The Japanese artist Kamaya Yamamoto is one of a group reimagining the flags of the countries competing at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games as samurai characters. Both big and small countries are represented in the World Flags project, including Jamaica. The project seeks to create samurai characters for all of the 200 nations at the Games. Yamamoto hopes the project will encourage people to embrace both the Olympic spirit and Japanese culture.
Samurai soldiers are unique to Japan and have made major contributions to the nation throughout its history from at least the 12th century. While samurais no longer exist, their value system of “bushido,” or the “way of the warrior,” which is based on honor and discipline, remains important in today’s Japanese culture.
When creating a flag-inspired samurai character, Yamamoto begins by doing research into the meaning and history of the flag’s colors and symbols. He then researches the culture of the country. For example, on the Jamaican flag designed in 1962, the green represented the land, gold symbolized the sun, and the black reflected the hardships experienced by its people. In 1996, the symbolism was changed as recommended by the Committee to Examine National Symbols and National Observances, which was appointed by then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson. The symbolism of the black color was changed to represent the strength and creativity of Jamaica’s people that allowed them to overcome challenges; the gold was said to represent the country’s wealth as well as its sunshine; and the green became the symbol of hope as well as the island’s lush vegetation.
Each character created by the 15 artists involved with the project who do the work in their spare time and do not receive payment for it, also comes with a short, written description of their personality, strengths, and weaknesses, similar to characters in a video game. Artist Kozo Yamada hopes that the characters will provide a way for people to learn about other countries because “That’s what the Olympics are about.” The artists have created samurai representations of 84 of the 200 flags of competing countries.
The design of the characters also has a collaborative element, as the artists sometimes poll Twitter users and ask them to vote on the most iconic symbol of their country. This approach has provided both positive and negative feedback for the artists, as citizens of Paraguay suggested their samurai reflects the nation’s famous Iguazu waterfall, while people in Spain objected to the use of a bullfighter to represent their country, as bullfighting is a stereotypical representation and bullfighting is controversial in Spain. After receiving the negative feedback, the artists changed the Spanish “samurai.”
Yamada hopes the images will cause people to become excited about the Olympics to counteract the fact that no one will be able to watch the Games in person because of COVID-19 restrictions. Most people will only be able to view the Olympics online, so the artist hopes the images offer some entertainment and relief “for all those tired of COVID-19.”
Photo – World Flags