Red Circle: Designing Japan in Contemporary Posters
In the 1980s, Japan’s strong trade surplus and currency were causing friction and antagonism overseas. In response, three renowned Japanese artists—Ikko Tanaka, Shigeo Fukuda, and Kazumasa Nagai—took on the challenge of changing Japan’s global image through graphic design. In posters promoting trade fairs, cultural festivals, exhibitions, and sporting events, they used a powerful language of simple forms, vivid color, and a touch of humor to foster—both nationally and internationally—a deeper understanding of the different faces of Japan and its long cultural history. Their eye-catching designs often incorporated familiar traditional symbols and motifs, notably the iconic red circle against a white background of Japan’s national flag. Archetypal animals, human figures, and landscapes borrowed from folklore and visual culture were also distilled into forms of iconographic clarity. These dazzling posters are a fascinating chapter in the history of Japan’s ongoing efforts to shape its identity in the post-World War II era.
Lead support for Red Circle is provided by AISIN, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and the University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies.