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Designer holds hope for the future of Japanese creativity

by Sayuri Daimon

Surrounded by shelves filled with art books and magazines from around the world, Yasushi Fujimoto sits comfortably in his office in Harajuku, one of Tokyo’s trendiest areas.

Yasushi Fujimoto talking about Japanese creativity in his offices in Harajuku

From this district full of popular shops and restaurants, Fujimoto runs a company called Cap that provides art direction for magazines and print media advertisements. His company’s work is at the forefront of trends followed by youngsters across Japan.

The list of magazines that Fujimoto and his team of designers have directed and produced covers just about every popular fashion publication in Japan, including Olive, an an, Brutus as well as the Japanese edition of Vogue.

After graduating from Musashino Art University, Fujimoto cut his teeth in the industry with an eight-year stint at a Tokyo-based publisher. He set up Cap in 1983 and started chasing business with publishing firms.

Fujimoto confesses that every moment of his life — from walking down Harajuku’s upmarket Omotesando Street, to window shopping, to hours browsing countless magazines — is spent learning about what’s new and cool around the world.

“The speed at which fashion and trends change in this country is amazingly fast, and it is even accelerating. There are too many things I need to know and it’s hard to keep up,” the 51-year-old art director told the Japan Times in an interview.

But how Fujimoto sees Japan may be completely different from the view most middle-aged men have after experiencing a decade-long economic downturn. Fujimoto says that Japan, especially its youth, has an extraordinary energy for innovation.

Fashions in Europe and the U.S. are structured in a top-to-bottom hierarchy because famous designers such as Christian Dior release a season’s collection and set the trends, he says.

“But in Japan, it is the opposite — fashions that originate on the street ascend to the mainstream,” he says, referring to trends like “yamanba,” in which girls sport dark skin and shiny eye-makeup. “Someone on the street starts a unique style and it eventually becomes the fashion of the day.”

In an attempt to produce something new by tapping into the creativity of youth, Fujimoto set up a gallery, named Rocket, in Harajuku.

“Many young people have several talents,” he pointed out. “A person can be an illustrator, but at the same time he could be a DJ or a photographer. If we provide them with the space, they will be able to create something powerful.”

Fujimoto leases the gallery on a weekly basis to anyone who wants to be inventive. The space can be used for anything from a photo exhibition to a live concert to a combination of entertainment of any sort.

“Young people are so free that the faltering economy has no power to interfere with them,” he said.

But one thing concerns Fujimoto. Modern magazines filled with pictures and visual images of commercial products have become so similar to shopping catalogs that youngsters are getting out of the habit of reading books, he said.

“Take shoes for example. Magazines are full of all kinds of shoes sold at all kinds of stores.

“They only flick through the magazines glancing at visual images,” he said, admitting that he feels awkward about this situation because he is one of the people producing these same images.

But Fujimoto says Japanese people should be proud that they are highly skilled, citing a company like Sony Corp., which has produced cutting-edge electronic goods and robots.

“I hope such a gift will someday help the country lead the fashion industry as well,” he said.

Fujimoto also has advice for young people who want to pursue a creative career.

“Don’t be afraid to copy others,” he said. “I’m always stimulated by what already exists. I believe that unique ideas and products can be born by taking things as a model and developing them.”