Japan’s Cute Ambassadors – The Foreign Ministry’s ‘Pop Culture’ Arm of Soft Power

Three female “ambassadors of cute” were appointed by the Foreign Ministry last year to spread the word of “kawii” aboard.

Many youth around the world are fascinated with anime and “cosplay,” or the hobby of dressing up in costumes based on their favorite characters. So, inspired by the characters in Japan’s distinctive “anime” films and “manga”, one of the new ambassadors dresses as a schoolgirl(Shizuka Fujioka) and another as a Victorian doll(Misako Aoki) in voluminous frilly skirts. The remaining of the trio is a very fashionable singer(Yu Kimura) that would smolder the streets of Harajuku.

Japan has been making concerted efforts to boost its “soft power,” a strategy that analysts see as important. When Prime Minister Taro Aso, a comic book fanatic, was foreign minister, he promoted “pop culture diplomacy” by establishing an international prize for “manga.” So why not cute? And that’s the thinking.

“You get people to love your culture and use that as a way of gaining power around the world,” said Phil Deans, professor of international relations at Temple University’s Tokyo campus.

Image - MOFA
Image - MOFA

“It’s all about mutual understanding,” said Tsutomu Nakagawa, the head of the cultural affairs division at the Foreign Ministry, after presenting the three envoys to the foreign media back in March of 2009.

“We want people abroad to know these kind of people exist in Japan and to feel close to them.”

But some people are raising eyebrows over the use of “kawaii” as culture campaign.

In fact, some diet members have expressed that they don’t think Japan should be popularized by short skirts.

To put this in perspective though, the appointment of the three envoys comes only a year after Doraemon, the rotund blue cartoon cat with no ears, was named a special ambassador. And also after Hello Kitty was named Tourism Ambassador.


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