National

Tokyo Olympics logo designer says he's 'shocked' by plagiarism claim

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

The designer of the emblem for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games said Wednesday that he was “shocked” and “pained” that a Belgian theater logo designer had accused him of plagiarism.

Kenjiro Sano, a 43-year-old Japanese art director, told a packed news conference in Tokyo that his Olympic emblem, unveiled last month after winning an international competition featuring 104 applicants, was completely his own.

“I put all of my knowledge and experience as an artistic director” into creating the logo, Sano said. “I was shocked and found it hard to accept, to be honest. But I’ve never been to Belgium, nor seen the logo even once.”

Using a diagram, Sano explained at length how he came up with the emblem’s design. He said he was inspired by how the letter “T” — which stands for Tokyo — is drawn in two existing typefaces: Didot, which features thin, elegant strokes, and Bodoni, which features thick, dynamic lines.

He said he decided to create a “T” incorporating both typefaces, and then placed it inside a square and laid it over a circle, with Japan’s “Rising Sun” flag in mind. The logos for the Olympics and the Paralympics have the same geometric pattern, though they look different because they are colored differently. The two emblems reflect his idea that the two games are equal, Sano said.

In contrast, the theater logo is presumably drawn from two letters, “T” for Theatre and “L” for Liege, Sano said.

Hidetoshi Maki, head of marketing at the organizing committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, confirmed reports that Olivier Debie, the designer of the logo for the Theatre De Liege, sent a letter to the committee raising issue. But he refused to discuss details of the letter, adding that the committee will reply directly to him.

Debie sent a letter seeking the retraction of the emblem and asking the committee to provide a response within eight days, according to media reports. He has reportedly said he will file a lawsuit in a Belgian court if there’s no response.

Maki said the Tokyo organizers checked international trademarks before deciding on the logo and determined that there was no problem. He added that his office never came across the Belgian logo because it wasn’t trademarked.

Besides Debie’s work, the Tokyo Olympics logo sparked attention on the Internet for its similarity in colors to a design conceived by Spain’s Hey Studio to solicit donations for victims of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku. Sano denied there were similarities between them, saying he never referred to the Spanish logo either.