Okinami letterforms


A couple of years ago I posted an incomplete collection of record covers based on Hokusai’s prints, many of which included his most famous work, The Great Wave off Kanagawa. In our age of mechanical reproduction Hokusai’s wave has become as much an emblem for Japan itself as any of the official national symbols, reproduced endlessly in a variety of media while being subject to the usual 21st-century derivations and pastiches. This is a common fate for well-known artworks but Hokusai’s wave is one of the few that are flexible enough to be mutated into a seres of letterforms (you can’t really call this a font) like the ones we have here, a design created by Indonesian designer Aditya Tri which grafts portions of the print onto Garamond serifs. The name of the design, Okinami, is the Japanese word for an offshore wave.


Okinami is an unusual design but this isn’t the first time that Hokusai’s wave has been combined with letterforms. When Tomita’s “Musical Fantasy of Science Fiction”, The Bermuda Triangle, was released in the West it was given new cover art, with a gatefold illustration by Don Punchatz and a title design that added the Great Wave to the modified Sinaloa typeface which by this time had become Tomita’s signature font.


Design by Joseph J. Stelmach.

Are there other examples out there? I wouldn’t be surprised. Meanwhile, Hokusai’s print will be even more visible next year when it appears on the back of the new 1000 Yen banknote. A good argument for the retaining of physical currency, and further evidence that Japan gets all the best things.


Previously on { feuilleton }
Hokusai record covers
Waves and clouds
Tomita album covers

Tomita album covers


Snowflakes Are Dancing (1974); art direction; Joseph J. Stelmach; artwork: David B. Hecht.

The Japanese composer Isao Tomita died last week so I’ve been listening to some of his early recordings, and thinking—as usual—about their cover designs. Tomita was by far the best of the many electronic musicians in the 1970s who took advantage of the huge success of Wendy Carlos’s Switched-On Bach (1968) to create their own versions of classical music with Moog and other synthesisers. If this makes Tomita sound like an opportunist (and his 1972 collection of electronic pop covers was titled Switched On Hit & Rock), he quickly developed his own approach to electronic composition which ranged from quirky humour to his own brand of cosmic pictorialism. The latter was very different from the equally cosmic meanderings of Tangerine Dream which seldom strayed too far from the rock world. Tomita had a genius for taking very familiar pieces of classical music which he fashioned into synthesizer soundtracks for imaginary science-fiction films. (He also produced actual scores for a number of Japanese films but few, if any, of these were released outside Japan.) This approach is shown to great effect on The Bermuda Triangle (1979), an album that was subtitled “A Musical Fantasy Of Science Fiction”, and which filters Prokofiev and Sibelius through a library of crank paperbacks, with references to UFOs, undersea pyramids, Agharta, the Hollow Earth, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the Tunguska Event.


Pictures At An Exhibition (1975); artwork: bas-relief by Gene Szafran. The first appearance of the logo that became a fixture of Tomita’s albums. No designer is credited but I’d guess it was the work of Joseph J. Stelmach. The logo typeface is Sinaloa.

As for the covers, Tomita’s recordings may have been classical music but RCA targeted the albums at a rock audience so there’s no sign of the venerable composers heads that appear continually on the sleeves of orchestral recordings. The examples here are almost all the Western releases which, surprisingly, tended to have better covers than the Japanese originals. This is also a partial selection, favouring Tomita’s own releases (no soundtracks), and mostly the early albums. The later albums aren’t as impressive, and many of them were only released in Japan.


Firebird (1975). No design or art credit. I’d not noticed before that the logo evolves by degrees, here gaining some extensions.

Lastly, I’ll dedicate this post to my old friend Nik Green who died in March. Nik was a session musician of some note, and the first person I knew who owned a synthesizer (an ARP Odyssey). He was also a great Tomita enthusiast who shared Tomita’s sense of humour and relished the quirkier moments on many of these albums. I can’t listen to the opening of the Mars section of Tomita’s The Planets without remembering Nik shouting “That’s a Moog!” when a synthetic fanfare interrupts the sounds of a spacecraft lift-off.

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