Four illustrators create alternative mascots for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games
Shun Sasaki, Ikki Kobayashi, nuQ and Taro Uryu produce two mascots apiece, one each for the Olympics and Paralympics.
The Olympic and Paralympic Games are always a cause for celebration. Taking place every four years, they are a reminder that, even in divided times, certain events see people come together, united behind one goal. This year will see Tokyo hosting the summer Games and in anticipation of this, we got in touch with four illustrators and asked them to embody the things they love about their native Japan (and some aspects they’d like to see improved) in two mascots, one for the Olympics and one for the Paralympics.
Representing vastly different illustrative styles, but combining various elements of Japan, from sushi to cherry blossom to snow-capped mountains, here’s what Shun Sasaki, Ikki Kobayashi, nuQ and Taro Uryu came up with.
Together, Shun Sasaki’s mascots represent the power of humanity, their forms borne from the kanji words for human – 人 – and power – 力. Their names, Jin-Kun and Riki-Chan, derive from the pronunciation of these words, with 人 reading as “jin” and 力 as “riki”. The additional suffixes of Kun and Chan are in place as signs of respect.
Visually, they are soft characters, full of voluptuous curves and rolls but there’s an oddness to their shape, one that Shun describes as slightly “creepy and strange”. Contributing to this somewhat darker undertone is the inclusion of Jin-Kun and Riki-Chan’s “ugly” tattoos depicting the Yen sign. This was included to reflect the debt Japan has taken on in light of the Tokyo Olympics. Ultimately, however, Shun’s mascots are not meant to represent doom and gloom, but merely take into account both the positives and negatives that events such as the Olympics bring to their host nations.
Ikki Kobayashi’s mascots, Tsuru and Tsubame, are a testament to the saying “less is more”. Executed in a flat red colour, the two birds are packed full of meaning and connotations. They were made from the contour of the Sun – an element representative of the Japanese flag (from which the birds also take their colour), the origin of the Olympic flame and, as with Taro’s mascots below, they are a nod to the changing seasons. Tsuru takes the form of a crane and Tsubame the form of a swallow, both migratory birds who fly in to “announce the starting of the Olympic Games”, as Ikki puts it.
Each bird then also incorporates the shape of a leaf: a gingko for Tsuru and a cherry tree for Tsubame, representing winter and summer respectively. Together, Tsuru and Tsubame are a complementary and dynamic pair, harbouring notions of good news, celebration and advancement. Most importantly, though, they signify Japan’s deep respect for nature and the four seasons.
If you were going to select two instantly recognisable symbols for Japan, then sushi and folding fans would rank among the most well-known. It’s for this reason that nuQ chose to create two mascots by the names of Sushi Ichiro and Sensu Futako. Both amalgamate traditional Japanese colours and kawaii elements.
But it’s in the naming of each mascot that nuQ really played around. When spoken together, the words Sushi Ichiro means “double happiness” in Japanese. Sensu Futako, on the other hand, mimics the word “sense” in English. By combining the English and Japanese pronunciations of both mascots, nuQ has pushed humour and playfulness to the fore. Sushi Ichiro and Sensu Futako are a lighthearted embodiment of the things many people around the world associate with Japan.
Called Mt. Grace and Wish-wave, Taro Uryu’s mascots represent the rich transition of the four seasons – an important element of Japanese culture. According to the illustrator, their names incorporate some of the blessings that nature brings and the gratitude the people of Japan feel for them.
It is said that there are over eight million gods in Japan and that they dwell everywhere, particularly among nature. It’s for this reason that, upon their heads, Mt. Grace and Wish-wave wear fictional priestly costumes. The mountain wind and sea breeze, which create the shape of the sun, however, are in reference to the Japanese flag. Taro’s mascots, therefore, bring together religiosity in their names, the power and beauty of nature in their form, and the ancient rituals of Japan in the prayer costumes they adorn.
Supported by Google
Google is proud to support It’s Nice That’s Preview of the Year in championing a broad and inclusive creative community. We believe that design is critical to building great products and experiences, and we’re committed to supporting best-in-class efforts like Material Design – a unified system combining theory, resources, and tools to help designers and developers craft beautiful, digital experiences – and Google Design. At Google Design, we produce original articles and videos, host events, and champion creative and educational partnerships, with the goal of supporting and inspiring designers and design technologists. Sign up for the Google Design Newsletter to learn more.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.