Digging through The Japan Times print archives in the basement of the company’s building in Shibaura, Tokyo, it’s fascinating to flip through history and see how the face of the paper has changed with the mood of the times.
From the Mejii Era (1868-1912), when the country was first opening up, through the rise of nationalism and World War II to postwar regrowth and renewed enthusiasm for the future in the lead up to the 1964 Summer Olympics and the bubble economy of the 1980s, the newspaper’s logo and design has evolved with each generation of readers.
Back in 1897, when it launched, blackletter (also known as Gothic script) typefaces were de rigueur for newspaper mastheads across the world, and I imagine that the founders of the Japan Times wanted their new product to instantly appeal to English readers who were familiar with The Times of London, The New York Times and so on. Including the image of Mount Fuji also tapped into the “Fujiyama” wave of Japonism sweeping Europe at the time.
In June 1903, the Mount Fuji mark was ditched and “The” added to the name for the first time, while the ornate blackletter type of the original logo remained.
In 1918, the company was renamed The Japan Times & Mail, and simply added “& Mail” in small letters under the top line. The logo regularly switched between that version and a single line version while the blackletter font slowly evolved into a much heavier weight in the mid-1920s.
On Jan. 1, 1933, with the rise of nationalism and Japan’s aggressive expansion into Asia, there was another logo change for The Japan Times & Mail and the typeface shifted to a bold slab-serif with all capital letters that matched the politics of the time.
Then in 1940, on the eve of the Pacific War, there was another change, to The Japan Times and Advertiser, and a return to blackletter, though this time the letterforms were more Germanic and less ornate than the 1897 and 1918 logos, perhaps hinting at the fascist type styles of Japan’s Nazi allies.
In 1943, the country was truly in the grip of war and nationalism, to the point that even using the English word “Japan” for the nation was forbidden and the newspaper had to change its name to Nippon Times. It stayed that way through the remainder of the war, Japan’s surrender and the Allied Occupation of the early ’50s.
In 1956, the mood of the country was rising. The allies had left and Japan was becoming a beacon of postwar capitalism. The slogan “Made in Japan” became globally synonymous with excellence and The Japan Times name returned with a new geometric sans-serif logo that captured the youthful energy of the late-1950s. It stayed that way for 30 years. For a generation of Japanese and expats who witnessed the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the 1970 Expo in Osaka and the bubble economy of the 1980s, this was the face of The Japan Times.
On March 22, 1987, for its 90th anniversary, the newspaper once again changed. As Japan’s economic bubble began to deflate, the font chosen for the new logo was Times New Roman, a font that was becoming the default for business and is today familiar to a generation of people who grew up with personal computers. In the 1980s, the 1956 logo must have felt dated and somewhat inappropriate for a national newspaper. The decision to shift to a more a corporate font suited the vibe at the time, and has carried The Japan Times for the past 30 years.
And now, here we are celebrating our 120th anniversary with yet another update — a new image for a new generation of readers.