Japanese Design Archive Survey


Designers & Creators

Kazumasa Nagai

Graphic designer


Date: 25 October 2016, 13:00 - 14:00
Location: Nippon Design Center
Interviewees: Kazumasa Nagai
Interviewers: Keiko Kubota, Aia Urakawa
Author: Aia Urakawa



Kazumasa Nagai

Graphic designer

1929 Born in Osaka.
1951 Withdrawal from the Sculpture Department of Tokyo University of the Arts.
1960 Participation in the foundation of Nippon Design Center.
He is currently the Chief Advisor of Nippon Design Center.

Kazumasa Nagai



He has been at the forefront of design for more than half a century since its inception in the post-war period, and is currently the chief advisor to the Nippon Design Center and a major figure in the world of Japanese graphic design.
He started his career in the early 1950s. After working for Daiwa Boseki, he became a member of the Japan Advertising Artists Club in 1953, which was the gateway to success for graphic designers, and participated in the founding of the Nippon Design Center in 1960.
The sixties and seventies were a hot period, with a series of major events, including the TOKYO 1964 Olympic Games and the Japan World Exposition, Osaka 1970.
Graphic designers competed in competitions for posters and marks and created for new designs. Nagai's design for the Sapporo 1972 Winter Olympics Games incorporated a new sense of the times, with a unitary format in which the Japanese flag, snowflake and Olympic symbols could be freely combined horizontally and vertically. Since then he has worked on corporate symbols for companies such as Asahi Breweries, while his poster designs have changed form and method of expression eight times, continuing to challenge the possibilities of design. Starting with geometric patterns made with rulers and compasses in the days before computers, he has combined them with photographs to create a grandiose worldview that evokes the providence of the universe, and relief prints.
From the poster "JAPAN" in 1987, he made a major change from his previous abstract expression of geometric patterns to a figurative expression of animal subjects. The organic, hand-drawn lines and intricate dotted lines of these life-like animals will move and inspire you. Today he continues to create the LIFE series using the animal as a motif, and has exhibited both in Japan and abroad. The theme is "Live". This is the ultimate theme that he wants to pursue throughout his life.




Asahi Steiny (1965); Adonis (1976); "JAPAN (Turtle)" (1988); Exhibition poster at the Museum of Modern Art, Toyama (1980-); "LIFE (Egg)" (1999); "LIFE (Giraffe)" (2016);


Symbol mark

Sapporo 1972 Winter Olympics Games, Official Mark (1972); Asahi Breweries (1986); National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations [JA] (1991); Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (2005); Museum of Modern Art, Toyama (2016) ; etc.



"Nagai Kazumasa: Kazumasa Nagai design life 1951-2004", Nagai Kazumasa, DNP Graphic Design Archives (2004); "Art Direction", Nagai Kazumasa, Bijutsu Shuppan-sha (1968); "Inochi no Uta", Nagai Kazumasa, Rikuyosha (2007); etc.

Kazumasa Nagai works



It is better for the work and materials to be distributed all over the world, so that they can be seen by many people in many different places.

It all started with Ikko Tanaka.

  In the absence of a design museum in Japan, we are conducting a survey to find out how designers store their work and what they want to do with it in the future. We would be delighted to hear from you, Mr. Nagai. You were awarded the first edition of the International Poster Biennale in Warsaw, the most traditional and prestigious of graphic design awards, and your work has received international acclaim, including a gold medal for your poster for "Asahi Steiny". Is the most common type of work you do still posters?


Nagai That's right. Posters are the most common, and there are many others. It also has a CI and a logo, which we are in the process of converting into data.


  How many posters do you have in total?


Nagai It's probably about 1,000. In 2014, when the Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, held the exhibition "Kazumasa Nagai: Poster Life 1957-2014", half of the 500 posters on show were on display. This was published in the book "Nagai Kazumasa Poster Museum" (Rikuyosha).


 Are these posters in the collection somewhere?


Nagai Until now they have been stored in the Nippon Design Center warehouse. At present, one is housed at the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion, which is run by Dai Nippon Printing. It archives posters, prints and other works and materials by graphic designers, and provides grants for academic research and other activities to pass on the cultural heritage of graphic design and graphic arts to future generations.
The collection includes works by Mr. Ikko Tanaka, Mr. Shigeo Fukuda and myself, as well as Mr. Tadanori Yokoo, Ms. Eiko Ishioka and many others. In my case, I have several copies of my early work, prints and posters, rather than just one each. It also contains a variety of other materials.


 When was your work acquired by the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion?


Nagai It was about five or six years ago. It all started with Mr. Ikko's friendship with Mr. Yoshitoshi Kitajima, the president of Dai Nippon Printing. ggg (ginza graphic gallery) was born from Mr. Ikko's suggestion. Since then, Mr. Ikko has also supervised the gallery. I am currently the supervisor of ggg.
When Mr. Ikko passed away in 2002, the question arose as to what to do with his work and materials. He has a brother and a sister, but he never married and has no children. So the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion decided to take it over. Over 50,000 items were donated, including posters, prints, original drawings, photographs, prints, magazine articles and books.


 Oh, I see. I was relieved, because at the time we were all worried about what would happen to the works and materials that Mr. Ikko had in his possession.


Nagai Later, when Mr. Shigeo Fukuda also passed away, his family donated his works and materials, and the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion decided to start a full-scale collection of works by Mr. Ikko, Mr. Fukuda and myself.


 Does the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion have a sort of warehouse where they keep them?


Nagai It is housed in the CCGA Centre for Contemporary Graphic Art in Sukagawa City, Fukushima Prefecture, which has a warehouse with an exhibition space. In addition to ggg and CCGA, Dai Nippon Printing also runs the Kyoto ddd Gallery, which moved from Osaka to Kyoto in 2014, where they also hold archival exhibitions.


  Mr. Fukuda has the Shigeo Fukuda Design Museum in Ninohe City, Iwate Prefecture.


Nagai I think that large three-dimensional objects are stored there. The collection of the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion consists mainly of posters. Mr. Fukuda also made a lot of posters. Mr. Kamekura's work is in the collection of the Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum.


  I was told that the museum houses all his works and documents.


Nagai I'm glad to hear that.



It is better that the work is dispersed all over the world.


 You have a close relationship with the Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, don't you?


Nagai I have been designing posters for the museum for over 30 years. The Museum of Modern Art, Toyama also has a collection of my posters and prints. I think there is one of each poster included here.
The Museum of Modern Art, Toyama will be renamed the Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art and Design. The project is expected to be completed around December 2016 and open next summer. The building was designed by Mr. Hiroshi Naito. I designed the logo for the new museum. It is a combination of T for Toyama, A for Art and D for Design. The A part of the design represents Tateyama and the D part Toyama Bay.


  Where are your prints, etchings and other works and drawings kept?


Nagai Some of my earlier abstract white relief prints are now in the collection of the Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts in Machida, Tokyo. The Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, has a large collection of my etchings, although not all of them.


 Many of your other works are in the permanent collections of museums in Japan and abroad. The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; The Museum of Modern Art, Toyama; The Gunma Museum of Art, Tatebayashi; The Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts; The Himeji City Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The German National Museum of Abstract Art; The Poster Museum in Warsaw.


Nagai I'm sure there are more. Because the new collection is constantly being added to.


 Mr. Sori Yanagi used to say that he wanted to keep all his work and materials in one place as much as possible. Didn't you also want to have all your works in one place?


Nagai No, it's better to be distributed all over the world, because it gives you more opportunities to be seen by more people in different places. Also, if the collection is housed in one place, it is difficult for the people who run it, because they have to be the point of contact for all the exhibitions that are held in different parts of the country. The Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, and the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion have lent my work to my exhibitions in Japan and abroad. I will have a solo exhibition in France from November 2016, and the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion will send my work there. I am very grateful to them because they sometimes donate their work to museums at home and abroad, and they do this on my behalf.


 It's true that storing the work and making such arrangements can be a challenge.



The problem is the end of the book collection.


 So almost all of your works and materials are in the collection somewhere?


Nagai Yes, it is.


 It's a relief at first.


Nagai No, actually the library is still in the office. Part of the collection was also given to the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion, but inside this storage cabinet are all books. I have some books at home.


 Are most of the books in your collection related to graphic design?


Nagai Most of them are. There is also a collection of art works. I am 87 years old this year, 2016, and I don't know what will happen to me in the future. The only question now is what to do with the rest of the book collection.


 Universities and other institutions may be happy to take them.


Nagai Mr. Hiroshi Kashiwagi, a design critic and professor at Musashino Art University, once asked me to donate 250 posters by Mr. Ikko, Mr. Fukuda and myself to Musashino Art University.


 At Musashino Art University they are working to collect a wide range of objects, including design and art works.


Nagai In 2014, ggg held the graphic design exhibition "Persona 1965" to celebrate 50 years of Persona. That's because it turned out that all the works from their 1965 Persona exhibition at MATSUYA GINZA in Tokyo were stored in a warehouse at Musashino Art University. "Persona 1965" was an exhibition of the work of a new generation of graphic designers who were emerging at a time when Japanese design was in its infancy, and was considered to be an event in the history of Japanese graphic design. In addition to myself, there were Mr. Kiyoshi Awazu, Mr. Shigeo Fukuda, Mr. Gan Hosoya, Mr. Toshihiro Katayama, Mr. Mitsuo Katsui, Mr. Tsunehisa Kimura, Mr. Ikko Tanaka, Mr. Akira Uno, Mr. Makoto Wada and Mr. Tadanori Yokoo. The exhibition caused a great sensation by raising diverse issues such as what design is, its relationship and role in society, and the obscurity and authorship of design. In just one week, 35,000 people visited the exhibition.


 So such valuable materials were stored at Musashino Art University. By the way, you have written several books, do you have any manuscripts in your own handwriting?


Nagai No, there's nothing left.


 Do you keep the magazines in which your articles have been published?


Nagai Some of them were collected by the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion, but I try to dispose of them. Because it's full of stuff.



The printed product is the work of art.


 Do you make a kind of sketch of your ideas before you start working?


Nagai When I think of a design, I draw it first, of course. It's a kind of "ponci-e" (satirical cartoon) drawn on a piece of paper.


  Is it stored somewhere?


Nagai I threw it away. I don't think most designers leave much of that behind. For a designer, a piece of work is only a finished product. The result of the printing process is the work. It's not just me personally, but also the printing director of the printing company, and it's the combination of these that makes the work. In the past, when I made a piece of work, I used to write it down by hand on a plate, put tracing paper on it and send it to the printing company. I think that the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion has a collection of such prints.


 Do you have any design resources that you collect?


Nagai No, I don't. I have no hobbies.


 Mr. Ikko had many hobbies.


Nagai He also did the tea ceremony. I've always been a bit frail, and work was all I could do, so I didn't have the physical capacity to enjoy my hobbies.


 But your work must be very physically and mentally demanding.


Nagai I do things that take me longer than anyone else, you know. I don't think there is anyone else who does this.


 I don't think there is anyone like that in the world. How long does it take you to create these fine pointillist works?


Nagai It depends on the work, but for the eggs, this was the hardest part. I think it took me nearly a month to do the dots with Rotring pens.



The advent of the computer changed his style.


 Do you take photographs?


Nagai No, I don't shoot. For a while I was working on a piece that combined sculpture and photography, and I used to take my own photographs for that. For example, there are advertisements for Toshiba and Lilycolor, with pictures of the sky, the sea, the moon and the horizon at dawn.


 This is a beautiful photo on a grand scale. Where did you go to take this photo?


Nagai I took this photo from the window of the plane when I went abroad. I don't think any of these photos have survived either.


 At that time, there were no computers, so they were made by combining prints.


Nagai Of course it is. The figuration and the photo were submitted together for printing. This figuration was drawn by hand by me using a ruler and compass. I was once asked by a museum in the USA to exhibit my work, as a pioneer in computer graphics. "He was very surprised when I told him, "This is not a computer graphic, it's hand-drawn. With the advent of the computer, I changed my work from abstract geometric patterns to figurative animals. Then the "LIFE" series was born. Nowadays, I draw rough sketches by hand and have them finished by computer, but the wind monsters in my new work "LIFE" were also drawn by computer from my rough sketches. The original painting is small, about 10 cm square, and the work is an enlargement of it. The work of enlarging the original image is also done by computer.


 Generally speaking, you draw a large illustration in the original and then reduce it to make a work.


Nagai They say it's better to make something big small, but I think it's the other way around. I think that lines are more interesting when they are small and magnified.


  It's more powerful that way.



I tried hard to hold my breath as I drew.


 How did you get into design in the first place?


Nagai I entered the sculpture department of the Tokyo University of the Arts, but I had a hemorrhage in the fundus of my eye. So I took a leave of absence from school in my second year to go back to my hometown in Osaka to rest. That was in 1951, when I was 22 years old. It was around this time that society gradually became more stable. At Daiwa Boseki, where my father worked, they started to make shirts and canvas as well as cloth and yarn. In order to sell such products, they would need promotional posters, brochures and so on. So they called me in because they heard that Mr. Nagai's son was hanging around doing nothing. At the time, people thought that if you were from the Tokyo University of the Arts, you could do anything.
There was no advertising department in the company and no senior staff to teach me. The first thing I did was to set up a design room and get a graduate from a craft school as my assistant. But I was a graduate in sculpture, and I didn't know anything about design, so I started working in a very groping way.


 You also write about this in your book "Nagai Kazumasa" (DNP Graphic Design Archives). At that time you didn't know "karasuguchi" (special pens for drafting), so you didn't know how to draw thin sharp lines, so you "drew with a very fine brush, holding your breath very hard".


Nagai That's the line I drew on the first brochure I designed in my life. That is what you will find in my book. This work was done in 1951. When I first started painting, my hands were shaking. It was very difficult to draw and I had to redraw it again and again. I also designed the packaging for the product.
It wasn't long before my work was published in "PRES ARTO", a magazine for the study of advertising and printed matter. Mr. Ikko's work was also included in that magazine. I always saw that and we both thought he was a funny guy, and that's how the exchange started.


 Do you have any brochures or packages from the Daiwa Boseki era in your possession?


Nagai The original is in the collection of the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion.


 That's very valuable. I'd like to see the real thing.



About the Design Museum


 I would like to ask you about your thoughts on the Design Museum. Everyone has different opinions, and many people say that Japan needs a Design Museum. What are your thoughts on the matter, Mr Nagai?


Nagai Of course, I think it's better to have one. Most museums are mainly about art. And there is no place in Japan where you can find all the different fields of design - graphic, interior, fashion - in one place.


 There are many opinions about the way of exhibiting the works in the Design Museum. Some people say that if you just put the finished products in a white box, it is difficult to convey the ideas and thoughts of the designer. What do you think about this?


Nagai I think that the first priority is to acquire a collection of major works and materials from the history of Japanese design. I think there are many ways of showing and planning this. Mr. Issey Miyake's 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT doesn't have a collection of works, but every time they hold an exhibition they have a different approach.
The Museum of Modern Art, Toyama has a large collection of world-famous chairs and exhibitions, including those by Mr. Shiro Kuramata and Mr. Motomi Kawakami. I think it's a great advantage to have the original collection and to have a place where people can see it.


  If you have a collection of things, people can use it to make exhibitions in different places. Some museums seem to have kept the works in their collections. It would be nice if they could create an environment where curators could be more relaxed in their research and organization.


Nagai I hear that curating in the field of fine arts is now an aspiring profession. In that field they are starting to produce good female talent, but in the design field there is a dearth.


  I think so. I feel that in the design world there is a dearth of things to do.



What does Mr. Nagai think of design?


 Finally, we would like to ask you about your views on design. In the website of the Japan Design Committee, you can read about Mr. Nagai's "thoughts on design".
"I think that each designer, when designing something, has to find the laws that already exist in nature and give form to them. It would not be a crystal of providence if it were not beautiful and attractive as well as costly and functional. I want to recognise the role of each of us, but also to value the common sense of nature.".
In other words, all nature and all living things have something in common, and it is important for designers to find something in these common laws and give form to it. So there is a hint of design in nature.


Nagai I think nature is a great thing. The Earth is a miracle planet that exists in a perfect position: if it were any further away from the Sun, it would have turned into ice, and if it were any closer to the Sun, it would have turned into a ball of fire. And then water was formed from the sea, and life was born from something like an amoeba, and it took many years to form this planet. Human beings, all animals and plants, are all one species from nature. So I think there is naturally a common thread there. Today's young people look for answers only in the computer, but I would like to say that the answers lie in the larger universe or in the magnificent natural world.


 What does design mean to you, Mr. Nagai?


Nagai I don't think you can call it design if it doesn't function in society in some way. I think it's about giving something better to the viewer and the user.


 If it's a poster, does it mean that you're trying to get that message across to people through the poster?


Nagai I think there is a lot to take from it, not just the message. Through the animals depicted in the "LIFE" series, we think about life and death, the weight and preciousness of life.


 Thank you very much for your valuable talk today. We would like to talk to the DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion as well.





Nippon Design Center