Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Raising the red flag

My page in this month's issue of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in-house magazine on the (over?) use of the Japanese flag's red circle in 2011. Here's the text:

ON THE RISE Is 2011 the year that saw the red circle of the Japanese flag (the hinomaru) weary as a design element? Illustrations from France, for example, collected in a book for disaster relief called Magnitude-9, extensively featured the red circle in various (often very imaginative and successful) ways; a website of posters, also for tsunami relief, centered almost wholly around it; and, of course, magazine designers justifiably employed it. Bloomberg Businessweek – almost universally admired for its design team – even found itself in a controversy when the Japanese Consulate General in New York lodged a complaint calling the design “inappropriate.” It seems Businessweek’s superb design of a crack-cum-crying face in the circle linked the destruction too explicitly with the hinomaru and the Japanese people. (One commenter on the web wrote: “You cannot destroy it like this without shattering our heart.” But another Japanese blogger pointed out that the circle alone represents the sun, not necessarily the people.) Other designs employed similar distressing of the circle, so perhaps only Businessweek’s prominence attracted the attention. And possibly the red circle’s ubiquity became part of the decidedly unimpressed reception of Japanese design-meister Kashiwa Sato’s new logo for the government’s “Cool Japan” project – the circle with “speed stripes” off to the left – when it was launched in September. Yet clearly, as a design symbol for Japan, the hinomaru isn’t going to disappear anytime soon.

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