Tokyo 2020 Official Art Posters: TOKOLO Asao - designer of the emblems 

Tokolo's poster feature his original designs of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic emblems each carefully drawn by hand

Picture by Tokyo 2020

The official art posters have become an iconic part of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

As part of the cultural and artistic legacy of the Games, 19 internationally renowned artists and designers have been involved in the creation of the Tokyo 2020 Official Posters.

To create one of the official Tokyo 2020 Art Posters, TOKOLO Asao, the artist who designed the official emblems for the Tokyo 2020 Games, used a compass and a set square to show the traces of the original drawing of the emblems. Tokyo 2020 spoke with Tokolo to learn about the message he wanted to convey to the world through his work.


The Concept

How did you come up with the idea of using the Tokyo 2020 emblems for the poster motif?

My art poster is based on the emblem. The Olympic and Paralympic emblems are both made up of 45 rectangles of three different shapes pieced together. By designing the Olympic and Paralympic emblems to share the same volume and dimension, I wanted to express ‘equality’; by combining three varieties of rectangular shapes, I wanted to express ‘diversity and harmony’ that connect people regardless of nationality, culture or ideology.

Each ‘individual’ piece is just an ordinary rectangle, but if you combine them according to a certain ‘rule’, they become a ‘group’ of rectangles that shape the emblem. This idea of ‘individual’, ‘rule’ and ‘group’ also exists in sport. There are certain restrictions such as in football where you cannot use your hands, in rugby you cannot throw the ball forward, and in boxing you cannot kick the opponent. Such ‘rules’ give depth to sport. In a way, it’s a discovery.

If you rearrange the pieces of the emblem, there are over 500,000 different configurations for the Olympic emblem and over three million for the Paralympic emblem. The individual units come together to form a ring. Some people say it looks like a flower, and I also still notice a different pattern and make a new discovery. You can look at it any way you want to.

201112_S002_0077 Tokolo
Picture by Tokyo 2020

Being selective in the creative process

Is there a reason you chose to hand draw the poster?

I decided to draw the emblem by hand for the art poster. The human body has its limits. That is why I thought I’d do something I can do only now. I may have also had a desire to get involved in the Olympic and Paralympic Games from a cultural angle using my body just like the athletes who compete with their bodies. Each line is written with a pencil, using a set square and a compass, and any mistake is deleted with an eraser. I saw my sweat dropping on the tracing paper, and I could feel my eyes getting tired. As I drew the lines, I was thinking, "Wow, how many times will I draw lines by hand like this in my life”. It was a raw process that enabled me to experience difficulty and joy that is different from computer-generated drawing.

Why were you so particular about using indigo blue?

There is a picture scroll depicting the Edo Nihonbashi area titled 'Kidai Shoran', which is currently at the Museum of Asian Art in Berlin, and in the picture scroll the curtain (called noren) hanging outside of the shop entrance is indigo blue with white writing on it. I really wanted to do similar. As the expression ‘jigoku-date’ (the process of dyeing in indigo blue and is considered one of the most difficult dyeing process in the world) indicates, the culture that coloured Edo (former name of Tokyo) is proudly preserved. The production of indigo blue dye gradually spread throughout Japan, connecting the entire nation by the indigo blue colour. Many dyes abroad also contain indigo, and indigo blue is used in many different cultures. It is a colour familiar to everyone and connects people across the world.

What is the source of your creativity?

The theme I have worked with for a long time is 'to pass something on'. For example, when you want to 'handover a baton' but you don’t know how, you can always make a baton yourself. As you struggle through the creative process, you may realise later that the concept is worth passing on to the next generation. I thought of the children as I was drawing the poster. I can’t run around with children like the young fathers, but I hoped to leave the children and next generation the emblem that I worked so hard on. In a way, the emblem and the poster are my baton that I‘d like to leave for future generations.

Tokyo 2020 Official Art Posters: Tokolo Asao

Passion for Sports

Do you have any sports experience?

When I was growing up I wanted to become a ski instructor. I was on the ski team too. I haven’t gone skiing in about 30 years, but I picked it up again since I got involved in the production of the Olympic and Paralympic emblems. I’m surprised how the equipment is so advanced now that it is so easy to ski. I’m also embarrassed to admit that I fell down and I couldn’t get up. The children were all laughing at me. I’ve been staying home all this time during the COVID-19 outbreak, so I better get back into shape! When I have more time, I am planning to start doing more sports. The Tokyo 2020 Games is a good opportunity to get people into the sports mode. I really like sports.

What are you looking forward to at the Tokyo 2020 Games?

I would like to see athletic events and rugby. I also look forward to the performance of the Para canoe athletes I met. I think I would be moved no matter what sport I see. There is always going to be an athlete that grabs your heart. So many people watch the Olympic and Paralympic Games at the competition venues and on TV, and the individuals watching the Games together form a group sharing the same emotions like the wonder and awe people feel listening to music, seeing the sunset or enjoying the cherry blossoms. The Games present an opportunity for people to share those feelings.

Even at the Rugby World Cup 2019, I thought the rules were too difficult for children to understand, but it didn’t take long for the kids to enjoy rugby and everyone shared the excitement.

You can also learn that there are different and unique individuals and ethnic backgrounds. ‘Connect with people’ and ‘to pass something on’ through the Tokyo 2020 Games. It’s the theme of my works to think and express how individuals come together and find a connection. In today’s world it is not enough to just connect, but the concept of solidarity (collaborating as members of society and building a relationship of mutual aid) is required as well.


Free live sport events. Unlimited access to series. Unrivalled Olympic news & highlights.
Sign up here Sign up here