Japanese Design Archive Survey
Designers ＆ Creators
Interview: 30 May 2018, 14:00 - 16:00
Place of interview: Japan Beliere Art Center
Interviewee: Mr. Hideya Kawakita
Interviewers: Yasuko Seki, Tomoko Ishiguro
Author: Yasuko Seki
1947 Born in Fukuoka Prefecture
1971 Graduated with a degree in Visual Design, Department of Crafts, Faculty of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts
1972 Tokyo subway line map design
1974 Established Japan Belliere Art Center
1992-2003 Professor, Department of Information Design, Faculty of Design, Tohoku University of Art & Design
2009-2013 Part-time lecturer, Department of Urban Engineering, Graduate School of the University of Tokyo
2003-2015 Professor, Department of Design, Faculty of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts
2015- Professor Emeritus, Tokyo University of the Arts
For Japanese design, 1970, the year of the Osaka World Exposition (Japan World Exposition), was a peak. Architecture and design, which had developed with the support of post-war economic reconstruction and national projects such as the Tokyo Olympics and the Osaka Expo, lost the enthusiasm of the 1960s after 1970 and entered a period of thought and search. It was right around this time that Hideya Kawakita graduated from university and took his first steps as a designer. Although he graduated from the elite school of the Tokyo University of the Arts, he did not follow the high road of graphic designers such as Dentsu, Hakuhodo, or the production department of Shiseido, but suddenly entered freelance activities. Since then, his career has been very unique as an art director and graphic designer. This is also reflected in Kawakita's way of being a designer and his works.
In his approach to design, there is an instinctive rebelliousness against the conventional frameworks that dictate what a designer or art director should be. On the other hand, in his work, he does not stick to any style or style of expression, but creates and realises the most appropriate idea for the object to be designed. This can be seen in Kawakita's representative works for the Tokyo Metro and the "iichiko" series, which began in 1983 and continues to this day. To the average person, it would be hard to imagine that the witty poster of Marilyn Monroe holding an umbrella and the iichiko poster, which gives a momentary sense of coolness in a crowded place, were the work of the same art director. Kawakita does not see design as a pursuit of beauty, a visualization of function, or an expression of individuality. For him, design is "the activity of using human creativity and conceptual power to work on and improve life, industry, and the environment. In other words, design collectively refers to the act of using one's creative and conceptual powers to work on our surroundings and adjust various relationships with the great goal of human happiness" ("The Original! Japanese Manners Posters," published by Graphic, 2008). This grand idea is the driving force behind Kawakita's work.
Advertising and art direction
Tokyo Subway Route Map, Eeidan Subway (now Tokyo Metro) (1972)
Planning and design of subway etiquette poster series for Eidan Subway (now Tokyo Metro) (1974-82)
Planning and design of all shochu "iichiko" product planning, packaging, TV commercials, posters, magazine advertisements, and publications Sanwa Shurui (1983-)
Yokohama Business Park Art Project Nomura Real Estate Development (1991)
"Running Through 10 Years of Subway, 30 Years of iichiko Design" The University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts (2014) "iichiko design exhibition 2017 Omiya" (2017) Sonic City Building, etc.
Books & Publications
Collection " Tokyo Graffiti by Hideya Kawakita" Heibonsha (1981)
Book "Hideya Kawakita's Theory of Design" Shinyosha (1989)
English book "ON DESIGN" EHESC (1995)
Collection of works "Thought in the Landscape" Business-sha (1995)
Collection of works "Letter from the landscape" Business-sha (1996)
Collection of photographs "Transparent Blot" Business-sha (1997)
Collection of works "The Original! Japanese Manners Posters" Graphic-sha (2008)
Collection of Photographs "Place of Design" Tokyo University of the Arts Press (2014)
The design is not meant to be appreciated
Difficult to archive under the same conditions as art
The path of the design elite is not taken.
― You graduated from Tokyo University of the Arts, right? The University of the Arts has produced an impressive number of designers such as Eiko Ishioka, Makoto Matsunaga, and Taku Sato, and many of them have gone on to work for Shiseido's Advertising Department or Dentsu's Production Department before going independent.
Kawakita "Design" is not an elite field in the University of the Arts. At the University of the Arts, the mainstream is fine arts such as painting and sculpture, or traditional crafts such as lacquer and metal carving. Design is only "applied art" and is positioned as something secondary to art. I don't know about now, but at least in my generation, many people who majored in design had some kind of complex about "painters". Perhaps this tendency was even stronger in the generation above us. If you look at their work, you get a strong sense of artistry and self-assertion.
I studied design in the environment of the University of the Arts, where art comes first. And I never thought of myself as elite, and I didn't start out as a freelancer with great ambition. I was just lazy, or I let it happen.
