031 Objections to a newspaper contribution – vol.2

To my readers who are following my blog, I would like to explain why I took down my previous two entries, chapter 031 and 032.

It was my intention to offer a rebuttal to Mr. Kenya Hara’s opinion piece he had contributed to a newspaper in three segments starting with chapter 030, by reflecting on the activity per se, of voicing one’s opinion using a “public” platform. During this process I gave the same weight to both his op-ed piece that ran in the newspaper and his comments posted in his Twitter account—based on my understanding that they were both public platforms. However, I came to realize that comments that were developed through a verbal transaction of give and take, words formed in relation to one another, must be given a different weight and significance compared to personal comments, aired using the newspaper as its medium. I came to this realization after I had posted my pieces. I decided it was necessary for me to correct my posts, chapter 031 and 032, and quickly took them down. This incident took place due to my lack of good judgement. I apologize from the bottom of my heart for taking such a course—retracting something that had been published—and for taking so much time before updating my blog anew.

So, here again, following my previous post, chapter 030, let me continue with my musings regarding the Olympic Games emblem issue, by way of critiquing Mr. Kenya Hara’s statements made in a “public” forum.

“(…) opening the doors wide open does not necessarily raise the quality. Rather, it raises concern for diluting it. Take competitive figure skating. In order to take part in the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final you need to show you have made sufficient achievement; in order to go to the Olympic Games, you must clear the qualifying standard. It is possible that accomplished designers won’t enter competitions that lack sophistication. The invitation that I received was worded in such a way, giving consideration to this matter (…) (From the Mainichi Shimbun, October 5, 2015)”. Take note that the wording is obscure, the subject is vague, making it hard to understand. If we strip away the window dressing and try to interpret the true meaning in simple terms, it becomes, “If we go the way of public competition there will be more entries but the quality will suffer. With public competition it is worrying that the quality may get diluted. With a public competition that isn’t expected to be sophisticated, it is possible that accomplished designers won’t enter. The wording of the invitation requesting guest artists to participate in the competition gave consideration to the possibility that accomplished designers’ not taking part in a public competition”. So the gist of it becomes, “Public competitions sacrifice quality, and it is possible that accomplished designers won’t take part; thus the guest artist system was necessary.” He stated his concerns for a public competition format, and stressed the legitimacy and necessity of guest artists—and stated the reason why he accepted the invitation as a guest artist and entered the competition in the special category reserved for such artists. In his writing, when I read the part where he stated, “The invitation that I received was worded in such a way, giving consideration to this matter”, I went back to the invitation letter that was sent to Mr. Hara, seeking his participation as a guest artist, to check the actual wording. Maybe it’s a matter of my lack of comprehension, but I am afraid I could not locate the words that correspond to “giving consideration to this matter”.

According to this logic, it would be highly possible that Mr. Hara would not take part in the current, renewed competition being held, seeking Olympic logos, which has dramatically opened its doors to an even wider audience. Yet, I heard from persons close to Mr. Hara that he has actually submitted his work for this competition once again. That means, the very person who predicted that as a result of opening doors wide open to a wide audience “it is possible that accomplished designers won’t enter competitions that lack sophistication” did not take his own action into account. When I learned about his action, I felt like demanding an answer to this question—how did he arrive at this conclusion that “It is possible that accomplished designers won’t enter competitions that lack sophistication”? What was the basis for this comment?

In addition to proposing an open competition, alongside his support, he openly states his concerns about open competitions: “(…) opening the doors wide open does not necessarily raise the quality. Rather, it raises concern for diluting it. (…) It is possible that accomplished designers won’t enter competitions that lack sophistication”. By suggesting how accomplished designers (i.e. guest designer-class designers, including himself) would probably not take part in such competitions, he is mixing up two paradoxical ideas—“I support open competitions: and I have concerns for open competitions” within one statement. The bottom line is that he entered the competition in the category of guest artist. In face of that evidence, considering his position, I am afraid I have major doubts as to his claim that he is an open- competition proponent. 

Furthermore, I would like to go further back in time and consider Mr. Hara’scontribution to a newspaper which ran on May 29, 2014. 
“(…) everything related to design and architecture, including the creation of the Olympic logo, should be a competition open to all enthusiastic talent, and the process should be made public. The judging process and the results should be carefully explained. The design competition itself should be fully utilized as a marketing resource. All people young and old who are highly motivated and believe in their abilities should be able to take part freely, whatever their specialty, across disciplines. However, when it comes to setting the criteria for a public competition, a high standard will be required for the assessment of abilities. (…)” (Actual article in whole is posted on Mr. Hara’s company website)

It is true that in this newspaper contribution from two years ago we see the words “a competition open to all enthusiastic talent”, and “All people young and old who are highly motivated and believe in their abilities should be able to take part freely, whatever their specialty, across disciplines”, which can be read as an indication that he is indeed rooting for an “open competition”. But here again, he goes on to state: “However, when it comes to setting the criteria for a public competition, a high standard will be required for the assessment of abilities”. He worries about the quality of the entries while touching on the criteria for such a public competition. Once again, we recognize the same picture, conflicting ideas being laid out side by side: “proposing an open competition while voicing concern for an open competition”. This is where I am struck by the question, why should he be so sensitive to the criteria for an open competition, and why worry about the quality of the entries, whether they are of high or low quality? Why should it matter? The persons who need to be aware of such things are the organizers and those who plan and manage such events, the people who are in positions to take responsibility. I think that entrants need not be concerned as to “heightening the quality” or “diluting the quality”. But apparently, it is something that greatly interests Mr. Hara.

I am going to change the focus slightly. When I first read Mr. Hara’s contribution to the newspaper that ran on May 29, 2014, at the end of the article entitled “So that designs bloom at the Tokyo Olympic Games” I found his title was given as “President, Japan Design Committee”. Here, he was making a personal statement. Yet he chose to give a single attribute to himself; he chose not to give the name of his company where he belongs, where he serves as representative director, surely his major attribute, an entity with the largest social responsibility. Then why would he give the attribute, “President, Japan Design Committee”? As a member of the Japan Design Committee, I felt a strong sense of unease.

The Japan Design Committee was established by such luminaries as Yusaku Kamekura, Masaru Katsumi, Kenzo Tange, all major players in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Ever since its establishment right up to modern times, it has been a group where individuals gathered and pursued the ideal in design and continued to create history, as a non-profit organization. In this case, Mr. Hara was speaking out personally. The whole point of putting down a single title, a figurative profile, “President, Japan Design Committee” in the column, was to show himself as the speaker of this collective group of creators, representing a whole legacy that began with the founding fathers who were very present during the previous Tokyo Games leading up to the present. That is what it felt seemed like. As a person who lives by a different set of values from Mr. Hara and as one of the members of the committee who can hardly abide by Mr. Hara’s opinion regarding the Olympic Games, I could never approve of his methodology. By speaking out in this form, signing his statement giving his title as the representative of an organization, it is highly possible that the contents of the article would be construed as the collective opinion of the whole group. However, in this case, he failed to get a consensus of the group before publication, and the contents do not represent the collective opinion of the group. Therefore, I felt that this was a case of personalizing the public name of “Japan Design Committee” using it for his own use. Hypothetically speaking, if I were faced with the necessity to put down “Representative, Japan Design Committee” in a special situation like this, I would have all current committee members check my contribution beforehand before publication, and make sure I get their prior approvals. I would also list the company name where I belong, alongside the attribute. That would be my choice.

Getting back to the original subject, in his newspaper op-ed piece. Mr. Hara goes on to say that “we are now seeing media reports cropping up that suggest invitations being issued to specific designers were wrongful acts.” Even if a guest artist was one of these “specific designers” that does not necessarily make this person a participant who took part in any wrong-doing. I feel that just like there were two kinds of panel judges—one who were part of the rigged judging and another group who were not involved in any wrong-doing—I think there must have been two groups of guest artists. To say with certainty, in a single sweep, that all guest artists played foul, would be premature. The Organizing Committee carried out a lopsided investigation, and kept unfair records, which do not allow the facts to be made public. Thus, in order to clear one’s reputation, it comes down to each one of us, to reach into our souls; it is up to us to take it into our own hands to report the truth.

