For the past few months of my spring semester, I was on the Tokyo Team as an undergraduate planning fellow in the Visualizing Cities Lab. More specifically, I specialized in Tokyo Visual Media surrounding the 1964 and 2021 Tokyo Olympics, one of 3 other sub-groups (transportation and maps). In my group, we primarily discussed and retrieved archival materials to explore the impact of visual media on diffusing the Tokyo Olympics, how such materials were designed, and their implications on Japanese society. Our work integrated well into our whole-team sessions as well where we explored how maps and digital tools can be used to analyze relevant sources like maps to improve accuracy. My semester with the Tokyo team has been overall crucial for me to develop an interdisciplinary understanding of the Tokyo Olympics (I didn’t even know that there was a 1964 Tokyo).
Most of my time as a fellow was devoted to the Tokyo Visual Media sub-group. What first piqued my interest in Tokyo visual media was the vintage media book that Professor Weinstein bought one day. Before I entered the lab, I already had some experience with Japanese historical research. Last semester, I had researched and produced a mini-documentary on the history and commentary surrounding the Japanese women’s-only train system in the Gender and Political Economy class. There I was first exposed to the mannerism posters we discussed in the Tokyo team and the media book showcased. My still burgeoning interest in visual media and design further bolstered with urbanism eventually drove me to join the visual-media sub-group team. In the team, I was exposed to so much Japanese Olympic history that I had not encountered before. In particular, I was intrigued by the radical Hi-Red arts movement and the heavy investment in universalizing communication in the Olympics.
The Hi-Red movement was an arts collective where avant-garde artists made public art demonstrations to draw attention toward governmental urban reform. Upon being selected as the 1964 Olympics host, the government and corporations saw this as an opportunity to regain economic, cultural, and social capital on the world stage. Thus, mass sanitation, cleansing, and reconstruction efforts were implemented causing mass displacement and relocation in the Tokyo area in order to make the city “presentable” for the global audience. Hi-Red interrogated and fought against such commercialism and mass reform by targeting the authenticity and ethics of them. Seeing pictures of their demonstrations and reading about them was very fascinating.
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were also the first Olympics to have used modernized graphic design. The consistency of Helvetica and adoption of pictograms were evidence. In order to bridge linguistic and cultural barriers, pictograms were designed to universalize communication, especially the events. My group spent a session analyzing the pictograms and we found an evolution in visual representation between the first and second Tokyo Olympics. The silhouette of 2021 bodies tended to be slimmers and sleeker. Shapes also had more rounded edges. We suspected that this may have been a manner to make the pictograms genderless to further universalize them. There, however, was still a great amount of noticeable similarities between the first and second Olympic pictograms. Some were almost the same in design. The visuals’ purposes were clearly used for Japan’s entrance into globalization.
I noticed this trend, when I was finding visuals to upload onto Omeka. Among the many graphics I encountered, I eventually selected a picture of Downtown Tokyo and the packaging and advertisements of Japanese Tobacco. The picture was of Downtown Tokyo one year before the 1964 Olympics, and corporations had altered the urban form with bright signs and rotating contraptions. The visual commercialization of the area seemed like it was fantasizing Tokyo to make the city palatable for foreigners. Conversely, tobacco packaging was geared toward Japanese citizens who were also enthusiastic about the competition. Packaging integrated the Olympics and even included limited-time promotions.
Overall, this in-depth exploration of visual culture was fascinating. Being a fellow at the Visualizing Cities Lab has propelled my passion for visual design and global urbanism.
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