Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Abstract Logo: Practical Applications for Visual Anthropology

(Image comes from

An interesting query from H-ASIA:

Dear H-ASIA fellow members:

An acquaintance is working on a project. Since it is internet-based, and he is naturally concerned that it have a positive image worldwide, he would like to know if the abstract logo... actually means anything in, say, Japanese, Chinese, Korean. He would be thankful to know if it has any meanings or could infer anything that may have an adverse effect on the international image.

Any comments please?

I find this request to be very enlightened. When working with logos, abstract or otherwise, it is always a good idea to figure out what kinds of meanings they might evoke. Recall the problems that occurred when the Chicago Cubs in an advertising campaign used the image of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy flag in the background of a photo of their new player Kosuke Fukudome. Simple research into the problematic use of such a symbol could have prevented offending American war veterans and Japanese peace-niks.

I offer some possible ideas about the above logo from the Japanese context.

Does it resemble the kanji character, (which generally means old)?

Does it resemble the mask of sentai ("Power Ranger") characters or Ultraman characters?

(Sentai characters image borrowed from

(Ultraman characters images borrowed from Shahizan Homepage)

Does the logo resemble or remind one of the masks worn by professional wrestlers and/or professional wrestlers-turned-politicians?

(Image borrowed from Japan Probe; the Great Sasuke became a member of the Iwate Prefectural Assembly in 2003 and later ran for governor - he lost...)

Does the logo resemble or remind of samurai armor? I imagine many of the above examples are based upon samurai armor, but I am hardly a specialist in these areas.

(Image borrowed from

Have I taken this exercise too far? Maybe yes, maybe no. The meaning creation process involved with symbolism is complex. Interpretants (see Peirce) and chains of associations (see Saussure) are rooted both in cultural contexts and individual experiences. So, once again, I applaud the businessperson making this inquiry. Is the information in this post helpful? Are these the kinds of meanings you hope to generate for your business? What do other visual anthropologists have to say about the logo and/or the ideas expressed here?


Joe said...

At first glance, the logo does seem to resemble an aggressive facial expression. The downward-curving line definitely looks like a furrowed brow, but it could also be a person sitting with their legs crossed and arms raised. As for the kanji for furui, lacking the second stroke, there isn't much of a likeness there.

On an unrelated note, a brilliant revelation came to me in my sleep last night - Mugi-chan's name is a play on the Japanese name for barley tea! ...Right?

visual gonthros said...

Thanks, Joe, for you comment. I thought the kanji was a long shot, but I still mentioned it. I wonder - and I have no experience with Korean - if it might resemble Hangul.

Mugi is named after mugi shochu; the friend that gave me Mugi likes to drink mugi shochu. I usually drink kokuto or imo shochu but I have gained a new appreciation of mugi.

I am constantly adding new pics of Mugi so click on Mugi under the Labels menu to see how she is spending her first new year's holiday.