Japanese Design Archive Survey


Designers & Creators

Kohei Sugiura

Designer,Researcher on Asian iconography, Professor emeritus at Kobe Design University


Date: 1 December 2017,15:00 - 17:00
Location: Kohei Sugiura Plus Eyes
Interviewees: Kohei Sugiura, Sachiko Kagaya
Interviewers: Yasuko Seki, Tomoko Ishiguro
Authors Yasuko Seki (outline), Tomoko Ishiguro (text)



Kohei Sugiura

Designer,Researcher on Asian iconography, Professor emeritus at Kobe Design University

1932 Born in Tokyo.
1955 Graduated from Tokyo University of the Arts, Department of Architecture.
1956 After working in Takashimaya's advertising department, became independent and ran his own design office.
1961 Awarded the Mainichi Industrial Design Award (now the Mainichi Design Award).
1964-1966 Visiting Professor, Design College of Ulm, Germany.
1982 Received the Art Encouragement Award from the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
1987-2002 Professor, Kobe Design University.
1997 Awarded Mainichi Art Prize and Medal with Purple Ribbon.
2010-2018 Director, Research Institute of Asian Design, Kobe Design University
2014 Received DFA (Design for Asia) Lifetime Achievement Award from Hong Kong Design Centre (HKDC).
2019 Awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette
2021 Launch of Design Cosmos: Sugiura Kohei Design Archive in the collection of Musashino Art University Museum & Library.

Kohei Sugiura



Kohei Sugiura is unprecedented as a graphic and editorial designer. As the saying goes, there was nothing before him and nothing after him.
Before and after Sugiura, there were many unique designers who led the graphic design world, such as Hiromu Hara and Yusaku Kamekura, and in about the same generation, Kazumasa Nagai, Mitsuo Katsui, Ikko Tanaka and Masayoshi Nakajo. Even among such a star-studded generation, Sugiura has achieved work that only he could have realised. How should this be described? Graphic design is an expression of the two-dimensional world of posters, packaging, symbol marks, illustrations and editorial. In this sense, Sugiura's editorial design is contained within a two-dimensional world. However, when the printed paper is folded, bound and cut into magazines and books, and the pages are turned, the patterns, designs and diagrams expressed on the pages take the reader from two dimensions to three, and even beyond time and space into a four-dimensional world. Sugiura's diverse and multilayered work, which overwhelms the viewer, is surely the result of his insatiable inquisitiveness and contemplation. But also, in an age when magazines and books could have a great influence on society and culture, it is important not to overlook the passionate people who ploughed the fields of editing and publishing together. The following are just a few examples of the unique editors and artists who were not content with simply collecting information, but instead started by preparing the content: Taira Keiichi of "SD (Space Design)", Isao Imaida and Fukiko Hosoi of "Ginka (Silver Flower)", Makoto Ueda and Arata Isozaki of "Toshi Jutaku (Urban Housing)", Seigow Matsuoka of "Objet Magazine Yu (Play)", Mikitaka Nakano of " Epistēmē", Yasunori Okadome of "Uwasa no Shinso (The Truth of the Rumour)", and many others. Sugiura's energy and ideas were probably rooted in the cutthroat struggle, with unique editors and expressionists who were not content with simply collecting information, but would start by preparing content.
In this sense, Sugiura's work is an archive of the times, and even in this age of fast-paced life and culture, the design stake that Sugiura drove so deeply into the ground will not be pulled out so easily. The Sugiura World, created after a long period of thought, will continue to shine with unprecedented light and fascinate people, regardless of whether the means of cultural transmission is replaced by digital technology, which is a blinking light.



Magazine Design

"Toshi Jutaku (Urban Housing)", Kajima Institute Publishing (1968-70), Quarterly "Ginka (Silver Flower)", Bunka Publishing Bureau (1970-2002), "Object Magazine Yu (Play)", Kousakusha (1971-79), "Epistēmē", Asahi Press (1975-79, 1984-86), and "Uwasa no Shinso (The Truth of the Rumour)" (1980 - 2004).


Book Design

"Kodansha Gendai Shinsho" series Kodansha (1971 - 2004), "Kadokawa Sensho" series Kadokawa Shoten (1973 - 1995), "Den Shingon-in Ryokai Mandala (The Two World Mandala)", Heibonsha (1977), Roger Caillois and Shiryu Morita, "Chiffres", Zauho (1979),"Venus Urania Pandemos", Miura Printing (1982), "Tibetan Mandalas: Ngor Collection", Kodansha (1983),"The Encyclopedia", 16 volumes, Heibonsha (1985) .


Other Graphics

Symbol mark Tama Zoological Park (1973), National Museum of Japanese History (1991), Tateyama Museum of Toyama (1991), commemorative stamps of the Kingdom of Bhutan (1983-89).



"Visual Communication, Graphic Design of the World <1> Co-author: Seigow Matsuoka", Kodansha (1976), "Nihon no Katachi Ajia no Katach (Japanese Forms, Asian Forms)", Sanseido (1994),"Katachi Tanjo (Forms Come Alive: Spirits of Asian Design)", NHK Publishing (1997), "Uchu wo Nomu (Swallowing the Cosmos)", Kodansha (1999),"Seimei no Ki Hana Uchu (Tree of Life, Floral Cosmology)", NHK Publishing (2000), "Uchu wo Tataku (Drumming the Cosmos)", Kousakusha (2004), "Sugiura Kohei Dezain no Kotoba (Kohei Sugiura’s Writing on Design series) 1-4", Kousakusha (2010 – 2022) .


Edited by

"Books, Text, and Design in Asia: Sugiura Kohei in Conversation with Leading Asian Designers", TransArt (now, DNP Art Communiations,2005)


Collection of works

"Wind and Lightning: A Half-Century of Magazine Design by Kohei Sugiura", TransArt (2004), "Luminous Mandala: A Book Design of Kohei Sugiura", DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion (2011),"Vibrant Books: Methods and Philosophy of Kohei Sugiura's Design", Musashino Art University Museum and Library (2011),"Experiments in 'Time Distance Map': Diagram Collections by Kohei Sugiura", Kajima Institute Publishing (2014)

Kohei Sugiura works



The collection of artworks, the collection of related books, research on artworks, and exhibitions. It was a plan to promote these four pillars all at once.

Works and materials that had been dispersed start to move as an archive.

 We understand that Kohei Sugiura has organised a vast archive of his past work and donated it to Musashino Art University (MAU). Could you first explain how this came about?


Kagaya Sugiura’s works of design are mainly books and magazines, so in the early days they were put into boxes in the order they were completed and stored in wardrobes and warehouses. As the amount of books and magazines grew so large that it became difficult to know what was where, the first major reorganisation took place around 1985, I hear. He seems to have borrowed space from Kodansha and organised them by series, such as "Kodansha Gendai Shinsho" and "Kadokawa Sensho", and by magazine title.
For a long time, Sugiura did not hold exhibitions of his own work. In 2004 (at the age of 72), it was decided to hold an exhibition specialising in magazine design at ginza graphic gallery, entitled "Wind and Lightning: A Half-Century of Magazine Design by Kohei Sugiura". In order to prepare the items for the exhibition, we collected and organised all the items that had been stored here and there. The books were further classified as monographs, shinsho (paperback) series, sensho (selection) series, photo collections, art books, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, complete works, etc., and those that Sugiura considered important were ranked AA, followed by A and B. In addition to these publications, there was also a large collection of accompanying materials, such as proofs and proof prints, from which the design process could be read.


Sugiura The proofs are, in my case, very important documents. This is because they contain the cutting edge of printing technology of the time. I often dealt directly with the technicians at the printing house, rather than going through the publisher's sales department, and I created my work as a kind of printing experiment, so the proofs are very important documents for me because they show the trajectory of my work.


Kagaya "Wind and Lightning" exhibition was so well received that it toured three locations in Japan and then traveled to Paju Publishing City in South Korea, Shenzhen, Beijing, Nanjing and Chengdu in China. I first became directly involved with the work of the Sugiura Office when I helped organise the "Wind and Lightning" exhibition and was in charge of editing the catalogue. I started to take on the role of office manager in 2009, but until then, Atsushi Sato (1981-2009), a 28-year veteran of the Sugiura Office, was the main person in charge of design work and managing the artworks with several other staff members.
Around the beginning of 2008, we started thinking about what we should do with the huge amount of artworks and related materials that had accumulated, and whether we could hold an exhibition. I held consultation meetings with former staff of the Sugiura Office, asked Seigow Matsuoka's opinion, and consulted with Takahito Saiki, President of Kobe Design University. President Saiki said he would definitely like to collect the collection, but the university was not ready to accept it, so it did not happen at that time. I then consulted Tadanori Nagasawa, the current President of Musashino Art University. He was then assistant to the president, but had worked part-time at the Sugiura Office in the past.
Incidentally, Shoichi Akazaki, an alumnus of the Sugiura Office (1976-96) and a professor at Kobe Design University since 2006, started a project around 2012 to collect posters and other materials designed by Sugiura and conduct joint research within the university, organising small exhibitions, compiling interviews with Sugiura into booklets and publishing them. The project has continued to this day.


Sugiura I first asked Professor Shutaro Mukai, who is a long-time friend of mine, and he told me that "Professor Nagasawa is currently working as an assistant to the president and is deeply involved in the plan to build a new art resource library as a new 'museum and library' as part of the 80th anniversary celebrations". He told me that this story might bear some fruit and connected me to Mr Nagasawa. MAU was planning a commemorative project for its 80th anniversary in 2009. Together with Mr Nagasawa, Mr Yoshiharu Kamino, then Director of the Art Materials Library, and Ms Michiyo Honjo, the Administrative Director, showed strong leadership and set up a project team to transfer the vast collection of works and related materials that were stored not only in my office but also in Takeo Company's warehouse and a warehouse specialising in book conservation.
Mr Nagasawa and I had visited second-hand bookshops together in London back in the 70s. He understood the value of my collection of iconographic books and expressed interest in having the majority of the collection as design reference material. Furthermore, with the help of Professor Yusaku Terayama of the Department of Visual Communication Design and Professor Kenya Hara of the Department of Science of Design, he said he wanted to make research on my work the subject of a joint research project. The plan was to proceed with four pillars at once: 1) the collection of all my works, 2) the collection of design materials and related books, 3) joint research on design methods and formative thinking, and 4) the holding of an exhibition of my works in the new museum and library.


 It is wonderful. Such a dynamic and comprehensive archiving scheme has never been heard of before.


Sugiura The idea of expanding and systematising a project in such a dynamic way would not have been possible anywhere else. We were surprised and wondered if it was even possible.


Kagaya But in reality, that was the hard part. First, we organised and catalogued the artworks, design materials and related library books that had been deposited in warehouses and other locations. There were about 5,000 books and 2,000 magazines, as well as record jackets and stamps. The art library had already collected posters early on, so that was a big help. There were also a vast number of handwritten sketches, concept notes, printing plates, proofs and printouts that illustrate the design process. The library had about 3,500 books as design reference material.


Sugiura Many people wish to deposit their work in universities or museums. But it is not easy to achieve this. In my case, I think I was blessed with good contacts and good timing.


Kagaya There are many graphic designers, but in Sugiura's case, as a reformer of Japanese graphic design, I think he was recognised for his various new innovations that went beyond the category of visual design, as well as for his solid ideological background.


A group of materials that guided the design from a Japanese and Asian perspective


Sugiura The cornerstone of Japanese design is, above all, European orientation. I would say that 90% of designers have both feet firmly planted in Europe. When they think about how they started designing and how they got involved in society, many of them have completely lost sight of Asian and Japanese issues. In my case, I was invited as a visiting professor at the Design College of Ulm in West Germany in the 1960s, where I became convinced that Japanese people must stand on the basis of Japanese or Asian culture, and that a new view of design after the 20th century can be seen if this is taken as a starting point. I think this was a significant turning point. From 1960 to 1970, there were very few people in the world of graphic design who took the stance of trying to break away from European or American influences in design. But in the field of architecture, for example, there were quite a few people who focused on such ethnic, or cultural differences. I graduated from the Department of Architecture at the Tokyo University of the Arts, so I guess I had a slightly different perspective from the world of graphics.
Anyway, I think the reason they were so enthusiastic about collecting my books was because they thought that Sugiura must have materials from a different standpoint from conventional design materials.
I have a collection of about 5,000 books, two-thirds of which are related to Asia. This includes some that you can't find in any library. This is because whenever I travelled around Asia, I bought books at local bookshops, antiquarian bookshops and museums, and Mr Nagasawa fully understood the contents of these books. Nagasawa is a valuable person who has a viewpoint to discuss design in the world, so I think he was determined to build up the Sugiura Collection from his own unique perspective. As I mentioned earlier, it is worth mentioning that he not only collected the works, but also collected the various materials behind the works together with them, and also carried out research on the works and organised exhibitions at the same time.


 It's a wonderful, unprecedented thing.


Kagaya Professor Nagasawa approached professors from several departments at MAU and set up a joint research project for three years from 2009 to 2011, entrusting the Sugiura Office with the task of analysing design methods and formative thinking by Sugiura himself and compiling them into a DVD. For example, in fiscal year 2009, the two research themes were “The Idea of One is Many, Many are One, and Book Design" and "The Mandala Book Design Universe", and a public lecture was held at MAU in January 2010 to present the results of the research. A DVD and booklet summarising the results were packaged and delivered to MAU.


Sugiura Preparation was difficult as 400-600 slides were prepared for the two-hour lecture. A recording of the lecture is also available on DVD, which can be viewed in the library at any time. It shows how my book design methodology was constructed and deepened.


