• Kyodo

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Image-makers in Iwate Prefecture have decidedly gone against the grain in a nation where one of the most frequently heard mottoes is “ganbare” (go for it) or some similar evocative slogan.

Instead of “ganbare,” the Iwate Prefectural Government has since 2001 been running full-page newspaper ads that declare, in a seemingly self-deprecatory tone, that Iwate will not go for it and urges its citizens to take things easy and, yes, go slow.

Surprisingly, the “ganbaranai” (don’t go for it) ad campaign has been gaining quiet popularity across Japan.

The rather enigmatic ads were created by Iwate Prefecture’s public relations department over the past two years. They question the virtue of a compulsive hardworking mentality in modern life.

The ads appear to be gaining ground among those who favor the cultural virtues of “slow food” and “slow life.”

The first ganbaranai ad, which ran in January 2001, features a picture of Tokyo-born novelist Makoto Shiina with a pristine Iwate beach and blue sky serving as a backdrop.

“You find yourself feeling restless unless you are constantly working hard. That’s strange,” the ad says under Shiina’s signature.

Through the ad series, Iwate declares that it aims to become an “environmental capital of Japan” and lists green facts about the prefecture, including that its total forest area equals more than five times the entire area of metropolitan Tokyo.

The prefectural government said it has received 17,000 responses from the public, mostly from people living outside Iwate.

The ad campaign was funded partly by the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications to promote the dissemination of local information in the national media.

According to Iwate officials, many of the people who either wrote or sent e-mail to the prefecture gave positive feedback, saying that the ads made them want to go to Iwate and that they thought the ads are suited to the spirit of the time.

However, the campaign has not sat well with some members of the prefectural assembly, and critics questioned Gov. Hiroya Masuda on the meaning of the advertising campaign.

“Are you saying ‘Don’t work so hard’ to people who are working hard?” one assembly member asked.

In the past, Iwate’s image-makers typically relied on the image of native son Kenji Miyazawa, a nationally renowned poet. The ganbaranai campaign hired Shiina to put a fresh spin on Iwate’s traditional image.

In its second ganbaranai edition, published in October 2001, the ad features a dialogue between Shiina and Masuda on the theme of nature. The latest edition, published in November, features the pair discussing the beauty of Iwate while standing on the shore of the Kitakamigawa River, which runs through Morioka, Iwate’s capital.

“Considering all the publicity it has generated so far, the money was very well spent,” an official at the Iwate public relations department said.

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