The Tokyo 2020 Logo Controversy

2020 might seem like a long time from now, but the logo for that year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo has already been released, and you may or may not have seen some of the news coverage surrounding this controversial logo. As your trusted resource for custom logo design, we wanted to recap a few public reactions to the Tokyo 2020 logo and offer our insight into the olympic logo design as well.

Contrast with Past Olympic Logo Designs

Just to jog your memory before we delve into the topic, we have pulled images of several logos from past Olympic Games. What do these Olympic logo designs have in common?

Past olympic Logo design| DIY Logos - LogoGarden

These Olympic logos are, for the most part, bright, colorful, and fairly detailed. Also, with the exception of London 2012, these logos feature rounded shapes and smooth, flowing lines. The hues of these logos seem to match the energy and excitement surrounding the Olympic games and reflect the wide spectrum of colors in participating countries’ flags. Likewise, the shapes might mimic the swift movements of the athletes and the peaceful nature of this prestigious international gathering.

These past Olympic logos are considerably different from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games logo, which has a more subdued tone, sharper edges, and less color and detail. However, the contrast makes more sense in context with the logo from 1964, the last time the Olympic Games were held in Tokyo. The 1964 logo, by Yusaku Kamekura, is a similarly simple design with muted colors like those of the Tokyo 2020 logo.

Tokyo 2020 Logo - Olympic Logo Design | LogoGarden      1964 Tokyo Olympics Logo - Custom Logo Design | LogoGarden

Similarity to the Japanese Flag

The logos of the 1964 and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games have something else in common as well. They both pay tribute to the Japanese flag with a red dot on a white background. Critics claim that this distinct reference to the Japanese flag and the lack of other countries’ colors in the Tokyo 2020 logo makes the games appear less welcoming to other competitors.

Japanese flag - Olympic logo design | LogoGarden


However, there are caveats to that argument when considering Athens’ 2004 olive tree branch wreath and Beijing’s 2008 “Chinese Seal-Dancing Beijing.” Those Olympic logos certainly incorporate elements of their respective countries’ cultural identities without too much reference to other participants.

Beijing 2008 Olympic Logo - Logo Custom Design | LogoGarden     2004 Athens Olympic Logo - Olympic Logos | LogoGarden

 Additionally, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee claims that the red dot  of the Tokyo 2020 logo represents “the power of every beating heart” and expresses the “vibrant nature of the city and the welcoming spirit of its citizens.” The committee also explains that the marks on either side of the T and  are “upended quote marks to represent equality.” As stated in the official press release, the T stands for “Tokyo” and the words “tomorrow” and “team,” while the circle illustrates an “inclusive world in which everyone accepts each other,” and the color black indicates “diversity” because it is the “combination of all colors.”

Plagiarism Accusations Against the Tokyo 2020 Logo

Ultimately, the Tokyo 2020 logo’s contrast to former Olympic logo design, similarity to the Japanese flag, and official description by the organizing committee have been practically eclipsed by accusations of plagiarism against Tokyo 2020 logo designer Kenjiro Sano. Designer Olivier Debie brought the issue up on social media as he believed the Sano copied his logo for the Theatre de Liege in Belgium. Both Sano and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee deny having seen the Theatre de Liege logo before the Tokyo 2020 logo was created.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics Logo - Logo Design | LogoGarden     Olympic plagiarism scandal | LogoGarden | Olympics logo design

The Theatre de Liege logo itself wasn’t officially trademarked, so it may not have come up when the organizing committee was screening the Tokyo 2020 logo for originality, but Debie claims that his copyright on the design should make it a legal issue.

Custom Logo Design Lessons

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and it’s certainly not up to us to determine who is right or wrong in this controversy over the Tokyo 2020 logo, but we can all learn a few lessons from it.

First, do your homework before you create your custom logo. Look at other logos in your industry to ensure that you don’t accidentally copy any of them. You can draw inspiration from other organizations, but you want to design a custom logo that stands out to your customers, and you certainly don’t want to be accused of plagiarism.

Your custom logo probably won’t be analyzed internationally like those of the Olympic Games, but it’s always wise to prepare yourself for critics (of your branding, your business or yourself). Try your best to design a custom logo that resonates with your target audience and uniquely represents your business. However, remember that you can’t please everyone, and that’s ok, especially if you have reasons to back up the design choices you make.

Do you have an opinion on the Olympic logos we covered today? Comment on this post to join the discussion and share your perspective. Feel like you’re ready to design a custom logo yourself after reading this post? Go for it with our free DIY LogoMaker, and contact us with any questions.


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