Yusaku Kamekura

Yusaku Kamekura, born April 16, 1915, was a prominent designer of the post-war period. Kamekura sought to bring Japanese graphic design to the international scene with his unique blend of Bauhaus-influenced design mixed with traditional Japanese themes and aesthetics. His work would go to not only define Japan’s post-war, but also the general aesthetic as well as the ideals of the time.

Kamekura was born into a world at war, right in the middle of WWI. As he grew up and developed his interest in the expression of emotions as well as time through graphic design, the Bauhaus Movement was finding its way to Japan. Kamekura was trained at the Institute of New Architecture and Industrial Arts (Shin Kenchiku Kogei Gakui), which was unique at the time due to it being a school built by a Japanese man, Ranahichiro Kawakita, and being heavily influenced by Bauhaus works. This effort to bridge the gap between western and eastern design trends came following the Japanese defeat in WWII in 1945, which led to the Japanese combining and incorporating many western trends and influences into their society. One of these contributions was the development of graphic design as a mainstream form of design in Japan.

Right out of his education, Kamekura went on to study under the German-trained, Japanese photographer, Yonosuke Natori. Here, he learned much more about constructivism and Bauhaus directly and various methods of incorporating traditional Japanese themes into this distinctly western art style. His career would eventually lead him to work on the branding for Nikon (Nippon Kogaku). Here he would develop poster advertisements for the camera company that would represent a sleek, modern aesthetic with his use of strong geometric forms and contrasting colors as seen in his piece ‘Nikon’ (1955). Alongside these advertisements, he worked on the team behind Nippon Camera magazine, which was a photography magazine that took traditional Japanese symbols and forms and blended them with the design trends of the time. Some of the covers would use photographs to emphasize certain aspects of the 2-D design, which Kamekura would use a lot more in the following decade.

Kamekura had a brief stint as a logo and corporate branding designer following his time with Nikon. Kamekura’s forms and designs during this period continued to reflect his abstract take on design. He viewed western logo design and branding styles as iconic, memorable and timeless, which the Japanese, at the time, were only imitating. Because of this, he set out to push his understanding of what went into branding certain companies and used simple shapes with strong, geometric forms to create timeless pieces for various companies. Some of these works include the logo for Taiyo Kikai-Kogyo Machine Factory (1943), Daishowa Seishi Paper Mill (1966), as well as the Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Company (1952).

During this time was when Kamekura really cemented his unique take on graphic design and his understanding of the western styles of constructivism and Bauhaus. His work was seen as contemporary as it was being designed around trends that, not only were big at the time but also simplistic in nature with minimal uses of color. His use of color, while minimal, was bright and imaginative, especially when paired with his use of black backgrounds to bring out most of the color and the texture. He would often incorporate photography into his work to contrast against his simple geometric forms and layouts.

Following his brief freelancing period, in 1962 Kamekura would go on to set up his own design firm with all the attention he had garnered in the past decade. Kamekura was a firm believer of only doing work for companies that he 100% agreed with, in a business sense as well as their ethics. In terms of his personal life and interests, He has said that he is a huge fan of anything regarding sports or athletics. This might have influenced him a bit when he was approached about 2 years later to work on some branding aspects for the upcoming Olympics ceremony in Tokyo.

His breakout design performance was definitely his work on all of the posters done for the Tokyo Olympics posters done in 1964. The period was the “revival” of Japan as an economic power and Kamekura set out to demonstrate this globalization with the use of constructivist style designs with this branding. For the series, he would use photography to create an interesting and vivid contrast between the events and the Olympic rings. Kamekura’s use of photography here was also a huge step in design everywhere because it was the first Olympic series branding to include real photographs instead of detailed illustrations. This was done to further push his ideas onto the Japanese design scene and later the world, seeing as he, “thought that it would make the Hinomaru [modern Japanese flag] look like a modern design” (Kelly 45, Kamekura 1966). This project was an essential metaphor for the combination of western design trends with styles and symbols of the Japanese aesthetic.

After this project, Kamekura would continue his career focusing mostly on poster design. His next standout performance was the poster design for the 1970 Osaka Expo. This poster was a marvel of implied texture, strong geometric forms and dynamic uses of color. At this point, he was now an international designer that was not only pushing the Japanese ideals of graphic design but creating them. Kamekura’s passion for design, as well as his love for his home country, would go on to help define an entire era for design all over the world.

His effort to introduce these new trends to the Japanese didn’t just stop at the work that he produce. He was interested in literally bringing these trends to Japan like he did in 1955. Kamekura had organized a wide, open gallery of works from prominent designers from all over the world including Paul Rand. This was crucial to iintroducenot only the concepts of international design to Japan, but also the larger concept of graphic design to the masses. As Japan’s economy grew, so did their need for excellent branding and packaging designers.

Japan’s economy was focused very heavily on exports and people are more inclined to purchase things with good design. Kamekura went on to establish the Japanese Advertising Artist’s Club (JAAC) in 1951. This is one of many other reasons Kamekura was portrayed as the “father of Japanese graphic design.” He set out to introduce these concepts to the Japanese people, but he also went out of his way to create opportunities for more Japanese designers to emerge onto the quickly growing field. Another one of these contributions can be seen in his co-founding of the Nippon Design Center, in the 60’s, with multiple large company sponsors. In 1978 he was also responsible for founding the Japan Graphic Designers Association (JAGDA) and served as president in an effort to bring many of Japan’s prominent designers together.

Kamekura would continue his efforts of improving the standards of what Japanese graphic design is through JAGDA for many years of his later life. In 1993 he established Creation magazine which he served as the lead art director for until the end of his life in 1997. Also, in 1993, he was inducted into the Tokyo and New York Art Directors Club (ADC). Yusaku Kamekura was honored for his many contributions to the emergence and fostering of the concept of graphic design in Japan following his death.

Works Cited:

“Company | TAIYO MACHINERY Co.,Ltd.” 日本語, www.taiyokikai.com/en/company/.

“Graphis.” Yusaku Kamekura – Portfolio – Graphis, www.graphis.com/master-portfolio-slideshow/yusaku-kamekura/design/#1.http://brainmag.sendenkaigi.com/post/126991609085/power-of-design-yusaku-kamekura-demonstrated-at

“History | Nippon Design Center.” Nippon Design Center, Inc., www.ndc.co.jp/en/about/history/.http://www.designishistory.com/1960/yusaku-kamekura/

“Kamekura, Yusaku: YUSAKU KAMEKURA: HIS WORKS. Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha, 1971. An Inscribed Copy in Slipcase.” Modernism101.Com, 16 June 2015, modernism101.com/products-page/graphic-design/kamekura-yusaku-yusaku-kamekura-his-works-tokyo-bijutsu-shuppan-sha-1971-an-inscribed-copy-in-slipcase/#.WsZFcIjwaHv.

“Yusaku Kamekura.” ADC • Global Awards & Club, 1993, adcglobal.org/hall-of-fame/yusaku-kamekura/.https://collection.maas.museum/object/349928

“社団法人 日本グラフィックデザイナー協会 JAGDA.” JAGDAAbout JAGDA, www.jagda.or.jp/en/about/.https://medium.com/@kailindong/yusaku-kamekura-biography-8b15c3fcb0c7


Kelly, William W., and Susan Brownell. The Olympics in East Asia: Nationalism, Regionalism, and Globalism on the Center Stage of World Sports. Yale University, Council on East Asian Studies, 2011, elischolar.library.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1002&context=ceas_publication_series.