Let’s Go, Tohoku: The Powerful Advertising Campaign for JR East

Fall 2016 (Yamagata Prefecture)

Since 2011 JR East, one of Japan’s major passenger railway groups, has been running a powerful advertising campaign called Let’s Go, Tohoku (行くぜ、東北). In an interview in 2015 Dentsu Director Yoshihiro Yagi, who has been spearheading the campaign, explained that the idea was conceived in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami because the best way to support the region was to get people to go there.

Now, the campaign has won Japan’s top tourism award.

Winter 2016 (Akita Prefecture)

“There must be something we can do,” Yagi recalls saying. This eventually led to the campaign slogan Let’s Go, Tohoku, which is both a cheer but also a call to action. The posters, now in their 7th year, have largely remained the same in concept and typically feature minimal but powerful photos of trains with the slogan in small, bold letters. At the bottom of the poster, in small font, it reads “You can’t meet by e-mail. Meet on the rails.”

Since 2016 the campaign the photographs have emphasized the geometric properties of the infrastructure like bridges and tunnels that support the trains. The Winter 2016 photo (above) is one of my favorites, and almost looks like a painting. But they’re all real photographs with very little digital retouching. “If you look closely some of the trains are quite dirty,” said Yagi, but they were intentionally left that way.

Yagi does stress the difficulty and dangers of photographing trains though. The photos were all taken during normal operating hours so safety was a top priority. The crew had to camp out in locations for whole days taking photos each time a train would pass by.

left: Summer 2017 (Aomori Prefecture) | right: Winter 2016 (Akita Prefecture)

The campaign has won various international advertising awards over the years like the Cannes Lions and the One Show awards. But this recent series was recognized by Japan’s Tourism Poster Contest and took 1st prize out of 231 other entries.

Fall 2016 (Yamagata Prefecture)

Spring 2016 (Iwate Prefecture)

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