Staff Reporters
May 18, 2023

Creative Minds: Seafood curry and smiling children, Ryuma Kodaka's recipe for happiness

Strength from football, patience from bartending, and risk-taking abilities from scaling mountains, the BBDO creative's journey to becoming a powerhouse is inspirational as it is accidental.

Creative Minds: Seafood curry and smiling children, Ryuma Kodaka's recipe for happiness
In Creative Minds, we ask APAC creatives a long list of questions, from serious to silly, and ask them to pick 11 to answer. (Why 11? Just because.) Want to be featured?

Name: Ryuma Kodaka

Origin: Kanagawa, Japan

Places lived/worked: Tokyo, Japan

Pronouns: He/him


  • Senior creative director, I&S BBDO, Tokyo, 2021-present
  • Creative director, Grey Tokyo, Tokyo, 2019-2021
  • Associate creative director, Grey Tokyo, Tokyo, 2017-2019
  • Senior art director, Grey Tokyo, Tokyo, 2015-2017
  • Art director, DDB Japan, Tokyo, 2012-2015
  • Art director, Advertising Production Company, Tokyo, 2009-2012
  • Graphic designer, Design Office, Tokyo, 2004-2009

1. How did you end up being a creative?

At university, I studied advertising theory. During the course, we learned about Volkswagen's ‘Think Small’ campaign, which sold me on advertising. In the 1950s, speed, style, and design were key considerations when choosing a car; the VW Beetle didn't have any of them.

The cars weren’t fast, and they indeed weren't pretty. The clever part was that VW admitted this boldly. They created ads that weren’t lifestyle but dark spots on white sheets. The ads effectively made a case for why owning a small car (or, more specifically, thinking small) made you bold and smart, explaining why these things were good things. In the process, VW turned the VW Bug into an iconic symbol of American pride.

My fascination with this graceful ad and its ability to alter people's perceptions of its value led me to realize, “This is what I want to do!” Having always been interested in design, I randomly called around 100 design agencies until I graduated, and one hired me even though I didn't have any design experience or knowledge, only a strong desire to learn.

2. What's your favourite piece of work in your portfolio?

One of Pantene's brand messages, "HairWeGo," explodes the Japanese stereotype of uniformity in job-hunting with its observations on job-hunting hair, symbolized by women’s ubiquitous tied-up hairstyle, called the"hittsume" hairstyle.

#PrideHair was one of the works we produced for Pantene as part of this new brand message. People who are LGBTQ+ are often forced to become someone else to find a job. As part of the #PrideHair campaign, we featured two ex-LGBTQ+ job hunters who let their true selves out through their hair, symbolizing their gender identity. Through their real-life stories, the campaign developed a message of courage and hope for LGBTQ+ job hunters who were struggling. Social networks were flooded with comments like "I was moved" and "I couldn't stop crying." It’s my favorite piece of work to date.

3. What's your favourite piece of work created by someone else?

'The First Take' response to Covid's restrictions on live performances by musicians, this brilliant campaign was born. Not only did it change the conventional advertising framework, but it also affected the music industry. Shot on a simple stage in a clean white space with only one microphone. An art direction that lets you focus on the sound and the artists. Infinitely expandable, regardless of nationality, origin, or genre. It was performed by musician Taiiku Okazaki, whom I consider to be a genius in his field.

4. Who are your favourite creative influences?

In secondary school, I grew up watching music videos on MTV. Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Fatboy Slim, Aphex Twin, Björk, Blur, Oasis, The Chemical Brothers… Music exposed me to design and creativity, so I consider music, above all, to be the key creative influence in my life.

5. What kind of student were you?

As a teenager, I lived and breathed football. Football was my life. When I was in university, I worked as a bartender after class. I spent hours listening to drunk people, learning to listen without becoming emotional. I think that’s where I might have unconsciously acquired the elements required for creative work in advertising (a strong body and patience) from my early school days.

6. What's the craziest thing you've ever done?

One night, without any preparation, I went for a trek on Mount Fuji. That was back in my student days. My friends and I suddenly decided to climb the highest mountain in Japan, Mt. Fuji (3,776 m). We started the climb at night to see the sunrise from the summit. We would normally have taken a break on the way up to avoid altitude sickness but managed to finish the climb in a single night. The summit was cold and surreal—zero degrees in the middle of summer and a sea of clouds below. As the sun began to rise, I felt my body temperature return and for some reason, tears started to well up in my eyes. I still remember the taste of the instant noodles I ate afterward, which sold for ten times the normal price.

7. Do you work best under pressure, or when things are calm?

Well, under pressure. Looking back on my career, if I had the choice that would affect the rest of my life, I would choose a path that I would consider difficult. For my own selfish reasons, I believe it is important to constantly push myself to grow.

8. What’s your favorite music / film / TV show / book / other of the past year, and why?

Cube Escape: Paradox.

While I rarely play computer games, I recently got hooked on this escape game. The game involves a point-and-click riddle solving escape. I love the mysterious story, unique world view, and art direction. You play a game as well as watch a short film. The three-dimensional structure of the game and the short film, along with the visual worldview, impressed me.

9. Tell us about an artist (any medium) that we've never probably heard of.

Japanese musician named “Arakajime Kimerareta Koibitotachihe“ (translation: for pre-determined lovers). A lyrical electro-dub with unusual instruments such as a keyboard harmonica and theremin. When I was young, I saw them perform live at a club I attended for another musician. I was blown away by their live performances. This year the band celebrated its 25th anniversary and the fact that they were still going as usual really impressed me. Seeing the band's name again brought back a lot of great memories. 

10. What food can you not live without? What food would you be happy to never taste again?

My wife's seafood curry. It is delicious the day it is cooked but even better the next day. What I will never eat again is grilled frogs, cooked whole and served in their original form. I think, I was in primary school when I had them. I can hardly remember the before and after. I can only recall the visual of it.

11. What makes you really happy?

Seeing children smile makes me very happy. Maybe that's a common answer, but nothing can replace that feeling of seeing a happy child.



Campaign Asia

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