A 6-year-old girl’s scribblings of cats that inspired one of the most recognizable company logos in Japan were found decades after they disappeared.
The original crayon drawings were discovered buried in documents inside an aged cardboard box stored at Yamato Transport Co.’s warehouse in Gunma Prefecture.
The cats on the yellowing paper led in part to the company’s current logo of a black cat carrying a kitten in her mouth, a symbol called “kuroneko” (black cat) that appears on the fleet of the nation’s largest parcel delivery service provider.
“I was stunned by the discovery,” said Miki Shiratori, a 57-year-old manager at Yamato Holdings Co., the parent company of Yamato Transport. “I had never heard that the original pictures even existed.”
Shiratori, who is overseeing a project scheduled for 2019 to celebrate the centenary of Yamato Transport’s founding, said the drawings were uncovered in February last year when her team sifted through old documents to compile the company’s history for the commemorative event.
The documents in the box were assembled about 30 years ago for literature explaining the company’s history at that time. Since then, the documents had remained largely forgotten.
An in-house magazine 31 years ago mentioned that Yamato Transport’s logo was created partially based on drawings by a company employee’s child. People in the company knew this story, but no one knew if the original pictures existed.
The child drew on both sides of the A4 drawing paper. One side showed two kittens at the foot of their mother; the other side depicted a mother cat with a kitten near her mouth.
Yamato Transport’s current logo was adopted in June 1957, after the company modified a design used by a U.S. business partner.
The American company’s logo was a realistic drawing of two cats gently holding kittens in their mouths.
Yamato Transport’s founder liked the U.S design because it seemed to “capture the delivery service provider’s approach toward work.”
One flaw for the Japanese company, however, was that the cats had a Western appearance. Yamato Transport decided it needed a logo featuring a cat that could be more familiar to people in Japan.
Takeshi Shimizu, a public relations official at the company back then, struggled with the logo design. But then he saw his daughter’s drawing.
“I got the sharp ears of the cats from her picture,” he was quoted as saying to a colleague.
Shimizu died nine years after Yamato Transport’s logo was born, while he was still with the company.
“He treasured his daughter’s drawings, keeping them inside a desk drawer long after the logo was completed,” a former colleague said.
Shiratori said the kuroneko logo is an “indispensable symbol” of Yamato Holdings and its affiliates.
“If people glance at this logo, they will instantly know that companies with this logo are members of the Yamato group,” she said.
Yamato Holdings is considering setting up a facility to display memorabilia in connection with the 100th anniversary of the founding, possibly including the girl’s drawings.