― What inspired you to go freelance?
Kawakita I started working in design while I was still in school. In those days, there was no in-house design department unless you were a major company, so there were many opportunities for art students to do design work on request. Student part-time work was also a tradition at the University of the Arts, and I was asked by a senior student to take over a job at a company called Sakuma Seika. I think it was around 1968.
― "Ichigo Milk Candy" is a long-lived product that continues to be sold to this day. The graphic design of red strawberries on a white background is impressive. It was designed by Mr. Kawakita, wasn't it? How did you come up with that design?
Kawakita First of all, I thought about what was required. In this project, the main character is the candy, and the graphics play a supporting role. If you were to use a painting, the package design would be like a picture frame. In other words, my role is not that of a painter, but that of a framer.
The aim of "Ichigo Milk" was to create an innovative candy that would be fun to eat with a crunchy texture, and we made many prototypes. When it was finally ready to go on sale, I was asked to design it. I was only a student, but I was asked to work with the person who was in charge of everything from manufacturing to sales.
― What kind of design did you propose?
Kawakita Before that, the packaging for candy had a traditional and plain impression, but I wanted to express the newness of chewable candy, so I proposed a cute pop design that would attract young people. The sales people were opposed to my proposal, but the president said, "A new product needs a new look," and my proposal was adopted.
The texture and the pop package design, which are different from the conventional candies, are very popular among children.
The product became a hit with young women and led to the development of a new market for "candies". Nearly 50 years have passed since its launch, but it seems to be still evolving as a long-running product.
― Did you receive a design fee?
Kawakita At first it was just part-time work, but the product was a hit, so by the time I graduated from university, I remember I was getting paid quite a lot (500,000 yen).
― So the success of Ichigo Milk led you to choose the freelance path.
Kawakita There are several other reasons. When I was a student, I worked part-time at Nippon Design Center in addition to Sakuma Confectionery, and I also worked with my friends in a kind of design office, so I certainly thought I would like to continue working on my own. However, I wanted to avoid the employment examination at all costs. I had learned my lesson from the entrance examination at the University of the Arts.
Then, when I started working for a company, I was an assistant at first, so I had to make a print. You have to start with the production process. When I was working part-time, I was made to do a lot of printing, and I wondered if this was really what I wanted to do. When I thought about it more, I realised that my interest was not in "graphic design" but in "communication design". From a different perspective, I wanted to work on communicating something necessary to people while understanding the world and society in my own way.
Graphics are a means of communication
― In terms of graphics as a means of communicating something, was your next job a subway "route map"?
Kawakita I first started working on this as my graduation project. I've been a railway fanatic since I was a child, and I loved the names of JR stations from Nishi-Kagoshima to Tokyo, and reading timetables was a hobby of mine. However, when I came to Tokyo from Kyushu to take the entrance exam for the University of the Arts, I found Tokyo's railroad network, especially the subway system, too complicated to navigate, and the route maps I relied on were too confusing to use. That's when I came up with the idea of designing a route map that anyone could understand. I couldn't finish it in time for graduation, but I kept working on it and finished it six months later.
― That route map was an independent project, wasn't it? What did you do with it after it was completed?
Kawakita The head office of the Eidan Subway (now Tokyo Metro) is located in Ueno, the same place as the University of the Arts, so I took the liberty of creating a business card that said "University of the Arts Railway Design Study Group" and sold it to the PR department. However, it was not easy for them to accept a proposal from a young guy who didn't know who he was, so they finally said, "If you bring us the actual product, we can put it in the station. So I looked for sponsors, collected money, printed it out, brought it to the station, and finally got it placed there. Then, the head of the public relations section said, "This is an activity that will help educate people about the subway". They negotiated with the Metro Cultural Foundation (now the Metro Cultural Foundation) and they were able to come up with a budget.
― After that, it led to the etiquette posters. It's the perfect job for Ms. Kawakita, who wants to convey something to people.
Kawakita In the 1970s, high economic growth had come to an end, but cities such as Tokyo were expanding more and more, infrastructure such as railways and communications were developing, and urban civilisation was being transformed. What they all had in common was the pursuit of "comfort without the need to communicate with others". For example, automatic ticket gates, signs at stations and on roads, telephones, fast food restaurants and convenience stores were all systems that made it possible to live without relying on others, and these systems were increasing rapidly. It's true that the world will become more convenient, rational, and efficient, but I've always wondered what will happen to people's minds and feelings in response to these trends. I think it was these vague feelings that led me to create public advertisements and etiquette posters.
― I see. Manners for others is the basis of communication between people, which is what you were interested in. Did you propose this idea yourself?
