Rei Inamoto, chief creative officer of AKQA, was born and raised in Japan, educated in Switzerland and America and is now based in New York. He tells Diana Goodman all about seeing his brother in the mirror looking back at him and how most advertising is “pollution”.
I like to keep my age a secret. Luckily, I’ve got to a senior position reasonably quickly and I like the idea of making people guess – to keep the mystique.
I live in Brooklyn, in an apartment. I keep my personal life pretty private.
An interesting fact is that I’m an identical twin. He’s an architect and happens to be in New York; we moved here together when we graduated from college in the 90s and I moved back here two years ago after five years in San Francisco.
Growing up, I personally thought it was great because I automatically had someone to play with as a brother and also as a friend. Our only issue was our younger brother, who always felt jealous.
All three of us moved away from home when we were 15, which is reasonably early. It came from the fact that when my mother was 18 or 19, instead of going to a Japanese college she decided to study abroad, in France. At that time it was totally unheard of for a Japanese woman to go overseas. Because of her experience, we grew up in a household where that type of progressive, liberal thinking was encouraged.
I would like to be seen as someone who is driven, with ease. I think there is a way to be driven and lead and move forward, but you don’t have to be an asshole to do that.
One of my quirky habits is that I don’t check my work email on my mobile. So my assistant has to text me or call me. I actually think it’s a myth that you have to check your email at that given moment and be on it. Eight out of ten times, if you call a person you can resolve something more efficiently and quickly than you can over email.
When I look in the mirror, I see my brother. There was one time I remember distinctly, when I was 17, I woke and went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and it freaked me out. I thought, “What the hell is my brother doing in the bathroom?” That only happened once in my life. We go through phases, like right now, where we don’t look alike.
I was born in Tokyo and then at an early age my parents moved to the countryside because Dad was starting up a business. We played outside – baseball, soccer, climbing trees – but also we had encouragement from our parents and teachers to be quite active in the art and crafts field. So that had an influence on both myself and my twin becoming artistically inclined.
My father was a physics assistant professor and taught at a university after he graduated. But he quickly realised it wasn’t his destiny, so he decided to change completely and opened his own furniture-making business.
I get on with my parents really well. I consider my mother to be my best friend – in addition to my brothers. My father is a visionary – probably one of the most driven and relentless people I’ve met. He doesn’t take no for an answer and never accepts failure.
I was at school in Japan until I was 15, and then from 16 to 18, I was at an international boarding school in Switzerland. That was definitely challenging for the first six months because I didn’t really speak English, but everyone was in the same situation: learning English and trying to make friends. After that it was great.
There were 300 kids from 70-plus countries, so it was as international as you can get in such a confined and concentrated space. That was one of my earliest influences. Being exposed to so many different people and cultures means I have a global and neutral perspective on everything I see and hear.
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