Japanese Design Archive Survey


Designers & Creators

Yusaku Kamekura

Graphic Designer


Date: 26 October 2016, 13:30 - 15:00
Location: Office of the NPO Platform for Architectural Thinking
Interviewees: Hiroshi Mizukami (President of Hiroshi Mizukami Design Office, Yusaku Kamekura Design Award Secretariat, Yusaku Kamekura Archives)
Interviewers: Keiko Kubota, Yasuko Seki
Author: Yasuko Seki



Yusaku Kamekura

Graphic Designer

1915 Born in Niigata, Japan.
1935 Studied the basics of design at the School for Modern Architecture and Crafts and joined Nippon- Kobo. Involved in the production of the magazine "NIPPON".
1951 After the end of the war, he founded Japan Advertising Artists Club.
1960 Participated in the founding of Nippon Design Centre.
1961-1964 Produced the official poster for the Tokyo Olympics and the emblem for the Games in competition.
1962 Founding of the Kamekura Design Laboratory.
1991 Person of Cultural Merit
1997 Passed away

Yusaku Kamekura



When we think of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, we all think of poster with bright red suns and official Olympic poster with bold photos of athletes competing. The both of posters were designed by Yusaku Kamekura.
Mr. Kamekura was a pioneer in laying the foundations of the Japanese graphic design world during and after the Second World War, and was respected by all for his coherent and dignified style, actions and statements.
Kamekura's first step as a designer was to join Takashi Kono and others in editing "NIPPON", a graph magazine produced by Nihon-kobo, which was founded in 1934 by Yonosuke Natori, a pioneer news photographer. After the war, he became a member of Japan Advertising Artists Club which was Japan's first professional association of designers.
In 1960, he founded the advertising production company Nihon Design Center with Hiromu Hara and Ryuichi Yamashiro, and became its managing director, but in 1962 he became independent and established the Kamekura Design Laboratory. In 1978, he was also a key member of the founding of Japan Graphic Designers Association(now Japan Graphic Design Association), a public interest incorporated association. His best-known works include message-driven work such as the posters for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Hiroshima Appeals, enduring graphic design such as the NTT and G-Mark logos, and editorial design for collections of photographers' and artists' work. They are characterised by their simplicity, their solidity and their timelessness. At the same time, his insight and aesthetic sense, his knowledge of cultures both ancient and modern, and above all his pride as a designer, led him to write numerous essays and reviews, and to work to raise the status of design in society. In his later years, he designed and edited "Creation", a design magazine for a limited period of five years, introducing the work of creators from around the world through his own selective eye. After his death, in 1998, the Yusaku Kamekura Award was established to honour these achievements and to recognise graphic design that is both universal and innovative.



Posters, logos, etc.

Nikon poster (1957-1959), Good Design Award logo (1957), Tokyo Olympic Games official poster and emblem (1961-1964). Hiroshima Appeals poster (1983), NTT logo (1985), etc.



Design magazine "Creation", 20 volumes, Rikuyosha (1989 - 1994)
Reference: Creation No.21 - Yusaku Kamekura Memorial Special Issue, Recruit



"Taking Off, Landing" Bijutsu Shuppansha (1972), "The Universe of Curves and Straight Lines" Kodansha (1983), "The Direct Speech of Yusaku Kamekura", Rikuyosha (1991), etc.

Yusaku Kamekura works



I wanted to preserve this valuable document of Japanese design and Mr. Kamekura's activities, so that it would not be scattered.

The archive is held by the Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art

 Please tell us about the relationship between you and Mr. Kamekura.


Mizukami  I have worked as an assistant designer at the Kamekura Design Laboratory for about 30 years from1967, and since he passed away suddenly in 1997, I have been involved in the work of the Yusaku Kamekura Design Award Secretariat and his archives, as well as working as a designer.


 So you were also involved in organising Kamekura's valuable materials and works?


Mizukami Yes, I did. We worked in consultation with Mr. Kamekura's elder brother, Eiji Kamekura, who also worked in advertising. His belongings included many graphic works, such as the official posters for the Tokyo Olympics from 1961 to 1964 and the anti-bombing message Hiroshima Appeals, as well as a collection of paintings, sculptures and other works of art. These included works by some of the leading artists of our time, such as Fontana, Marino Marini, Isamu Noguchi and Genichiro Inokuma. There were also many photographs of people such as Ken Domon and Takashi Kono, with whom he had worked since his days at the Nihon-kobo.
All of them are valuable materials that tell us about Japanese design and Kamekura's activities, so we wanted to preserve them so that they would not be scattered. However, as a staff member, I could organize the materials, but I had no authority to decide how they should be preserved. In that sense, I think his brother Eiji was very important. In the end, we asked the Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, which was in Kamekura's hometown and had donated posters to us every year before his death, to donate the works and materials compiled by the Kamekura‘s Archives.


 What did you donate in particular?