Kawakita I had a track record with route maps, and since I graduated from the University of the Arts, I figured I could at least do posters. At the time, public advertising was an area that wasn't getting as much attention as corporate advertising, but I had a hunch that I could do something interesting.
― Did the client have any specific requests?
Kawakita There wasn't anything in particular, so I directed everything from the idea to the composition, characterisation, and copy. It was the first time for me to do this, so the first thing I did was to solidify the basic concept of the ad. Then we decided to see how the other side would react by presenting three different proposals: a rather outrageous and interesting proposal A, a so-so proposal B, and a very ordinary proposal C.
Kawakita As expected, we decided on proposal C.
― What was the first poster?
Kawakita 「This is a etiquette poster that says, "Let's give up our seats". We asked the singer Masako Mori, who was popular with men and women of all ages at the time for her friendliness, to appear on the poster.
― It was a big project to use a popular idol.
Kawakita Not at all. I made all the arrangements, from start to finish. I also negotiated with my agency, but at the time there was still a low level of awareness of portrait rights for celebrities, so I was able to get their approval easily. My joy was short-lived, however, when I was told, "You'll pay for the car, right?" And the amount was 200,000 yen.
Our total budget was about 400,000 yen, so half of it disappeared for the car. After a while like that, we ran out of budget.
Kawakita In the end, we had to find sponsors again. I went to companies such as Sakuma Confectionery and made posters like the tie-up advertisements that are used today, and I used all sorts of methods to raise funds on my own. When I think about it now, I didn't know any common sense at the time, and I was just so determined to keep working that I just kept going. But I think that this way of working, starting from scratch, suited me just fine. Eventually, the etiquette posters began to attract attention, and I continued to work on them for about 10 years.
― Marilyn Monroe, Charles Chaplin, Tora-san, and popular anime characters appeared one after the other, and the posters were full of unique humor that made me feel at ease. I remember looking forward to each new advertisement because we didn't have smart phones and social networking services like we do now.
Brands are born in the minds of those who use them
― After that, it was your life's work for iichiko. It has become a very rare job where the relationship between designer and client has lasted for 35 years, but how did it start?
Kawakita The subway work was worthwhile, but I had difficulties with funding and organisation, so when I was offered this job, I accepted on the condition that I would be entrusted with all the planning and design work and that we would have an equal relationship. At the time, the ironclad rule was that one designer had to work for one company in one industry, so I couldn't work for any other drinking company except iichiko, and I wanted to take my time and focus on my work.
― Since Mr. Kawakita started working on this project, Sanwa Shurui's sales have increased from 300 million to just under 60 billion yen, or about 200 times. You've spent a long time building up the brand image, but in addition to posters, TV commercials, and other advertising, are you actually involved in the design of everything related to iichiko?
Kawakita Actually, I plan and design TV commercials, station posters, magazine and in-car advertisements as advertising media, as well as planning and editorial design for the cultural science magazine "iichiko Quarterly" (Sanwa Shurui, 1986-), which is an essential corporate cultural activity for branding. I also do product design for bottles and packages.
― How did you first plan to create a brand image for iichiko?
Kawakita Today, shochu is regarded as equal to whisky and wine, but 35 years ago, it was generally perceived as a cheap drink for workers. However, when we did a marketing survey, we found that our customers were actually mainly salarymen who read the Nikkei newspaper and earn about 6 million yen a year. At the time, iichiko was known as the Napoleon of downtown Tokyo, but I thought we should create a brand and design that would change this image.
― Any specifics?
Kawakita In general product advertisements, the appeal and usefulness of the product are pushed to the forefront. It's true that from the perspective of selling a product, this approach may be the right one. Rather than selling, however, I want to emphasise how people feel when they drink iichiko, and that's what I'm trying to convey in my design.
― Did you aim to create a brand that was not based on so-called marketing ideas?
Kawakita That's why we decided to focus our advertising efforts on station posters. With the same budget, we thought it would be more effective to use the weak advertising medium of posters to slowly establish our image over a long period of time (10 to 20 years) than to run a single high-impact TV commercial.
― In your station posters, you use photos of beautiful scenery and nostalgic everyday life from around the world, don't you?
Kawakita The motif of advertising media such as posters is basically just a photograph and a one-sentence copy. The visuals are of nature, cultural heritage, or scenes from daily life, and the copy is a verbal representation of the mental image of the person who sees the scenery. Originally, we would prefer to use Japanese scenery, but for us, the beautiful and nostalgic scenery doesn't exist in Japan anymore, so we shoot in foreign countries such as the European countryside.
