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    Explore Japan Through Vibrant Illustrations


Artist Kenji Aihara discusses his work on the 2022 FUSO calendar and how he gives form to his imagination.

Calendars are an important part of Japanese culture. It’s a traditional gift for aisatsu, an end-of-year greeting, where companies meet with their clients (often in person – pre-COVID) to reconnect and reflect on the year coming to a close. FUSO’s 2022 calendar reflects its deep roots in Japan and its ambition for the future. Its pages are adorned with vibrant illustrations of Japan’s cityscapes and countryside, with connected roads in which FUSO vehicles proudly roam.

These illustrations delicately balance reality and fantasy, pulling us into an exciting, almost dream-like world. How does alluring art like this come about? We talk to the artist, Kenji Aihara to find out, stepping into the mind of the artist.

My father was a garage mechanic, so I grew up surrounded by a variety of vehicles. On days the service garage was closed, time was spent playing inside, quietly climbing into the back of customers’ trucks.

My love for driving and automobiles continues today. One particular stretch of road in Atsugi city, south of Tokyo, remains my favorite regardless of the season. As you ascend the hill just past the train station before crossing the bridge, the Tanzawa mountain range suddenly bursts into view through the windscreen. It’s a truly magnificent scene of Mt. Oyama’s beautiful shape, resembling Hawaii’s Diamond Head.

THROUGH AN ILLUSTRATOR’S LENS  Ever since childhood, I’ve enjoyed drawing. Because of this, it was only natural to study art. After graduating from Musashino Art University, a career drawing presentation materials for a design company began, before becoming an independent artist in my early 30s.

Since my university days, drawing with the correct perspective is something I continue to be mindful of. At the same time, drawing ‘correctly’ simply for purity’s sake is no fun. Illustration involves exaggerations and abstractions.

Intentionally ignoring the rules of perspective brings reality closer to fantasy, making it easier for viewers to correctly interpret the idea within the work. It’s important to depict images in a way viewers will feel comfortable with and immediately establish a clear sense of perspective.

RELATED TOPIC  Get a behind-the-scenes look at the 2023 and 2024 FUSO calendars here.

Perspective is not the only place a perception gap arises between reality and the imaginary. For example, somei-yoshino cherry blossoms in actuality are almost pure white in color. However, in illustrations they are often depicted as pink.

To create the association between the vibrant illustrations of flowers to actual cherry blossoms, artists fill that perception gap by coloring the flowers pink. Selecting colors that viewers ‘expect’ to see is an integral part of my design process.

AN ARTIST’S TOOLS  After using traditional pen on paper, the initial sketch is scanned and digital work begins. Because of the advanced software, I am able to continue working in much the same way as my early days while retaining an analog look.

Another benefit to working digitally is that by zooming in, you can add endless amounts of detail. However, at times I find myself putting in details so small they aren’t visible when the work is printed.

INSPIRED BY JAPAN  The inspiration for the six vibrant illustrations in this year’s Mitsubishi Fuso calendar come from the beauty and richness of Japan’s vast landscapes.

JAN/FEB  A persimmon tree adds a warm touch to the winter scene of UNESCO World Heritage village Shirakawa-go.

MAR/APR  Cherry blossoms in the ancient capital of Kyoto offer the quintessential Japanese cultural experience.

MAY/JUNE  Mt. Fuji and the blue sea connect the viewer to Shizuoka, one of Japan’s largest tea producing regions.

JULY/AUG  Tokyo’s Sumida River fireworks festival is said to best represent summer in the nation’s capital.

SEPT/OCT  A Super Great navigates the urban maze as a harvest moon rises over the chilly autumn sky. 

NOV/DEC  The blue tones and dominant circular interchange create an almost futuristic cityscape for the eCanter.  

A sense of the season and unique location are emphasized in each work. By laying them out side-by-side, the roads in each illustration link, making them appear to be one continuous landscape. Additionally, when viewed from a distance, letters emerge to reveal a visual secret hidden within the images.

While the subjects of the vibrant illustrations are based on real places and seasonal traditions, the goal is to depict them as they are recollected and reshaped in my imagination and show how the vehicle is integral to the world around it.

So what’s the key to creating compelling art? After stepping into the mind and process of Kenji Aihara, it seems that great art is equal parts memory, imagination and conscious decision making, supported by control over one’s tools – a balance of logic and magic that creates craft that moves people.