Resolving to put its checkered past behind, a special selection committee for the local organizing committee 2020 Tokyo Olympics unveiled the new logos for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games: “Harmonized Checkered Emblem”.
In August last year, 2020 Tokyo Olympics abandoned the logo it selected after claims that the logo design had plagiarism issues. The logo design itself was also not very popular.
In November, 2020 Tokyo Olympics began a nation-wide contest to find a new logo design. Over 14,000 submissions was whittled down to four last month.
As you can see from the above four designs, the checkered indigo pattern is perhaps the simplest of the designs, and thus will be flexible in its use as it is placed on various marketing paraphernalia and used as a backdrop in various venues. As the winning designer, Asao Tokolo said, “I was thinking of something like a coloring picture that everyone can add their own color to,” Tokolo said. “White against indigo blue — it’s a very clean-cut expression.”
Another factor that may have gone into the selection committee members’ minds was the deep connection that the color indigo has in Japanese culture.
Indigo dye in Japan is a time-consuming fermentation process in which composted polygonum leaves are fermented in a mixture of coal, water, lye, sake and wheat bran, for example. In the past, this was the only way to create the color blue and so indigo clothes were worn only by the privileged. As the process to create dye became more widespread, indigo-colored cotton or hemp clothing became the fashion of the common person in the Edo period of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Here is a picture of a mid-18th century “hanten jacket” that a company worker would commonly wear.
Here is a picture of a traditional form of Japanese hand sewing called “sashiko”, which was common in the 17th century. Seamstresses would use a white thread to create repeated, interlocking patterns on an indigo-dyed piece of cloth. People who go to the hot springs or spend a night in a ryokan might notice such patterns in the robes worn after a bath.
Litmus is a company that still maintains the traditional art of producing indigo dye, and here is their explanation of indigo’s place in Japanese fashion history:
Cotton and indigo dye matched well together and indigo dyed material became a part of Japanese life as people believed it turned more durable through repeated dyeing. There was a saying such as “Insects hate clothes dyed with indigo.” People dyed many items such as farming clothes, hand towels, undershirts, floor cushion, and shop curtain. Famous “Ukiyoe” (trans. floating world paintings) artists like Hokusai and Hiroshige used indigo pigment and expressed that era eloquently. The blue referred to as “Hiroshige Blue” attracted worldwide praise.