METI taps foreign students as content envoys

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Foreign students studying in Japan can be a great help in promoting the nation’s strong points overseas.

Under the Cool Japan Strategy, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is now trying to solicit these students’ help in pitching more Japanese content abroad, including manga and “anime.”

METI appointed 137 foreign students as “international student ambassadors” in October to promote CoFesta, a series of content-related events held between summer and winter or spring every year, including the Tokyo Game Show and the Tokyo International Film Festival.

So far the effort appears to be yielding some success.

Three student ambassadors interviewed by The Japan Times last month said it was a precious experience to participate in events as quasi-ambassadors, which gave them the chance to get to know more about Japan’s content industry and to contribute to the spread of Japanese content overseas.

METI meanwhile said the students have provided insights into ways to improve CoFesta, which is little known by the public at home and especially abroad.

“CoFesta has not really been widely recognized overseas, although we’ve tried to promote it through its home page and through social networking services,” said Akira Kotsugai, a METI official in charge of getting out the word on CoFesta.

Last year was the sixth year of CoFesta, which had 18 official events and 11 partner events.

Some of the events existed before CoFesta was created, but the ministry decided to promote them along with smaller side events under the same banner in a bid to facilitate more business interaction between domestic and overseas buyers and sellers.

The idea of having international students as cultural ambassadors was suggested to METI by Revamp Corp., a Tokyo-based consulting firm.

METI selected students who it felt would be adept at spreading information, especially to active users of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, to strengthen the recognition of CoFesta, Kotsugai said.

For the students, who had wished to somehow contribute to improving ties between their countries and Japan and also get to know more about the globally famous Japanese content industry, it was a perfect opportunity.

“I’m deeply worried about the Japan-China relationship. I really wanted to contribute to improve (ties) through (some effort),” Guo Xijia, a 21-year-old Chinese student at Sophia University, said in an interview Dec. 17.

She said many young Chinese are interested in Japan, and it is important for younger generations to work to improve international relations.

Edgar Pelaez Mazariegos, a 28-year-old student from Mexico engaged in Asia-Pacific studies at Waseda University, said that while he thought the experience would help his research, he also wanted to help spread Japanese content and related goods to the global community.

“There are a lot of people in Mexico and Latin America who enjoy this kind of content. However, there is somehow no easy access to it in our region,” he said.

He explained that people can watch pirated content online, but it is hard to purchase goods like legitimate DVDs in local stores. “I wanted to help make this kind of content more accessible.”

The cultural ambassadors’ missions include promoting CoFesta, interviewing foreign buyers and Japanese content providers and making presentations to METI officials on how the events can be improved.

Many of the individual events, including the Tokyo Game Show and CEATEC, are famous on their own, but CoFesta’s name itself does not seem to have any cache, said Ruiz Asri, a 20-year-old Malaysian student at Keio University.

Thus CoFesta needs to more clearly demonstrate its vision and value to the public, he said.

Although CoFesta aims to promote interaction among the global content industry, the student envoys sensed from foreign buyers that Japanese content distributors appeared shy, even unfriendly, and were not aggressively promoting their products overseas.

In addition, having attended some of the CoFesta events, including the Tokyo International Film Festival and the CoFesta grand ceremony, Guo from China said the events were too business-oriented and not geared toward consumer demand.

“What our presentation team wanted to stress was that CoFesta did not have passion,” said Guo, adding that the organization should have something that can attract “otaku” (Internet geeks) around the world, so there will be more passion in the events.

On Dec. 5, some of the student ambassadors made presentations at METI. They reported their findings and offered suggestions to improve CoFesta, stressing the need to get more consumers involved.

Pelaez Mazariegos’ team suggested inviting influential figures from other countries to report at CoFesta about what’s happening and getting the student ambassadors to support their activities.

Kotsugai of METI said it’s true the CoFesta events have been business-oriented and lacked consumer viewpoints.

“As we’ve been trying to strengthen the content industry, we’ve had our focus on the business point of view. We did not have our feelers out to gauge what consumers wanted, especially hardcore fans (of Japanese content),” Kotsugai said, adding this is why the student ambassadors played an important role.

He said the ministry plans to appoint international student ambassadors next year as well.