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JR Group CI Design

Logo design for new companies when Japanese National Railways was privatized

CD: Yusuke Kaji AD/D: Yoji Yamamoto Editorial supervision: Kazumasa Nagai PR: Ikuo Gonmori AG: Dentsu

In 1986, political reforms resulted in the privatization of three public corporations (Japanese National Railways, Nippon Telephone and Telegraph, and Japan Tobacco and Salt). The National Railways Breakup and Privatization Act was adopted by the upper house of the Diet on November 28 of the same year, creating six new passenger railway companies and seven new freight railway companies. As part of this process, discussions were held between the Japanese National Railways project team and Dentsu regarding the design issues that were required by the new companies, including new company marks, company name logos, and color production. A creator who was suited for this mission was needed, and Nippon Design Center was singled out for this role. An NDC project team was launched, centered around the chief director Yusuke Kaji.

The mark subjects were the “JR Group” and “NR Group.” A wide range of other design proposals were also required. When I looked at my notes from that time, I saw that I had written, “It is likely that the choice of JR or NR will be based on the designs.” We had only 10 days until the presentation, and the number of designs created by all the designers reached more than 100. The proposals took a broad variety of approaches, from designs using the candidate abbreviations “JR” and “NR” for “Japan Railway Company” and “Nippon Railway Company,” designs which used the letter “R” to stand for “rail,” designs based on the rails of the six passenger companies, and a design which used a flapping bird to symbolize the image of rails. These were narrowed down to three proposals on January 14 of the following year. Takaya Sugiura, at that time president of Japanese National Railways took the three proposals back to his home and considered them carefully over three days. The result was that the simplest design representing the “JR” of the new company group was selected, and was completed after a final review by Kazumasa Nagai.

There was only a period of two and a half months between the mark design decision and the privatization of the corporation. During that period, we had to finish the company name logos and company colors for seven companies, develop applications, create manuals, create media presentation kits, and create tickets for each company, and produce an immense volume of work. We had no time. At first, Japanese National Railways had thought to have the new company marks on just a portion of the express trains and the Yamanote Line on April 1, the first day of private operation. “OK!” we said, “Let’s show them what NDC can do!” Nippon Design Center proposed to have the mark on all engines and cars with driver seats across the country by the initial privatization date. The plan was to create designs for each of 10,000 engines and cars in many different models all across Japan, and then have the Japan National Railways staff apply the marks by hand over several hours between the last trains on March 31 and the first trains on April 1. For this purpose we created the “JR Mark Application Instruction Manual” so that anyone could complete the work in a short amount of time. This instruction manual reached 110 pages, and due to the lack of time I drew the drawing instructions myself by hand. (Apparently these drawings today fetch a premium among railway fans.)

On April 1, the work for applying the new mark was completed all across Japan during just four hours between the last trains and first trains. It was a huge project that required the total force of the Japan National Railways staff.

Because train cars travel in both directions, the JR mark required a design which did not look unnatural when the train was moving to the right or when it was moving to the left. Attention was also given to making it highly visible even when the trains were travelling at high speed. The design was infused with a feeling of speed by the simple, shape composed of a single continuous stroke (connected rails). At the same time, in order to create a feeling of stability in the new companies, the image design placed the supporting angle of the “R” planted firmly on the ground.

Around the end of the Showa Era, names using the “J,” a practice which was started with JR, became a new trend. Examples included JT (Japan Tobacco), JTB (Japan Travel Bureau), J-Pop (term for Japanese popular music modeled after western pop), and J-WAVE (FM radio station). In the early Heisei period, we saw many more examples, including the professional soccer J-League, JA (Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives), JF (Japan Fisheries Cooperatives), and JP (Japan Post Group). This trend saw its beginnings with JR.

Yoji Yamamoto
Born in Hiroshima in 1943. Joined NDC in 1963, where he was in charge of Toyota business (domestic and overseas) for 30 years. Founded the Yamamoto Visual Message Institute before leaving the company in 2004.


  • Light green: A gentle color that grows to color a field after the first shoots break through the snowy landscape. Provides an image of a fresh and confident new company.


  • Light blue: A blue more brilliant than the blue of the Pacific Ocean. This is the clear sky blue that Shikoku, known as the “Blue Country,” is famous for. It symbolizes the freshness of a new company.


  • Green: A lush color from the Tohoku, Shinetsu, and Kanto regions. It symbolizes the future of a new company after a powerful start. It is also the color of the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines.


  • Red: The color of burning enthusiasm, suitable for a country under the bright southern sun. It symbolizes the ambitious approach of a powerful and bright new company that has started a race at top speed.


  • Orange: The color of the spreading dawn far beyond the vast eastern sea and sky. It expresses a fresh new company that is as fresh and vital as this orange color.


  • Container blue: A blue strategy for renewing the image of some 20,000 shipping containers. This color exhibits the freshness and reliability of a new company.


  • Blue: A color suitable for a region which showcases the culture and history of Japan. It indicates a company with close connections to the community, and symbolizes the richness of lakes and seas.


  • No color: A mark that represents the entire JR Group, consisting of six rail companies and one freight company. With consideration for universality at all Group companies, three no-color versions were created: black, gray, and white. (Gold and silver are also permitted.)