Kagaya The results of research into typography, letterforms and Sugiura's favourite “noise” have also been compiled in a DVD and booklet. The accumulation of such research enabled the retrospective exhibition "Vibrant Books: Methods and Philosophy of Kohei Sugiura's design" to be held in autumn 2011. Since the "Wind and Lightning" exhibition in 2004, we have made many videos explaining the design methods in collaboration with the excellent staff member Inka Shimbo. The videos are designed to show Sugiura's design process in a three-dimensional, dynamic way. It also shows the background to Sugiura's involvement with Asian design.


Sugiura This was only possible with the help of the crystalline body of wisdom that is the book. Can a medium that has preserved the wisdom of mankind since ancient times, now transferred to electronic media, and then stripped of its originality along with various other media, still demonstrate its uniqueness? There are many points that can be discussed based on this archive.


Kagaya For the "Wind and Lightning" exhibition, we asked the excellent programmer Maki Kimura to develop a search engine for the magazine.


Sugiura The system was a ground-breaking experiment: 40 different magazine covers I had designed floated around on the computer screen, like a cluster of planets floating in space, and if you selected, for example, the cover of “Ginka", 160 covers would appear in a great circle.


Kagaya Based on this experience, for the "Vibrant Books" exhibition, we asked them to create a search engine that allows you to view all the back numbers of a series, such as "Kodansha Gendai Shinsho" or "Kadokawa Sensho", at once. The weakness of such a search engine is that it cannot be used when the version of the computer is upgraded, but it is interesting because it is unique to computers.


 By the way, Mr Sugiura, you have been involved in editorial and other design activities. You have also conducted research on Asian scripts, design and history while working in editorial design.


Sugiura Right. I have authored a number of books on Asian iconography, which I have named "Banbutsu Shoo Gekijo (Theatre of Correspondences)", such as "Japanese Forms, Asian Forms", "Forms Come Alive: Spirits of Asian Design" and "Drumming the Cosmos". I also extract interesting stories, the essence of Asian design, and give lectures on them.


 So the archives and lectures are a recapitulation and culmination of that.


Sugiura Designers often end up talking about their own work, but in my case, the other pillar of my ancillary research is on Asian mythology, mandala theory and European alchemy. Such materials have been compiled in this archiving.


 It coincides with Leonardo da Vinci's exploration of physical anatomy and nature in order to paint.


Sugiura My research on Asian iconography has focused on the 70s and 80s, but by the late 90s, Asia had undergone a major transformation and globalisation, and its former richness had been lost. The vitality of Asian culture and the interest of Asian iconography up to the 1980s can probably be said to be the last to be documented by the materials and research I have collected. I believe that there are a number of valuable things to be found.


 So there are things in Mr Sugiura's collection that will never be available again.


Sugiura That's right.


Kagaya The following text describes the characteristics of Sugiura's collection of iconographic books.
"Kohei Sugiura has been collecting books since around his thirties, dreaming of creating a 'museum of iconography' from his collection. He has always attached more importance to iconography than to texts and has collected both large books and pamphlets with the attitude that he would acquire them if they contained even a single valuable iconography. Diagrams and maps are particularly important, and books that provide the basis for illustrative ideas have been collected.
In terms of cultural areas, the focus is on Asian iconography, with an emphasis and vigour on the iconography of India, China, Korea, Thailand and other South-East Asian countries, the Islamic cultural sphere and Japan. The basic themes are mythological iconography, ethnographic material, and especially cosmological iconography and illustration. Many European books were also collected as an extension.
Various forms of iconography are collected from many other genres, except for politics, social institutions, and economics. There are also books on cosmology, mechanics, the origin of things and their historical development. In the world of art, there are books on the study of mythological iconography, including fantasy painting, and on the development of alchemy".
These archiving and joint research projects could not be handled by MAU's budget alone, so both Professor Nagasawa and Ms Honjo, the administrative director, worked wisely to raise the funds.
With the cooperation of MAU professors, museums, and libraries, we were able to transfer artworks, materials, and library collections, while at the same time working out the exhibition structure and design based on the results of three years of joint research and editing the catalogue at the same time... all on a last-minute schedule. The exhibition was held on schedule from October 2011 as planned.


Book design that cannot be reproduced in the modern day


Sugiura The exhibition is not just a retrospective of my work, but also a showcase of the results of the joint efforts of the staff, the printers, editors and many others. I was determined to create a record of my work that would make each of them feel that they had done it too.


 So this archive is truly a product of blood, tears and youth.


Sugiura So yes. That's why, from the very beginning of organising the archive, I worked desperately with the help of Kagaya and the staff. I think it was because we faced this kind of ambition that the archive became a living resource. Of course, I cannot thank everyone at the MAU museum and library enough for their enthusiasm and hard work. Takefumi Murai, who was in charge of the transfer and organisation work from the very beginning, has the whole picture of the archive firmly etched in his mind, and it is reassuring to know that he is still in charge with passion and a sense of responsibility.


 So the work process was, as you said earlier, a printing experiment itself.


Sugiura For example, in the luxury-bound art book project, I tried to reproduce Tibetan mandalas and Botticelli reprints, foil-stamped dozens of pages of text, struggled to reproduce collotype printing with precision, and many other things. The plate-making staff of Dai Nippon Printing and Toppan Printing often came to me for advice, and I myself made books while barging in even in the middle of the night to printing sites where ordinary people would not be allowed. At one time, I was making a considerable amount of books. A thousand different themes came to me, from ancient times to the Middle Ages to the present day. I also bind encyclopaedias. There are also scientific books, contemporary philosophy and books on spirituality. I knew that in order to design a book that would respond to all of this, I would have to be in touch with the author, if not the same as the author, then at a much deeper level. Even if I were to focus on the theme of shadows, I would always be looking for books that would provide me with material for my designs, as I was trying to get close to the content of each book, such as finding out what the shadows on the ground actually look like. I need a lot of different things. So I didn't just collect books because I liked books, but at the same time I collected books and materials, as necessary, as support to address each theme.


 Graphic designers often seem to discard the process part of their work, partly because it can be reproduced, and in the end only the poster remains. As Mr Sugiura is a book person, I had guessed that you would have left the process behind, and after hearing your story, it was exactly as I had expected.


Sugiura In my case, too, I have to relentlessly discard things like handwritten notes. To put it a bit crudely, many graphic designers are an extension of painters. They illustrate a single poster with an enthusiasm that competes with those who paint. Posters are put on the wall, so it's a job without a back, i.e. it's one-sided. In contrast, book design is multi-faceted, and a book cannot be a book unless it has dozens or hundreds of pages. In this sense, the method of amplifying the theme is completely different from that of posters. Since I am working mainly in such a different medium, I basically have no intention of competing with the artist. Rather, I'm interested in how to sculpt a multi-page thought process with depth. So, I don't really try to condense it into a single sheet.


 I was excited to see the archive of your work so far, the intensity of which is so extraordinary. Nowadays, books don't sell and only easy things can be made. I felt strongly once again the presence of Mr Sugiura, who has revolutionised the times. You are very happy.


Kagaya Looking back, we feel we were just lucky.


Sugiura There were many instances where I happened to be at a point in time when the transition from one media to the next was taking place, or when publishers were changing from the conventional, or in short, I happened to be at a node of sorts. I was thinking hard on the spot and came up with ideas that, in retrospect, were innovations of the time or ahead of their time. I think I was also lucky. But I still think there was also my own effort. Because we pursue things in depth and profundity, it takes about ten times the usual amount of effort. With the total amount of work involved, I think I really worked myself to death. I may be able to say it like a funny story now, but I have been working without sleep for quite a while, and it was frantic. It was not uncommon for me to finally eat breakfast at around 7.00 pm. That happened all the time.


 I think that the fact that the things that have been accumulated without wasting even a single moment have now taken shape as archives and remain is what moves people again. There are many things in the world that are created on the spur of the moment, but today I have realised that only things that are completed after thorough investigation can bear fruit.


Sugiura Looking back, I can see that I was often approached by people who were at the top of their field at their time. In the publishing industry, I had the good fortune that the peak of the publishing industry coincided exactly with the time when I started working on book design. I guess it was a time when I was able to take on challenges with publishers and technicians, even if I would normally have been reluctant to do so, because it sounded interesting.


Kagaya The MAU museums and libraries have taken several initiatives after the exhibition to preserve and utilise the Sugiura archive in a living form. Work is still in progress to digitise the archive. We are running out of time to talk about this today, but we hope that you will interview MAU museums and libraries to find out about subsequent developments.


 It is a wonderful trajectory. With regard to Mr Sugiura's archive, we would like to supplement the archive information by interviewing the museum and library at Musashino Art University and Kobe Design University in the future. Thank you very much for your time today.




Location of Kohei Sugiura's archive Musashino Art University Museum & Library


1-736 Ogawa-cho, Kodaira-shi, Tokyo 187-8505, Japan Tel: 042-342-6004 Fax: 042-342-6451

Design Cosmos: Sugiura Kohei Design Archive