On December 21, 2015, an accident occurred at the Organizing Committee which resulted in a leakage of information: the email addresses of all entrants were unwittingly shared among all entrants. That is how I made the discovery that many people with proven track records had, in fact, taken part in the competition. To me, Mr. Hara’s critical comment against the former competition, that “It is possible that accomplished designers won’t enter competitions that lack sophistication”, sounds rude and disrespectful. I hear a certain discrimination against general participants who have made great achievements. I felt that the biggest problem was the fact that he was unaware of this. That is what scares me. The former Olympic Games logo competition proclaimed itself as a public competition open to all. Yet there was a qualification requirement in place, which prohibited many people from actually entering the contest; which must have been frustrating to those who could not submit their work. Participants who cleared the requirements must have struggled to complete their submissions in such a limited timeframe. The extremely tight eligibility requirements limited the number of general entrants to a mere 94. Yet here was a participant who took part in the competition as a guest artist, flagrantly claiming it was a “truly open competition as never seen before”. And he goes on to make the claim it was a “competition lacking in sophistication”. The statement has a discriminatory whiff, spoken by one of the “chosen”. Where does he get such an arrogant notion? I see the same trait is shared by all the people who were directly involved in the Olympic logo issue. I think “arrogance” lies at the bottom of the whole issue. At this point, I can declare with absolute confidence that it was this arrogance that stirred up problems at every corner.

In his op-ed piece dated May 29, 2014, Mr. Hara wrote: “On the other hand, people who take part in the political and administrative side, have limited opportunities to be in touch with the real potential of design during their official capacity. Thus, they may not be aware of the vast amount of talent and potential that cannot be captured by the eye. I am making my proposal so that we should not lose this great opportunity to visualize the future of this country. (From Mr. Hara’s piece that ran in the Mainichi Shimbun on May 29, 2014)” It sounds awfully arrogant to me, with Mr. Hara giving his favorite opinion regarding the Olympic logo design to government officials in a top-down fashion. It gets even worse. After the Olympic logo plan was scrapped, he said: “(…) Regarding the Olympic stadium and the Olympic logo, if we realize that we took the wrong road, then all we have to do is to descend the mountain and take a different road and go up again. The important thing is to prepare ourselves for the climb and reach the summit. I hope we won’t ever meander into another jungle. I want us to make use of collective measures and see that the design competition goes forward in the right direction. (From Mr. Hara’s piece in the Mainichi Shimbun, dated October 5, 2015)”. His rhetoric sounds like he has become the representative of Japan, speaking on behalf of the people.

I was reading Mr. Hara’s comments that ran in the newspaper, a public forum, in which he stressed the righteousness of the former competition for the Olympic logo, when I was reminded of another scene. During a public press conference, Mr. Kazumasa Nagai spoke and acted in defense of the design that placed first in the former competition. He spoke of its legitimacy and defended the rigged competition results using such phrases like, “according to the understanding of the design industry,” choosing his words and making his comments sound as if it was the consensus of the whole design community. I think the words spoken by the two gentlemen, and their behavioral principles are very similar. They both act as if they are representatives of Japan’s world of design, they never forget to back up the Organizing Committee, and in their role of design specialists, give their opinions as a way to embrace the decisions and policies made by the Organizing Committee. That is their common denominator. In relation to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, these two have been speaking up and taking various actions regarding the Olympic logo design, from their respective roles, as representatives of the Japanese design industry. Yet once the Olympic logo problem surfaced, neither of them took pains to rectify the problem by drawing on their wisdom as specialists. Not only did they not try to rectify the problem, they went along with the Organizing Committee, in a consistent way, never wavering; and once their own problems came to light, they never bothered to give an explanation. Even when the problem disrupted beyond the world of design, spilling into and involving the general public, causing utter chaos, no specific measure from the specialist viewpoint was ever implemented. If, at an earlier stage, as a way to fulfill my responsibilities as a specialist, I had been able to correct the problems inherent in the Organizing Committee and lead it somehow, we would not have had to suffer “the death of design”.

Of course, the profession and specialty of design does not exist solely to heighten the economic effects of the Olympic Games—that should be secondary rather than the leading objective. Then, if we are to ask, what is the use of specialty of design? The knowledge should be the basis for making the best decision; it should serve as a guiding light when there is darkness, thereby preventing us from slipping from the right path. For that reason, I keenly feel that each one of must rid ourselves of self-interest, strive to better ourselves and continue to heighten our cognitive ability. That is the only way that we can make the specialty of design give back to society.

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.