tsumi koto traced illustrations

Young Female Illustrator Outed for Copying Work and Actually Being a Man

Outed for stolen art… and being a man? This famous illustrator has a closet full of hidden secrets.

March 8, 2022
  • Tsumi Koto was recently outed for tracing photographs to create his own illustrations for profit
  • On top of this, Koto was outed for actually being a man in his 40’s instead of the young female he portrayed himself as
  • He was initially found out by internet slueths who outed him publicly and even now continue to find more and more evidence

Fakin’ It Till Makin’ It… and After Makin’ It with Tsumi Koto

tsumi koto outed for traced illustrations girl illustration
One of Koto’s illustrations. Image sourced from Yahoo Japan.

Have you ever heard people say, “fake it till you make it?” While this strategy may work in some cases, it also has the potential to backfire.  At the end of the day, it either works, or it doesn’t.  However, for a popular Japanese illustration artist named Tsumi Koto, faking it did not work in the long run.  

Another key component of the saying “fake it till you make it” has to do with the “till” part.  You see, Koto didn’t just fake it until he made it, he continued to fake it long after he “made it” in the art world.  

Known for his work as an illustrator, Tsumi Koto’s pieces were once often found in gallery exhibitions, posters, billboards, and most commonly, on clothing.  Koto’s artistic style utilized anime-esque illustrations often depicting women.  

Tsumi Koto Outed By Internet Users for Copied Illustrations

tsumi koto outed for traced illustrations photo comparison
A comparison between an original photograph and Koto’s illustration used in his Twitter profile picture. Image sourced from @takigare3 on Twitter.

When I say “Koto’s pieces were once found” in galleries and clothing etcetera, I’m referring to the fact that he was recently outed online in January for copying his work from other images and profiting off of their work without crediting them.  However, the story got even crazier when during all the backlash for his traced illustrations, Twitter users also found evidence that the young, charming woman “he” had portrayed himself to be was actually a 45-year-old man… if that sentence even sounds right. 

Now, Koto is facing all sorts of copyright infringement violations and social media posts about his “traced” work continue to pop up.  

tsumi koto outed for traced illustrations traced illustrations girl on fence
The original photograph someone found in comparison to Koto’s illustration was posted on his own Instagram account. Image sourced from NicoVideo.

Firstly, internet users on Twitter and YouTube outed Koto making his illustrations by tracing pictures of women taken by photographers.  One YouTuber known as KoreKoreChannel posted an hour and a half live stream video proving that Koto’s work was traced by dragging slightly opaque photographs above his illustrations to show they were identical. Koto sold some of these illustrations in the past for more than 150,000 yen or ($1,300 USD).

tsumi koto outed for traced illustrations photograph proof
A screenshot from the live stream showing a photograph with Koto’s illustration dragged on top of it. Image sourced by Pillowy Cafe.

On top of this, on Twitter, users were quick to find original photographs that Koto had traced and posted them side by side for the world to see.  Following this, Koto was dropped from two upcoming projects that his illustrations were featured in.  

@takigare3 posted Koto’s explanation letter and a load of evidence to Twitter.

Cancelled Projects and Backlash for Tsumi Koto

tsumi koto outed for traced illustrations pokemon t shirt
Koto’s design was supposed to be on a T-shirt collaboration with PUBLIC TOKYO and Pokemon. Image sourced from game.watch.impress.co.jp.

These projects were quite big as well.  One was for a collaboration project between the clothing brand ANARC and the famous anime film Akira for which Koto would design T-shirts, and the second was for a collaboration between Pokemon and clothing brand PUBLIC TOKYO for which his illustrations would be featured on T-shirts as well. 

It’s unclear whether any more of Koto’s past work will also come up as “stolen” in the midst of this, but at the moment, he faces various copyright violations due to his intentions to profit off of “his” work.  

tsumi koto outed for traced illustrations anarc akira t shirt
Koto’s ANARC and Akira collaboration hoodie which was canceled. Image sourced from i.Lumine.

Both ANARC and PUBLIC TOKYO canceled and made statements apologizing to customers who had already preordered pieces of clothing in the light of Koto being outed as a fraud.  Both parties outlined that they would be fully refunding everyone who had already made payments. 

Koto himself issued a statement on February 3rd following him being outed online in January of this year.  Koto stated that while he denies ever tracing any photographs to create his illustrations, for some pieces, he uses photographs to create “original” illustrations that are “homages,” and “reconstructions.”   

Illustrations Weren’t the Only Things Koto Faked

The story doesn’t end here, however.  As I said, it only gets crazier.  Koto’s illustrations weren’t the only things that he “faked.”  

Until now, when “Koto” would appear in public, he was a young woman.  Obviously, this wasn’t the real Koto.  It turns out that Koto would have his young female assistant appear in his place at exhibitions or at “meet the artist” events for autographs and more.  

tsumi koto outed for traced illustrations female assistant
“Tsumi Koto” appearing in a magazine when in reality this is his female assistant. Image sourced from @takigare3 on Twitter.

Internet users doing what they do best, at least, when they aren’t arguing with each other on social media or in forums, tend to be able to find almost everything there is to know about a person.  These “investigators” combed through Koto’s Twitter account to look for any clues that would act as solid evidence to help their case.

tsumi koto outed for traced illustrations real tsumi koto
A picture of the real Tsumi Koto was posted on someone’s social media account in 2013. Image sourced from @takigare3 on Twitter.

Not only did they find out that it wasn’t him, but his assistant that appeared at public events, they found out that he was a man born in 1976 and even found photographs of the real Tsumi Koto.  One was a picture of him with his family, and the other was a “slip up” where Koto himself posted a picture where the “real him” was caught in a reflection.  

tsumi koto outed for traced illustrations caught in reflection
A screenshot of Koto’s own Twitter post where he is caught in a reflection. Image sourced from @takigare3 on Twitter.

It’s safe to say that things just don’t seem to be working out for Koto at the moment.  What do you think?  Is it fair for him to claim that some of his works are “homages” to other people’s work?  




Kevin Murasaki

Kevin Murasaki grew up moving back and forth between Chicago and Yokohama, Japan. Known as a "hafu", Kevin is half Japanese, and half American. Now a videographer and drone operator based in Fukuoka, Japan, Kevin enjoys playing basketball, driving on mountain or "touge" roads, and fishing in his free time. Kevin is a recent graduate of the University of British Columbia.

More articles by Kevin Murasaki

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