Friday, 12 June 2009

'Kawaii ambassadors' head overseas to promote Japanese pop culture

Three female ‘‘pop culture addressers’’ popularly called ‘‘Kawaii (pretty) ambassadors’’ appointed by the Foreign Ministry have started traveling abroad to introduce Japanese pop culture to young people in other countries.

Shizuka Fujioka, an entertainer called a ‘‘magician clothing coordinator’’ because of her high school uniform-like fashion, took part in an event in Thailand in March, and two other girls will go to Paris in July.

Fujioka, clad in a school uniform, appeared in the ‘‘Japan Festival’’ held in Bangkok and advised local girls on dressing. A young Thai woman who visited the festival told her, ‘‘You look very pretty in the uniform. I would like to go to Japan.’’

In Thailand, school uniforms are in vogue thanks to a Japanese animated cartoon about a school campus. In front of the festival site, photographers sat on front seats, showing the mass media’s strong interest.

Misako Aoki, a Lolita-affiliated fashion model emphasizing tastes of a little girl, and vocalist Yu Kimura, known as a dresser of several layers of old clothing, will be sent to Paris to promote the ‘‘Japan Expo’’ from July 2 to 5.

In France, many young people are fascinated with Japanese animated cartoons and dress-up. Visitors to the event are expected to top last year’s total of more than 100,000.

To help familiarize foreigners with Japan, the Foreign Ministry has been promoting exchange projects through traditional Japanese culture and art such as kabuki and noh plays.

The ministry has also focused its attention on the fact that Japanese pop culture, such as comics and animated cartoons, are catching the fancy of people across the world. It thought it important to target young people and chose the three women as ‘‘flag people’’ in February.

When Prime Minister Taro Aso, a self-styled ‘‘cartoon freak,’’ was foreign minister, he promoted ‘‘pop culture diplomacy’’ by creating an international cartoon prize.

But some people are raising eyebrows over the new attempt using ‘‘kawaii’’ as a test word. Kaori Maruya, a New Komeito party member of the House of Representatives, said at a meeting of the house’s Foreign Affairs Committee on April 24, ‘‘I’d like you to be careful about unwarranted criticism against overseas tours by ‘pretty ambassadors’ wearing very short skirts.’’

Kenjiro Monji, head of the Public Diplomacy Department at the Foreign Ministry, replied, ‘‘It’s important to be accepted by host countries. We’ll try to effectively carry out the project by taking the local situations into account.’’

Fujioka said, ‘‘I think it will be in Japan’s national interest if there is at least one person in the host country who thinks I’m pretty.’’