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Local graphic artist issues logo challenge to Japanese man he says plagiarized his work
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A few drafts of a design Benn Zaricor, a local artist, created as a logo for the 2020 Olympic Games in Toyko sit out at his Gainesville home. - photo by Erin O. Smith

In Japanese culture, the notion of honor is highly regarded.

It’s ingrained in the country’s fabric, with roots in ancient Samurai codes — or “Bushido” — revered to this day.

Gainesville resident and artist Benn Zaricor understands and accepts this. That’s why he’s issued a challenge to the Tokyo man he believes stole from him.

Zaricor learned of the alleged plagiarism last weekend when a member of the Japanese media called him for a quote.

Kenjiro Sano is a graphic designer who is fighting allegations that he plagiarized the logo for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. He also came under fire recently for designs on a series of tote bags created by his company for Japanese beverage giant Suntory.

One of those designs, Zaricor said, was his. The art in question is a red arrow sign with the word “beach” inscribed across it.

“They didn’t just copy it. They took the actual image. It’s not a question of doing something similar. It’s pretty forensic. You can see here where the wood is gouged and distressed,” Zaricor said, dragging an index finger across his original wooden sign. “No two are alike.”

Several different Japanese media outlets visited Zaricor at his business, Zaricor Originals, last week, and he’s been getting phone calls “like crazy” asking what he thinks about all this.

Zaricor is currently considering the prospect of legal action for plagiarism of the red “beach” sign, but in the meantime — and in the spirit of Olympic competition — he has issued an online challenge to Sano to see who can design a better logo for the 2020 Olympic Games.

The Olympic logo Zaricor designed features the iconic red sun from the Japanese flag and a single wave in the shape of a “T.” The wave pays homage to The Great Wave off Kanagawa, an internationally recognized Japanese woodblock print created during the 1820s.

Sano’s design of the current logo for the 2020 Summer Olympics is the subject of controversy due to its similarities to a Belgian theater company’s logo.

Concerning the subsequent plagiarism accusations involving Suntory tote bags, Sano released a statement Aug. 14 on his website apologizing and admitting that his design firm may have made a mistake.

“We are currently in a situation where we are causing concern among many people,” the statement said. “In response to the current situation, we have asked Suntory Beer to take down some of the designs. We have begun investigating and examining the issue together with specialists.”

In a later statement, Sano admitted that “following an in-house investigation, it was found that we traced designs created by a third party for part of our designs.”

It was not clear as of Saturday whether Zaricor’s beach sign design had been removed from Suntory’s tote bags.

Zaricor felt Sano’s statement wasn’t much in the way of an apology. And, Zaricor’s wife, Debbie, is livid.

“My husband has worked so hard for so many years,” she said. “These other people just knock it off, and do it the easy way. They don’t put in the work. It really just kills my soul to see what he goes through so that someone in another country can just steal it.”

Benn Zaricor said the Japanese “consider it very bad, what Sano has done. They take this stuff very serious. You’re talking about a culture that holds honesty and integrity in high regard.”

Kazumoto Sasaki, a native of Shizuoka, Japan — which is about an hour and a half from Tokyo — said the scandal with Sano boils down to “plain stupidity.”

Sasaki, who currently lives in Atlanta, said the people of Japan have “an old school mindset about business and professionalism ... dating back to the history of the Samurai. There’s a lot of pressure to be successful, but there’s just as much pressure to maintain honor. It’s definitely in the core foundation of Japan and what it means to live there.”

Tokyo was announced as the host city of the 2020 Summer Olympics on Sept. 7, 2013. Sano’s logo was unveiled in July 2015.

Finding motivation in the alleged artistic slight, Zaricor unveiled his idea on Aug. 17 for the 2020 Summer Olympics logo on his Gainesville company’s Facebook page.

“I challenged him to a creative duel,” Zaricor said, smiling. “He’s never responded, but 95 percent of the Japanese people who see it on our Facebook page seem to like it.”

Zaricor’s logo has garnered thousands of ‘likes’ and hundreds of “shares” on Facebook. Most of the recent activity on his page, he said, is coming from Japan. In addition, he’s played host to countless members of the Japanese media over the past week.

In regards to the media’s questions about whether he’ll seek legal action, Zaricor said he’s mulling it over.

“The way I was raised, suing somebody is kind of frowned on. You want to give someone a chance to rectify the situation before you take that kind of action,” Zaricor said. “Instead, I’m going to give (Sano) an opportunity to save his honor by apologizing to me and offering monetary compensation for what was stolen.”

Added Zaricor: “I don’t want to dishonor him by suing, but in the end I probably will have to ... if he doesn’t act honorably.”

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