010 Specialists as shields

Ever since the controversy over Tokyo’s logo for the Olympic Games surfaced, one of the judges on the panel, Mr. Kazumasa Nagai, a graphic designer, has been making public statements at official interviews in the capacity of “representative of the selection committee for the emblems”. Something didn’t sit right with me. I only discovered that Mr. Nagai was serving as representative of the selection panel through the press conferences. On the day I was tapped to serve on the selection panel, at the initial meeting, I remember being told of the Organizing Committee’s intentions—that all members on the panel will be on equal footing, there will be no special appointments –such as representative of the selection committee—for this screening process. Therefore, when I was confronted by this “representative of the selection committee”, a title that I could not recognize, it struck me as extremely strange.

In hindsight, I can see that there were inconsistencies in the story from the get go, even at the very first meeting. Mr. Takuma Takasaki was the creative director for the Organizing Committee for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo; and he was also serving on the panel to select the official emblem. An Organizing Committee official filled me in: regarding the selection of the Olympic emblems, Mr. Nagai was heavily involved in building the basis of the competition, including the selection of judges and creating application requirement guidelines. In fact, as one of the learned experts, he had given abundant advice and was deeply concerned with the planning of the competition itself. So Mr. Nagai’s responsibilities must have been wide-ranging and immense—much more than a mere judge on the selection panel. During the press conference that was held on September 28, the Organizing Committee revealed that invitation letters, cosigned by Mr. Nagai and Mr. Takasaki were sent out to eight guest designers, seeking their participation in the competition. Right after the conference, I saw a visual image of the actual letter when it was published in a weekly news magazine. In the photo, there was a handwritten signature under the printed title “representative of the selection committee”. The letter was sent out before September 12, 2014—the starting date of the competition. That means Mr. Nagai was serving in a special capacity as representative of the selection committee, long before the judging took place. It all started to become clear to me.

I was told that all judges are on equal footing, but that was merely a cover story. In reality there was a hierarchy among the members. But then, why bother? Why did they have to go through the whole charade of all panel members being equal, that there was no rank and order? It is a mystery to me. This is the reason why I am overcome by the feeling that there is no way out of the mess over the emblem for the Tokyo Olympic Games. No one wants to come forward with facts, even when there is no reason to hide anything. This is a good example: it is a perfectly innocent matter, but two conflicting versions are put forth, concurrently. So much is unknown. Or rather, left untold, uncommunicated. The screening of the logo is turning into one of those Russian nestling dolls—it is like peeling an onion, layer after layer. A quick look from the outside won’t reveal anything. It is impossible to fathom what lies beneath the surface. Even after a fact that was previously kept under covers comes to light, the truth remains obscure. I am a panel judge, yet even I don’t know whom I should trust, what to believe. The situation is a total chaos. As for everyone who is witnessing the fiasco of the Olympic Games emblem selection from the outside, this must seem like a strange labyrinth indeed.

During the press conferences, I feel Mr. Nagai had a specific role to play; as a specialist of graphic design he was to stand in for the Organizing Committee and explain in layman’s terms what the Organizing Committee wanted to communicate to the people, and at the same time, to offer collateral and add credibility to the views that were being announced at the press conferences. He was committed to his task on behalf of the Organizing Committee. I saw him serving as a “shield for the Organizing Committee”. Mr. Nagai is the acclaimed master of graphic design who has spent long years pursuing his ideals in design. If he decided to seal off his personal standards and chose to take on the role of protective “shield for the Organizing Committee”, it was no longer an issue rooted in the Organizing Committee—ultimately it became a “personal” issue related to the graphic designer Kazumasa Nagai himself. I can say so because he certainly had the right to recuse himself from becoming a “shield” and act as the representative of the selection panel. Yet Mr. Nagai fulfilled his role and commitment. He made the decision as a professional. It was a show of his personal will. In my opinion, the responsibility does not fall into the realm of the Organizing Committee.

The reason why I touch upon this matter is because I saw a major problem with the press conference during which Mr. Nagai spoke—something that I cannot possibly let slide. First of all, the title “representative of the selection committee” signifies that he was the representative of all eight members of the panel. If he was going to speak out at a public forum, at a press conference, shouldn’t he have discussed this with the other seven members beforehand; or at least round up proxy letters of authorization? —Some form of protocol was called for. That is how I feel. The Organizing Committee’s position never wavered. I was never told that there was going to be a press conference nor did I know that Mr. Nagai was going to speak as the representative of the selection committee. I didn’t know the contents of the statements he was going to make as the representative of the group. There was no communication beforehand. Therefore I never gave my authorization. If no authorization was given, yet the comments were made on behalf of the selection committee, the presumption would be that his comments were the consensus of all judges. Then the process failed to follow legitimate procedures. It was certainly not the proper way to hold a public interview, a press conference, no less. I see a big problem here. Mr. Nagai spoke at the press conference, making announcements scripted by the Organizing Committee, giving the impression that it was the consensus of all the judges on the panel. Mr. Nagai is a worldly figure with glorious achievements—his words would carry weight and credibility. Whatever the reasons, it was wrong to make the statements without running it by the other seven panel judges, making it sound as if it were the consensus of all members. 

I am a judge on the selection panel. Yet, with the exception of the actual judging, I was never invited to participate in a meeting, before the outbreak of the controversy or after. Not once. During the morning on September 1, the day the old emblem plan was officially scrapped, Mr. Toshiro Muto, the Chief Executive Officer of the Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, Mr. Nagai and Mr. Kenjiro Sano who designed the logo, had a meeting. I only learned of the three-party meeting through what Mr. Muto said at the press conference held later that day. The day before the press conference, on August 31, I received an email from the Organizing Committee asking for confirmation as to withdrawing the winning logos for the Olympic Games. There was not a hint of the three-party meeting in the email. So I was not told of this meeting that held momentous significance—it was a meeting to decide on the withdrawal of an official emblem design which had been selected in a competition screening process. The bare facts come down to this: How could I attend a meeting that I wasn’t told about. As a member of the panel I am totally unconvinced. This is something that I can never accept. I felt bitterly disappointed to the end. At the conference held that day, Mr. Muto referred to Mr. Nagai as “Mr. Nagai, chairman of the selection committee” throughout. For the Organizing Committee, Mr. Nagai’s title was never just a member of the judging panel, not even representative of the selection committee, but chairman. I could see that.

Finally, there is something that I would like to ask of the officials of the Organizing Committee. I am aware that Mr. Kazumasa Nagai is a person of integrity with a strong sense of responsibility. I know this as a younger artist who followed in his footsteps. I can only imagine how uncomfortable it must have been for him to attend a press conference, and he may have unwittingly chosen words that did not reflect his own views. I listened to the press conference, hearing Mr. Nagai speak of the Organizing Committee’s intentions, with growing frustration. I must ask the Organizing Committee to refrain from the practice of pushing specialists—masters who have attained great heights in their respective fields—to the fore. Please reconsider this methodology of using “specialists as shields”.

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.