047 Tales from Wonderland

Never before, ever since I decided to take action and speak out using the blog platform, have I let so much time lapse before updating my blog post. The reason for the pause was not because I was utterly shook up by the document sent by the (JAGDA) lawyers, not because I had health issues and certainly not because I was too busy―though I am constantly struggling with my heavy workload. I still believe that there is much more that needs to be recorded here. And during this time, I was trying to complete a number of segments. But each time I attempted to update my blog, something kept me from actually doing so.

Let me explain why I could not bring myself to post updates.

In regards to the serious social issues that arose from the initial design competition that was held for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics emblems―in which top echelons of Japan Graphic Designers Association (JAGDA), including its top adviser, president, vice president and a number of members took part and were otherwise heavily involved―the association has yet to come up with a view as an organization; nor have any of the said individuals voiced their thoughts. All have kept mum up to now. JAGDA may claim that the “JAGDA’s Overview” document should serve as its official overview. If the document is indeed JAGDA’s official overview regarding the controversy surrounding the Olympic logos, I believe there is no hope for JAGDA. Whatever comes out from JAGDA in the future, neither its statements nor actions, could ever be trusted by society.

Persons who were deeply involved in the planning and implementation of the first design competition for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, people who gave their advice in drawing up the competition entry guidelines and were involved in the selection of the panel of judges, ended up taking over the Olympic logo design competition. The same thing is happening once again under our very eyes. The same people are appropriating JAGDA. They took advantage of the public interest incorporated association’s general assembly and managed to release a document entitled“Regarding the 1st design competition for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games emblems”. The origin of the document remains unknown. It was a document compiled in a bizarre manner. Without any discussion with any of the relative players who were involved in the competition, such as the judges, the winners who placed, guest artists who took part in the competition by invitation, and other entrants―with the exception of the representative of the judging panel, the creator who placed first, and of course the writer himself―the document was concocted singlehandedly by one person. In essence, it was a fake document, a piece of fiction that was published under the “JAGDA” label, taking advantage of the association’s social standing. It was sprung upon us at JAGDA’s general assembly meeting for fiscal 2016, which was held on June 25. Without any forewarning the author began a readout, and a document with a murky provenance which could never pass as an agenda item was presented as thus. Then followed a showy piece of playacting of which culminated in its approval. However, once I pointed out that in fact, the approval process was faulty and inappropriate, a month after my revelation, JAGDA suddenly changed its tune. Now it began professing that the document was not even on the agenda, therefore, was never an approval item. Later on, JAGDA cherry-picked parts from the said overview document, discarding portions such as its self-produced “chronology” filled with a glaring distortion of facts, and posted it on its website. While JAGDA asked its members to submit their opinions regarding the document, the board nor the steering committee have met to discuss the collected opinions and questions that were raised: no answers have been given. When this JAGDA member proposed that the organization consider hosting a public Q & A session, a place for open discussion, JAGDA had its lawyers send a letter stating the intentions of the JAGDA top officials (the president and two vice presidents), vetoing the idea, “We find it unnecessary to add any further response”. It is not only these three senior officers, but other board members and steering committee members who find themselves caught up amidst this strange and bizarre situation are also maintaining their silence. So I came to witness as a fact: the heavyweights remain anonymous, preferring to issue orders for various activities from behind the scene. This is what is blatantly taking place inside the organization that touts itself as “the only nationwide graphic design organization in Japan”, and these are the facts that I have been recording here.

The letter was sent out under the names of the legal counsels retained by JAGDA so as to let those truly responsible avoid responsibility―to let them off the hook. The response letter to my questions was given a strange title, “Views of the JAGDA Office”. And I found abrupt sentences that seemed to spring up out of context.

(*excerpt of response from JAGDA’s three high ranking officials delivered on February 2, through its lawyers, shown in blue)


Regarding the questions posed at this time, a detailed reply has already been provided. Thus we find it unnecessary to add any further response. To reiterate, the “JAGDA Overview” was approved among board members and steering committee members, therefore it stands as the organization’s official overview. Thus it does not necessarily require general assembly approval; as has also been pointed out by your own legal counsel.

Incidentally, in the very beginning of “JAGDA VISION” (approved by the board on May 18, 2010 and reported at the ordinary general assembly on June 5, 2010), we state that it is JAGDA’s wish to “face up to the wide needs of society and government, and to seek out possibilities of design in communication and continue to transmit our vision”.

Moreover, all JAGDA members have been informed (via email sent by the JAGDA representative on August 12, 2016, with the title “Regarding ‘JAGDA’ emblem Overview”) that the “JAGDA Overview” document has yet to be approved by the General Assembly. Therefore we find it unnecessary to implement a response anew based on your proposal submitted at this time. … (JAGDA response delivered on February 2, 2017)


I am transcribing parts that struck me as unnatural hereunder.

Incidentally, in the very beginning of “JAGDA VISION” (approved by the board on July 18, 2010, reported at the ordinary general assembly on June 5, 2010), we state that it is JAGDA’s wish to “face up to the wide needs of society and government, and to seek out possibilities of design in communication and continue to transmit our vision”.

They use the conjunction “incidentally”, apparently in order to insert words that are out of context. I gave some thought to the significance of these words. Based on past experience, JAGDA must be fully aware that their response would be reported here on my blog page, and their words would have had to be compiled accordingly. Therefore, it would seem natural to assume that the part that felt so out of place, in my mind, was in fact a message that JAGDA wanted to send to the readers of my blog. However, we must not forget that we are talking about a designers’ organization that ever since the problem surfaced and up to this day, has never cared to address the public society; not as a group nor as a single voice from an individual designer; it has continued to shy away from the issue, has shunned the JAGDA member(s) who stated their objections, and has refused to face up to society. So even if the organization suddenly decides to send out a message,

Incidentally, in the very beginning of “JAGDA VISION”, we state that it is JAGDA’s wish to “face up to the wide needs of society and government, and to seek out possibilities of design in communication and continue to transmit our vision”

it just doesn’t ring true―we cannot afford to take their words at face value.

In fact, when I was forced to read the selfish, wildly delusional words “face up to the wide needs of society and government”, I felt sickened to my stomach, I was truly heartbroken. And that is the reason why I could not brace myself to update my blog.

By keeping a public record using the blog platform, thereby putting everything before the public eye, I hoped that my record keeping would serve as a restraint of some sort. And that kept me going. However, I came to feel that my efforts have not served as a deterrent, I wasn’t seeing any self-cleansing taking place, nor could I find ways to implement changes for the better. I was deeply disappointed. To see how JAGDA believes in its own gimmicks, so confident that it will work, and to witness their lack of objectivity, cocky and contemptuous, so sure that they have the public in their pocket―it is almost frightening.

So this uncomfortable feeling of unease dragged on, and kept me from updating my post. Until now, that is. I was struck by a new inspiration that helped me escape from the dark thoughts that kept me entrapped.

I hit upon this pleasing image that the strange developments involving design were all “Tales from Wonderland”.

Let’s say there was a country called Nippon Design. What if the people who belonged to JAGDA and were deeply connected to the Olympic logo controversy were actually residents of this country, living in a “world of delusions”? JAGDA was the wonderland and JAGDA members were residents of this wonderland of make-believe. Once I told myself that I was dealing with residents living in a world of make-believe, the dark clouds began to disperse. I was even able to start enjoying this difficult situation―this seemingly helpless mess we were stuck in.

According to the laws in this world of make-believe, lying isn’t a bad thing at all. For example, no one cares if you claim that a fake document is in fact a full-fledged official document. No sweat.

I came up with more images that buoyed my spirits further.

In the fairytale “Cinderella” the fairy godmother magically turns a pumpkin into a carriage while mice become the white horses that draw the carriage. In modern day Nippon, when famous designers and renowned art directors, big name ad companies come up with their mumbo jumbo such as “Design can change the world”, or “Design shapes the future” or “Design brings economic effects”, the spells work like magic. Voila! Simple shapes, circles, squares and straight lines suddenly turn into exquisite symbols. Just like that. They are praised to the skies and fetch good money, too. There are many “emperors” and “government officials” much favored by these famous designers and renowned art directors, big name ad companies, living in modern day Nippon. Just like the fable “The Emperor’s New Clothes” they care about nothing except showing off. These people can’t stop mumbling the words, “design this”, “the future that” and “Japan’s such and such”. And their magic remains extremely popular.

Then came the fiasco regarding the Olympic emblem designs. The spell that had been cast by the famous designers, the renowned art directors and the big name ad companies went up in smoke. Everyone woke up from their dreamy slumber. The fairytale came to an end and the world returned to reality.

Now, according to the laws in the world of make-believe, there is nothing wrong with rigging a competition and nothing bad is said about corrupt judges. Therefore, naturally, residents living in wonderland will never ever apologize for their actions. No matter who, no matter what. They don’t even know what an apology is. The residents of wonderland have a special name for people who aren’t designers―“the general public”. Sometimes, they become even more condescending and take on airs, calling them simply, “the people”. Even when their actions cause a major flaming on the internet, it is never their (the designers’) fault but it is always the people who are making a fuss (the general public) who are in the wrong. There is a strong tendency among the residents of wonderland to be optimistic. They believe that given enough time, the general public will simply forget everything. “Repentance” is not a word found in the vocabulary of the residents of wonderland. Any misstep made by us (designers) is actually your (general public) fault. We (designers) are never in the wrong―is how it goes. The residents don’t worry about losing the trust of society because they think it will be the society’s loss for not trusting in them. The residents remain positive as ever. In the first place, no one understands anything about “trust”, so who cares? Wonderland is a world of make-believe, so rewriting history is just fine. No sweat. In wonderland, dignity in design does not exist. There is simply no such thing.

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.

Personal note:
I contributed an op-ed piece to the November issue of the “Kenchiku Journal” magazine (on sale November 1, 2016). The special feature of the issue is “Ridiculing the Olympic Games”.