Mizukami From the bereaved family, we have 280 more than a hundred paintings, sculptures and other art objects from Kamekura's collection, and from the archive, we have a large amount of materials related to his design, including graphic works other than posters and photographs, but we do not know the exact quantity.


 What is their status now?


Mizukami I think it is in the middle stage of organizing as an archive. However, in 2006, as an interim report, an exhibition entitled "Take off and Landing: The Design of Yusaku Kamekura" was held, and works and materials were exhibited according to themes such as "Kamekura and Nikon" and "Kamekura and the Collection". The year before last, in 2015, two retrospective exhibitions were also held at the Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art and the Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth.


 It's a blessing that a public museum has such a good archive. Are there any other museums besides the Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art that have preserved his work?


Mizukami Some of the most famous posters are in the collections of museums, design schools and companies.


 The design archives of architects and product designers often contain sketches, drawings, models, samples and other materials that can be used to trace their ideas and design process. However, as we have already interviewed several graphic designers, they do not have anything related to their design process, such as drawings and models, but mostly posters, packaging and other printed materials (finished products). I would have expected graphic designers to have their own idea sketches.
As we enter the digital age, graphic design is becoming increasingly digital. In this situation, we would like to explore what constitutes an archive in this area. In Kamekura’s case, for example, do you have any prints left?


Mizukami Digitalisation has changed the workplace of graphic design drastically. Previously, all graphic design was done by hand. For example, we used a photographic enlarger to enlarge and crop photographs and text for tracing, laid out the designs and photocopied text, and specified the colours using DIC colour swatches. However, very few designers actually kept their drafts, and printing companies would dispose of them once the work was finished. For graphic designers, it is the finished work that is important, and the process along the way may be something they don't want people to see.
However, sometimes I would secretly pick up the sketches that he had thrown away in the trash. There were some sketches that I thought were too good to throw away. I have kept some sketches of the cover of the magazine "Sogetsu".



Work methods and commitment


 How did Mr. Kamekura go about his work?


Mizukami Kamekura's work can be broadly divided into poster design, editorial design, package design, and symbol and logo design. The posters were made from small thumbnail sketches to full-size (B full) prints. In the 1950s and 1960s, posters were often silk printed, so it was not possible to redo a poster because you didn' like it. Staff and printers had a hard work because they could not be easily corrected by computer, as is the case today. That is why all the work - drawing the lines, specifying the colours, printing - was so intensive. The completed posters show the intensity of concentration at the time.


 How did he design the logo?


Mizukami For example, NTT's logo was designed to resemble the "trajectory of the planets". NTT's corporate identity (CI) project was carried out by PAOS, led by Motoo Nakanishi. PAOS had developed a number of CI's at the time, including for Mazda, BRIDGSTONE and AJINOMOTOA. Mr. Kamekura was asked to design a logo by Mr. Nakanishi. Later, after the logo had been decided upon, POAS produced an extensive design manual.


 How did he go about editorial design?


Mizukami  Mr.Kamekura has designed a variety of books, including the binding of complete works of literature, collections of artists' work, and magazines. One of the books that left the greatest impression on me was "Minga of the Yi Dynasty", published by Kodansha in 1982. A man named Shoichiro Shiwaike had a huge amount of colour film of Yi Dynasty folk paintings and was exploring the possibility of publishing it. Kamekura said that as he looked at them, he "felt as if he was tapping into a treasure trove". From then on, he became absorbed in Yi Dynasty folk paintings, and composed and edited a three-volume book, but publication was temporarily suspended. It was then that Shiwaike suddenly died in an accident. Later, a publisher was found and the book was finally re-edited into two volumes.


 Other notable editorial designs by Kamekura include photographer Yasuhiro Ishimoto's "Katsura: Tradition and Creation in Japanese Architecture" and Ken Domon's "Children of Chikuho", a series of children's photography books.


Mizukami Also, unexpectedly, Kamekura was very fond of neon signs.


 That's the first I've heard of it.


Mizukami Neon took the world by storm as an important outdoor advertisement during the period of high economic growth. Ginza-street in particular was a flowering area, and many famous artists were involved in the design of neon. Among them were the neon lights for Teijin and NEC, designed by Kenji Ito, "Milliontex", "Nikon" and "Meiji Seika" by Kamekura were the two best. Unfortunately, there is very little material on neon signs left.


 We feel that the way he carries out his work is already very Kamekura-like. Even while confronting people, he seems to be thinking about his own ideas and solidifying his concepts.


Mizukami It's true that he didn't make the printing company send out many proofs. I think he explored as many possibilities as possible before making the print, and had already completed the design in his minds. The proofs were a confirmation of that.
I was also impressed by the fact that sometimes, when he got an advertising job, he would write the copy himself. I think he had the whole picture in his head, including the copy. I think that Kamekura was blessed with many talents, not only in graphic design. However, he didn't want to be called an art director, and insisted on being a graphic designer.



