Tokyo Olympics: Design at the 1964 Games

Tokyo has been eager to host the Olympics again for years and finally it has got its chance! With strong competition from Madrid and Istanbul, many of us weren’t sure who would be selected right till the end, but at last Tokyo’s second Olympics will be happening in 2020. Congratulations, Tokyo!

So now everyone has to start their real preparations. PingMag will of course be keeping a close eye on the design. And as revision we wanted to take a look back at the design for the first Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in 1964.

Around twenty years after the end of the war, the event marked Japan’s full reconstruction and entry onto the global stage again, and in this sense it was a landmark event for Japan and the Japanese. Ahead of the Games, infrastructure was pushed forward not only for Tokyo but around the nation, and led to a massive demand in new color television sets. It also brought a big economic boost — one of the sources of Japan’s prosperity today can be traced back to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And for such a huge national event, needless to say the design side of things was very important too and it engaged the talents of the industry heavyweights at the time.

tokyo-olympics-196401Tokyo Olympic Games Poster #1 (February, 1961)
Design: Yusaku Kamekura

The 1964 Olympics emblem was designed by Yusaku Kamekura. Legend has it that Kamekura forgot when he had to submit his design and on the day of the deadline got a phone call. He dashed this out in less than two hours. Of course, that’s not to say that he just did it off the cuff — clearly he had been mulling over the concept for a long time in his head. The design has real impact and perhaps cannot be bettered for its striking minimalism. It was apparently picked unanimously from twenty (or, according to some, forty) other designs. The logo then became the first poster for the Games.

tokyo-olympics-196402Tokyo Olympic Games Poster #2 (May, 1962)
Design: Yusaku Kamekura, Photographer: Osamu Hayasaki, Photo Director: Jo Murakoshi

This is the second poster and is likely the most famous visual image of the Tokyo Olympics. As with the logo, the design is by Yusaku Kamekura. He understood that he would not be able to outstrip the design of the first poster using the same technique, so he took a different tack and used photography. Saying that, this snapshot was not easy. To get the image where each runner’s face could be seen took multiple sprints, and the poster’s image was finally chosen from 100 shots.

tokyo-olympics-196403Event Symbols
Design: Yoshiro Yamashita

tokyo-olympics-196404Facility Symbols

Pictograms were employed to help get over the language barrier that arises when people from all over the world gather together for the Olympics. There were symbols for the various competition events plus facility symbols for the signs indicating restaurants and seating and so on. The event symbols were by Yoshiro Yamashita, while the facility ones were by ten designers, including Ikko Tanaka, Shigeo Fukuda, Tadanori Yokoo, Aquirax (Akira) Uno, Tsunehisa Kimura, Keiko Hirohashi, and Ryohei Yanagihara. The themes like “restaurant” or “theater” were handed out and everyone drew pictures, and these were then brushed up by Tanaka, Kimura and Hirohashi.


tokyo-olympics-196406Entry Tickets (1964)
Design: Hiromu Hara, Yoshiro Yamashita

tokyo-olympics-196408Signage symbols for stadiums and other venue facilities (1964)


The signs at the venues as well as the tickets and programs all made use of the pictograms for a design that was not only attractive but also intuitive, one that everyone could understand.

tokyo-olympics-196410Olympic commemorative semi-postal stamps (1961-1964)
Masaru Kimura, Hideo Hasebe, Hitoshi Otsuka, Saburo Watanabe, Minoru Hisano

Commemorative semi-postal stamps are also essential at this kind of large-scale event and it goes without saying that the Games had their own. The highly limited first edition was popular, to the extent where on the day they went on sale many children played truant from school in order to line up at post offices to get their hands on the stamps.

tokyo-olympics-196411Map for overseas visitors (1964)
Koichiro Inagaki

tokyo-olympics-196412Map for overseas visitors (1964)
Koichiro Inagaki

tokyo-olympics-196413Map for overseas visitors (1964)
Koichiro Inagaki

Just before the start of the Games there were lots of items produced to help overseas visitors navigate Tokyo, from posters to maps and guidebooks. We love these — please use them next time!

tokyo-olympics-196414Poster for ‘Tokyo Olympiad’ (1965)

A film was released after the Olympics commemorating the Games, directed by Kon Ichikawa (‘The Inugamis’). Perhaps because ‘Tokyo Olympiad’ was made in a much more sophisticated style than such documentary films till then, the Cabinet Minister in charge of the Olympics is

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telling Ichikawa to go back to the editing studio after he saw it at a screening. In spite of the controversy it was a big hit, raking in ¥1.2 billion at the box office.