The reason why it's a beautiful landscape is because we look at the same scenery every day when we commute to work or school, and even if we look at landscapes around the world on our phones or in magazines, they don't remain with us for the moment. I believe that beautiful things and landscapes are seen and remembered by the brain, not the eyes. iichiko's visuals resonate with the memories stored in our brains, and we are looking for such landscapes.
― Does this philosophy also apply to your product design, such as bottles?
Kawakita Yes, the same goes for package and bottle design. The iichiko Flask and iichiko Special bottles have won awards at the Japan Package Competition and the Good Design Award. The flasks in particular were made not by a mass-produced bottle maker, but by a glassware maker called Hario, and we didn't even put labels on them. In the first place, labels are there for the purpose of selling, and it's better not to have them when drinking. Our goal was for the bottles to be used as regular bottles even after they had been drunk. We also designed a variety of other bottles, but unfortunately many of them were copied.
― What does designing a brand mean to you, Mr. Kawakita?
Kawakita There are only a handful of companies that can spend billions of yen to promote their brands and products. A brand is not something that is based on corporate logic, but something that is born in the minds of people who recognise the value of a product, service, or company. In other words, brands belong to the people who live in the world, so I think it is important for companies to create and deliver products that people recognise as good, and for these products to penetrate deeply into people's memories and lives.
Design is hard to sum up.
― From what you've told us so far, I get the impression that you've always placed importance on lifestyle and culture in your designs. So, as a professor at the University of the Arts for nearly ten years, I would like to ask you what you think about design archives and design museums in Japan from the standpoint of design education. When you retired from your position as a professor at the University of the Arts, you held the exhibition "Running Through 10 Years of Subway, 30 Years of iichiko Design" at the University Art Museum of Tokyo University of the Arts.
Kawakita At the University of the Arts, all art works such as paintings and crafts are purchased and stored in the museum, but design works such as posters are donated. At the University of the Arts, design is positioned as an applied art, so it is unlikely that you will be involved in a full-scale design archive. In my case, my subway-related work is in the collection of the Metro Cultural Foundation.
― So, what are you currently doing with your own works and materials?
Kawakita 印I've kept a lot of printed materials (artwork), TV commercials, and the photos and videos for them, but I've left very little behind in the way of sketches and storyboards. I'm in the middle of moving out of this building right now because it's going up in the ground, and I'm having a hard time dealing with three floors of stuff. Either way, we have a considerable amount to sort through.
― The iichiko design is part of Sanwa Shurui's corporate culture itself, so it would be great if it could be archived in the form of a corporate museum in the future.
Kawakita I wish that would happen too.
― I looked at the website of Sanwa Brewery, and I see that they also offer factory tours. I think it would be effective in terms of branding if they built a facility with a museum and café on that site.
Kawakita Sanwa Shurui is located near Usa Jingu Shrine, which attracts 1.5 million visitors a year, and other tourist spots such as Hita, so I think the idea of a museum is highly realistic. In fact, we've had requests from various quarters to hold an exhibition of iichiko posters, so we've held a number of exhibitions. Poster exhibitions take up a lot of space, so it's difficult for people to see the whole picture, so it would be great if there was a permanent place like a museum where anyone could view the posters at any time. However, this is not something that can be achieved by a single designer.
― Having said that, isn't there a need for some kind of approach from the designer side?
Kawakita There are many issues regarding the archives of individual designers and architects, but there are already design museums that are limited to specific fields. For example, we already have the Shiseido Corporate Museum for cosmetics, the Toyota Museum for cars, and other museums where companies are taking the initiative to create specific collections. I would like to see companies become more active in archives and museums as part of their cultural activities.
― What about the state and public institutions?
Kawakita I once wrote, under the title "The Design of Cultural Capital" (included in Cultural Capital Studies 1, Institute for Advanced Studies in Cultural Sciences Press, 2018), "No other advanced country neglects culture as much as Japan. It was not so in the past. It was after the Meiji era. Ordinary Japanese people no longer understand culture at all. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) is even saying that the Faculty of Letters is not needed. They are telling us to focus on departments that are firmly connected to the economy. I don't think we can expect much from him.
― So, what do you yourself think about design archives and museums?
Kawakita In the first place, museums are not the place to present design. It may be unreasonable for art, which is meant to be appreciated, and design, which is used in society and in daily life, to be archived and displayed under the same conditions. Some designers have a strong sense of authorship, wanting to create works of art, but I don't think that is the goal that design should be aiming for in the first place. Moreover, the field of design is so broad that it would be extremely difficult to summarise everything. I think that is one of the difficulties of design archives and museums.
― Thank you for your time today.
Contact information for the location of Hideya Kawakita's archive
Japan Belliere Art Center
33-9-11 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan