I never knew I wanted to be a designer. For the longest time, I had no idea what design was. I studied at Musashino Art University, a selective private college in Tokyo. My first year, I was one of 23 students accepted in my class.
My department was Visual Communication Design, a wide-ranging field. Some of my classmates drew manga, others designed fonts, others made books. Like them, I had a tough time restricting my efforts to one field. I had to ask myself: Did I have what it takes? Could I be a designer? What kind of designer did I want to be?
Before my fourth and final year, I knocked on my teacher’s door and asked if he would hire me as an assistant. My audacity paid off; I was hired on the spot. It was a part-time gig, and after a while, I felt that I needed to step it up. Two years in, I asked a different teacher if he knew of any companies hiring. That led to an interview, which led to a job. What can I say? Being open to being helped can lead to good things.
Which is not to suggest I haven’t worked hard for what I have. In Japan, you can drive yourself crazy with work, far more so than in America. Yet, I find that it is more valuable to work with a purpose than it is to merely work harder than everyone else in the room.
I went to work for the company my teacher had recommended. After a few years, I learned that the company was close to bankruptcy. One by one, my co-workers left. I assessed my options. I could marry the man I was dating. I could join my co-workers in solidarity and look for work elsewhere. Or I could stay where I was and weather the storm.
One night, as I lay in bed, I asked myself what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. What was the end game? Where was I going to end up? At that exact moment, I realized something.
Tomorrow is my birthday. I am going to be 27 years old. In three years, I’d be thirty. What could I accomplish between now and then?
I quit my job.
I realized I had to go back to school. I was going to feed myself and pay my bills by doing the thing I loved most in the world: creating. Call it a birthday epiphany.
I once visited ArtCenter when traveling to see a friend. I had never considered the College as a viable option. It seemed too ambitious. However, I ultimately found myself in Los Angeles with two bags and zero English ability, ready to take on the world.
Understandably, my parents had questions. The most pressing one was, what would I do for money? I told myself that if I couldn’t land a scholarship, I would return home. Either way, post-graduation, I promised to move back to Japan. Obviously, things didn’t work out that way.
I started to learn English at a language school in LA. After putting my portfolio together and giving myself over to ArtCenter, I manifested the future I wanted for myself (thankfully, my scholarship covered more than half of my tuition). I was overjoyed. I studied as if I were a first-year design student, with a burning zeal to learn.
I applied for scholarship review every term, no matter how busy I was, determined never to let my parents pay for a dime of my education. I recall one day, after submitting my work at ArtCenter’s old South Campus building. I was sleep-deprived, my hair a mess. I left South Campus and began my drive home. It was 7AM. My tired mind was racing. I stopped at a red light, realizing I was having another birthday epiphany.
My birthday was tomorrow! And I was turning 30, attending my dream school, and doing what I truly loved.
BFA 12 Graphic Design
Independent Design & Branding, Los Angeles
Photo by Stella Kalinina BS 13 Photography
In Japan, you can drive yourself crazy with work, far more so than in America. Yet, I find that it is more valuable to work with a purpose than it is to merely work harder than everyone else in the room.Tomo OginoBFA 12 Graphic Design