Tokyo Camouflage – Interview with Designer Haruka Matsubara

Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage

Preface: We finally found Haruka Matsubara. In this post from 1st of March 2014 in the Designspotting Japan section we asked about any leads who this designer might be. It turned out Haruka Matsubara is a graphic design student at Musashino Art UniversityTokyo Camouflage is her graduation project.

We are delighted she was willing give us an interview!

Tokyo Camouflage – Graduation Work

Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Asakusa
Tokyo Camouflage – Asakusa/Tokyo
Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Marunouchi
Tokyo Camouflage – Marunouchi/Tokyo
Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Setagaya
Tokyo Camouflage – Setagaya/Tokyo
Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Shinjuku
Tokyo Camouflage – Shinjuku/Tokyo

About You

Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Design Process

I have yet to work on many big projects, so let me talk about my background first. I’m a true Tokyoite, designer born and raised here in Tokyo. Since childhood, I always loved making something, that’s why I chose to become a designer. I also had passions for other things, like while playing basketball in junior high school, I also learned Japanese traditional dance. I was all over places.

I went to art college, and ended up majoring in basic design. This is not about specific field like graphic design or product design, but more about thinking and philosophy behind cross-over design.

In college, I worked on stage design, book design, art curations, and other diverse projects as part of my studies or extracurricular activities. Rather than focusing on one particular area, I was more interested in experiencing design in a wider sense, so my area of interests continued to evolve. But whatever interests I had or projects I worked on, the one common denominator has always been ‘Japan.’

It’s natural because I am Japanese, surrounded by things Japanese, both environmentally and historically. I am always interested in anything Japanese, both old and new, from culture, food, people, customs, and thinking that goes with it. And it’s my intention to incorporate that rooted thinking in design. It’s not about expressing it, but immersing that thinking. This is my concept that applies to all of my work.

Which was your best project from studies?

Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Design Process
Tokyo Camouflage – Design Research

The best project was Tokyo Camouflage because it gave me the opportunity to think through the concept on my own for the first time, and also, I had the luxury of spending 1 year for concept development.

Theme on Tokyo is nothing new, and various professionals in various fields have already worked on it. So much information on Tokyo is available, and even if you don’t live here, you know Tokyo. But do we truly know Tokyo?

When you visit a country for the first time, you notice things that are overlooked by locals. This is because you see things with fresh eyes. The projects reflect that sense of newness, focusing on how to best showcase Tokyo with fresh perspectives.


Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Design Process

I started by thinking freely about how to capture Tokyo. Tokyo is so big, there are certain parts that are fairly dangerous. Then I came up with the story of ‘Tokyo survival’ and by incorporating humor, I thought about creating Tokyo’s camouflage wear. Honestly, the idea came suddenly to me.

Process & Research

Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Design Process

Once I had the mission to create ‘Tokyo ‘s camouflage wear’, I did a lot or research and that really made me think about what I wanted to do. Initially, I added colors to existing camouflage pattern that represented the city, but it wasn’t interesting and the color didn’t really blend well. That’s when I decided to create my own original pattern.

Design Approach

Right now, I’m interested in design ‘without the presence of a designer’. It’s not about the ‘controlled’ designs like corporate logos, but about random signs and very straight-forward ads that are all over town. They are not well-received in terms of aesthetics, as they visually spoil the landscapes, but they are refreshing in terms of expression and communication.


Through the Tokyo Camouflage project, I discovered Tokyo’s diverse features. We take things for granted especially in normal residential areas, but there are plenty of text-based visual information or usage of bold colors like orange combined with generic color palette. I was reminded of how much I am missing out on the details around me.


Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Design Process

I often see street snapshots of people wearing Gothic Lolita in generic residential area. And I am always fascinated by the visual gap between the bold fashion and the generic background. Fashion is about self-expression, reflection of inner self. It would be interesting to see it in reverse, have people dressed up according to the surrounding environment. This thinking is related to my project.

Three Steps

  1. Observation
  2. Organization
  3. Sophistication

Of these three, observation is the most important. It’s about seeing without your taste and images getting in the way. It sounds easy, but actually quite difficult. Without ill intention, designers lie or take the easier way because decision is clouded by personal tastes and images. Observation is about being neutral, seeing this without preconceptions. This is vital step in creating true design.


Whatever misunderstandings there are, I would like to accept them objectively. But if there is one thing, then it’s about the intention of my project. I didn’t do this project because I wanted to design clothes. It’s flattering for people to think that way, and this kind of impression makes me think more. But for this project, fashion was never meant to be the intended output. I want to clarify by saying that I choose fashion because I felt it was the most effective way of communicating my concept.


What was most difficult was the question of ‘how far should I go?’ Thinking too much about making the pattern beautiful made it look dull, or not blend well with the city. Thinking too much on the blend added confusion to pattern. How far should I continue to work on the pattern? Getting the right balance was most difficult.

Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Presentation
Tokyo Camouflage – Design Mockup | Frontside
Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Presentation
Tokyo Camouflage – Design Mockup for Shinjuku/Tokyo | Front & Back
Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Presentation
Tokyo Camouflage – Design Mockup for Setagaya/Tokyo | Front & Back


The best response came from my grandmother. Different generations can respond differently. She never understands when I tell her about my design, but she was fascinated by the project. I was very happy when she told me how intrigued she was by the project.


Haruka Matsubara - Tokyo Camouflage - Graduation Exhibition
Tokyo Camouflage – Graduation Exhibition

Right now, people talk a lot about design skill and approach. The word ‘design’ will be used more. And designers will be expected to offer more design thinking rather than specific skills.

Personally, I’m still going through the observation phase. Since finishing school, I have been able to see the wider world. I want to continue to make observation to develop interesting ideas.

I don’t what to have specific title like product designer and graphic designer. I want to pursue where my heart leads me.


Haruka Matsubara - Profile Picture

Tonight’s dinner was Hakata Ramen and I’m listening to FaltyDL’s Love is a Liability, alone in my living room as I write this.

I mostly listen to music recommended by my friends. It’s fun to find out their tastes.

In the Wild

If you watch above video closely you can find Tokyo Camouflage being walked in its natural habitat – Shinjuku/Tokyo.

Again, a hearty Arigato Gozaimasu for the insightful interview to Haruka Matsubara!

To keep up with her, head over to her Tumbler account. You are welcome to ask her any questions you might have: