Interview: Dove Project #ShowUs with Taiyo Kitagawa
By Mei Edwards
One of the main objectives at Hapa Mag is to highlight our fellow Hapas in all aspects of life, challenging what we have been told most of our formative years is the "norm." Among the most obvious culprits that perpetuate the issue is the media industry— both in ads and in the people involved behind the scenes. Thankfully, in more recent years, there's been a huge push for inclusivity in media from companies searching for more diversity within their teams to portray more of what is actual, present-day reality in their work.
When I learned that my friend Taiyo Kitagawa was working as an art director on Dove’s Project #ShowUs, I was, of course, excited for her and also excited for our Hapa community. "One of us" was going to be a lead on such a high-profile campaign where the objective of the entire project was to call out all industries, demanding that they start putting their (ad) money where their mouth is— to show us inclusivity and, in this case, for everyday, female-identifying people. I caught up with Taiyo upon her return from Cannes Lions where they won a prestigious Glass Lion for Change for the Project. We spoke about the campaign, working in advertising, life as a Hapa, and of course, followed with our standard, fun Hapa Mag favorites.
For our readers that don’t know, what makes you Hapa? Do you identify with this word?
My mother’s Japanese, and my father’s American (Caucasian). I grew up in Japan as “hāfu” so the word Hapa was a later introduction, but it’s relatable.
What’s the best thing about being Hapa?
Being able to empathize with multiple cultures. Also, going to an Asian market and knowing all the best snacks.
You just worked on the very successful Dove campaign, Project #ShowUs, challenging media and advertising to portray a more inclusive vision of beauty. How were you involved and how’d you feel about the experience?
Project #ShowUs is a massive undertaking tackling how female-identifying people are portrayed in media. There were a lot of incredible people who were involved in making this project a reality, both at my agency (Publicis Sapient) as well as at Dove, Girlgaze, and Getty Images. As an art director, I was involved in how the campaign came to life, selecting photographers, and the photos that went on Getty Images. Besides the overall look and feel, I was responsible for putting these images out in the world as Dove ads— everything from print, outdoor ads to digital billboards in Times Square and London’s Piccadilly Circus.
The best part of working on this was being able to connect with so many women around the globe when the project launched. Seeing all the subjects, who are ordinary women, not models, and female photographers be genuinely excited about being featured in places that are usually not reserved for them was such a powerful experience. I still message a lot of them on Instagram on a regular basis, even about unrelated topics.
What has your experience been as a Hapa and a woman in the advertising world? Do you feel like there is real change happening?
Advertising as a whole is still very white-male dominated, and it was painfully obvious at Cannes Lions. Despite efforts in the last few years to advocate for female creatives, I believe the industry still has a long way to go, especially for female leadership. Being Hapa has let me give some cultural input when concepting — I can’t stress enough how important it is to have diverse perspectives when working on a campaign.
What has your experience been like when you are interacting with Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans. Do you feel “accepted” or do you feel like an outsider?
Most Japanese people I meet in the states are quite surprised when they find out I’m Hapa and that I’m fluent in Japanese. Even in Japan I do get treated a little differently, and I’m used to the game of “twenty questions” whenever I meet someone.
As we see on your Instagram you are an extensive traveler. What’s your favorite place you’ve visited, and what’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
Picking is so hard! I’ll narrow it down to three places that were drastically different from my environment, culturally and geographically: Iceland, Rio de Janeiro, and Havana. Food-wise, going back to Japan and eating everything in sight doesn’t count, right? Since it’s warm, I have Greece on my mind— the best salad I’ve ever eaten was a Crete version of a Greek salad in Chania.
Do you drink boba tea? If so, what’s your go-to?
Yes! I keep it simple with a classic milk tea.
Do you get Asian glow?
I’m lucky and don’t 90% of the time.
Favorite Keanu Reeves movie?
I recently rewatched The Matrix, and it still holds up, but I might go with My Own Private Idaho because also River Phoenix and Gus Van Sant.
I’m moving to Berlin in October! I’ve received an opportunity to be an associate creative director at an agency there. It’s a drastic change, but I’m excited for the new environment and challenges ahead of me.
Any words of advice for the Hapa Mag community?
Don’t let off-beat comments get to you. I’ve come to realize that some people can’t make sense of a person unless they can be easily categorized. Being from multiple backgrounds is an asset and you should be proud of it.