In honour of the Tokyo Olympics a group of Japanese artists have created an anime samurai character for each flag of the 200 countries competing in the games. The World Flags project includes large and small nations, and in addition to boosting interest for the games the artists want to help people embrace Japanese culture by seeing their own countries represented as samurai characters.
1. Creating the characters
In order to create the characters, artist and project creator Kamaya Yamamoto starts by researching the meaning and history of a country’s flag, the colours and design, and their culture. A short bio on the character’s personality, strengths and weaknesses is then added, a bit like a character in a video game. The group of artists also sometimes include the public in their designs, for example using Twitter polls asking people to vote for the most iconic symbol or object from a country, so that they can make the characters accurate representatives of their nation. Such is the case for Paraguay’s character, which saw many responders mention the famous Iguazu waterfall and so it is mentioned in the character’s write-up that the samurai likes training there. The artists have also adjusted characters accordingly if countries have criticised theirs, for example their original design for Spain was a bullfighter, however following criticism on the controversial sport, a common stereotype of the country, the artists changed the design.
2. Spreading knowledge about other countries
Some designs have been very popular in their countries, such as Sri Lanka, whose character wears the colours of the country’s flag, representing the three main ethnic groups of the country (Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslims) and features a lion, just as the country’s flag does. A few embassies in Japan, including Honduras and Venezuela, have also contacted the artists asking to display pictures of their samurais. Kozo Yamada is another artist on the project and says, “We hope this can be a way for people to learn about other countries. That’s what the Olympics are about.”
3. Samurai warriors
The Samurai were male soldiers, a class of military nobility and a famous part of Japan’s history dating back to at least the 12th Century. Nowadays samurais no longer exist, however the way of the warrior, called “bushido” and based on honour and discipline, is a value system which is still considered important in the society and culture of modern day Japan. “Samurais are unique to Japan and we want everyone to get to know traditional Japanese culture,” says Yamamoto.
3. Olympics in times of Covid-19
Of course this years olympic games, already delayed one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, are still not running as they usually would. Spectators are not allowed to watch the games in person, and Japan is currently in a state of emergency because of the virus. The artists behind the project hope that the images will help to get people get excited and enthusiastic about the Olympics, despite only being able to watch on screens. “So hopefully our designs will provide a bit of entertainment and relief for all those tired of Covid-19”, says Yamada. There is a team of 15 people behind the World Flags project, who work on it in their free time and don’t make any money from it. So far they have created samurai characters for 84 of the 200 competing country flags.