Contribution to the graphic design world


 Speaking of Kamekura's design archives, the Yusaku Kamekura Design Award, which is given to graphic designers, is also a meaningful activity for the development of future generations and the advancement of the graphic design world. Can you tell us how the Kamekura Prize came to be?


Mizukami The Yusaku Kamekura Design Award has been awarded annually for 20 years since 1998. The top 10 or so entries are selected by a panel of 11 members of The Yusaku Kamekura Design Award Jury, including three external judges, from among the entries submitted to the JAGDA Yearbook.
It is funded by donations from bereaved families and managed by JAGDA (Japan Graphic Design Association). It is run by JAGDA . This year, 2016, is the 19th edition, so next year, 2017, the 20th edition, will be a milestone.
Kamekura's brother, Eiji Kamekura, was a major factor in the establishment of the award. Eiji himself was involved in advertising, and he wanted to carry on Yusaku Kamekura's legacy in this way, so he consulted with Ikko Tanaka, Kazumasa Nagai and Shigeo Fukuda to establish the award.


 Mr. Kamekura not only left behind some great works, but also laid the foundations for the Japanese graphic design world.


Mizukami After the war, Mr.Kamekura was one of the founding members of Japan Advertising Artists Club, aiming to develop the design world. At that time, the graphic design world was divided between the West and the East of Japan. In the west, Yoshio Hayakawa and Ryuichi Yamashiro were active, Kamekura went to Kansai (the West) to meet them himself.


 Why did he do it?


Mizukami I think it has to do with the World Design Assembly that was held in 1960. I think that's why they want to bring the design world together in Tokyo, so that it can be more powerful.
The other was the characteristics of designers from the West and the East. Mr. Kamekura was fond of saying that designers from Kansai (the West) were good at using colours. Kansai is the land of traditional Japanese culture, so they must have had a rich and refined sense of colour. On the other hand, Tokyo designers, especially Kamekura, are characterized by a rational and constructivist style in the vein of the Bauhaus. Kamekura himself said, "I tend to use only the colours that I like.


 That's a very interesting story. Kamekura went on to found the Japan Advertising Artists Club and the Nihon Design Center and laid the groundwork for the Japanese graphic design world.


Mizukami In 1960, the World Design Assembly was also held in Tokyo. The Japanese side was led by Masaru Katsumi, Sori Yanagi, Kenzo Tange, and Kamekura, while designers from overseas, such as Harvard Byer, Paul Rand, Saul Bass, and Louis Kahn, gathered from a variety of fields, including architecture, products, and graphics. This conference had a great influence on Japanese design world, and it was also an opportunity for Kamekura to interact with the leading designers of the day, such as Harvard Byer, Paul Rand and Saul Bass.


 In "Creation", the design magazine he worked on for the last five years of his life, he kept his antennae open all over the world to introduce artists, both famous and unknown, who were to his liking.


Mizukami Kamekura's commitment to “Creation” is extraordinary. He searches for and selects his own artists, and devoted more than 20 pages to each artist. He also did the layout himself and said that the editorial meetings were in his head. I still remember clearly the illustrator, Thor Steinberg. Kamekura wanted to use Steinberg for all "Creation" No. 20, and he made three sample magazines and asked Steinberg's permission to publish them, but he was unable to do so. Nevertheless, in the 20 issues he published over the past five years, he introduced 144 authors.
During the publication of the magazines, I was repeatedly asked why he didn't feature Mr. Kamekura himself, but he kept to the point because he didn't want to lose his objective position and point of view as an editor until the end. After he passed away, Ikko Tanaka, Shigeo Fukuda, Kazumasa Nagai and others took the lead in creating the magazine. The edition No. 21 was published as a special issue of Yusaku Kamekura.


 It was because of his personality that he was so popular.
Finally. When I think of Kamekura, I can't help but think of the posters for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. We remember that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were dominated by design scandals, such as the new national stadium and the emblem problem. What do you think is the difference between the 1964 Olympic design and this one?


Mizukami There was a famous producer of the Olympic Games in 1964, Masaru Katsumi. He was the chairman of the design expert committee, and the designers rallied around him. Kamekura's posters were very unusual at that time in that they used photographs throughout the design, and I think it was a great opportunity for him to meet the talents of the photographer Osamu Hayasaki and the director of photography Jo Murakoshi. In addition to Kamekura, other graphic designers such as Hiromu Hara, Takashi Kono and Ikko Tanaka worked together on Olympic-related designs.


  In addition, designers from all over Japan worked on the construction of sports facilities, led by Kenzo Tange, and the Olympic torch was designed by Sori Yanagi. So that was the era.
What kind of person was Yusaku Kamekura as a designer to you?


Mizukami A person who have established the current design world, people who have brought out the power of design, people who have interacted with foreign designers and broadened the horizons of the Japanese design world.


 Thank you very much for your valuable talk today.





The Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art


DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion