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Media Release

For Immediate Release | August 19, 2020


Hiroshi Nagai: Paintings for Music

Mix sun-drenched summers by the poolside with soundtracks reminiscent of synth-pop and disco, and you’ll get Hiroshi Nagai: Paintings for Music, The Japan Foundation, Sydney’s upcoming exhibition exploring the relationship between Japan’s city pop music and the paintings of esteemed illustrator Hiroshi Nagai. Since his debut in the late 1970s, Nagai has collaborated with musicians and brands around the world, leaving his mark on contemporary culture and style.

This is the first international solo exhibition of Nagai, whose cover art for Eiichi Ohtaki’s A Long Vacation and numerous other iconic record jackets spearheaded Japan’s city pop music culture. On display will be a selection of 20 of the illustrator’s original works spanning his career, as well as a collection of record jackets made for a variety of music styles from Japan and around the world. The exhibition will run at The Japan Foundation Gallery from September 25, 2020 to January 23, 2021.

Details on the online catalogue and event program coming soon.


City pop arose in the late 1970s as a subgenre of the Western-inspired Japanese pop music and hit the height of its popularity in the 1980s. With Japan’s postwar ‘economic miracle’ reaching its zenith in the 1980s and the rapid changes to the social and cultural landscape, artists took many different music genres such as disco, soul, R&B and funk and threw them into a musical melting pot. 

From this, a new style of music called ‘city pop’ emerged to become the soundtrack for the life of Japan’s suddenly-wealthy working-class city-dwellers. City pop is closely associated with not just the economic bubble, but also Japan’s technological growth, including the development of Sony’s Walkman and inbuilt cassette systems for cars, all of which allowed music to be created with the intention to be listened to on the go. 

While city pop has been predominantly focused to Japan, in recent years it has found an international audience through the internet and as an influence on modern microgenres such as neo city pop, future funk and vaporwave.


Born in Tokushima City in 1947, Hiroshi Nagai first gained experience as a graphic designer before launching his career as a freelance illustrator in 1978. His work is distinguished by his illustrations of crisp urban landscapes and tropical motifs, as seen on album covers such as Eiichi Ohtaki’s A Long Vacation and Niagara Song Book.

Nagai’s style has gained iconic status and his work adorns album covers for numerous artists, including Naoya Matsuoka, Hiroshi Fujiwara/Hiroshi Kawanabe, Kiyotaka Sugiyama, Teen Runnings, ikkubaru, Sunny Day Service, and Kashif as well as the AOR breeze compilations. Today, he works not only as an illustrator but also as a designer, DJ and music critic.

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Gallery Hours

Mon–Fri: 10am–6pm
Sat: 10am–4pm

Closed on Sundays, October 5, December 22-25, December 28-31


The Japan Foundation, Sydney
Level 4, Central Park
28 Broadway, Chippendale NSW 2008


Exhibition entry is free. Bookings required.

Media Enquiries

Anne Lee
(02) 8239 0055

General Enquiries

(02) 8239 0055

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