for the occasion. Artists attributed with essentialism were unable to challenge themselves to creating a unique Japanese emblem design. We lost a great opportunity; we quashed our chance for seeking a new communication style for a major sport event. That is how I feel.

“An open competition” is a feel-good expression which is vaguely nuanced. It gives the reader an image that “everyone is given a chance to submit their work; it is not a closed competition but an open, fair and healthy competition.” But in reality, submission guidelines required entrants be previous winners of two or more of the specified awards. Thereby, qualified entrants were limited to artists who were active in a specific realm within the design industry. On the surface the competition took on the appearance of a “public competition”. Yet in reality, a guest artist system was secretly in play; preferential treatment was extended to such artists. Numerous wrongful acts were taking place resulting in a rigged competition. These are undeniable facts that have now come out. Documents with the notation “For your eyes only” had been sent out to specific participants before the competition, proving that “on the surface the competition pretended to be a public competition, but in fact, just like such competitions of the past, this was indeed a closed competition for designated participants”. Why should Mr. Hara have chosen this precise moment to praise this competition, calling it “a truly open competition as was never seen before”? What was his aim in glorifying the former Olympic emblem competition so eloquently?

Keiko Hirano

Keiko Hirano:
Designer/Visioner, Executive Director of Communication Design Laboratory
Hirano served on the panel that chose the official emblem for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which was ultimately withdrawn.