‘Cute ambassadors’ roam globe to promote Japan’s pop culture

by

Kyodo News

Three female “ambassadors of cute” appointed by the Foreign Ministry have started traveling abroad to introduce Japanese pop culture to young people overseas.

One of the “kawaii ambassadors,” Shizuka Fujioka, the “magician clothing coordinator” known for her school uniform outfits, took part in an event in Thailand in March. The other two will hit Paris in July.

At her appearance at a Japan Festival in Bangkok, Fujioka advised young ladies on how to dress.

“You look very pretty in the uniform,” one young Thai told her at the festival. “I would like to go to Japan.”

School uniforms are in vogue in Thailand, thanks in part to a Japanese “anime” based at a school campus.

Misako Aoki, a Lolita-esque fashion model boasting girlish tastes, and vocalist Yu Kimura, known for dressing in several layers of old clothing, will be sent to Paris to promote a Japan Expo from July 2 to 5.

Many young French are fascinated with anime and “cosplay,” or the hobby of dressing up in costumes based on their favorite characters. More than 100,000 people attended the expo last year and more are expected this time around.

To help the world learn more about Japan, the Foreign Ministry is promoting exchange projects related to traditional culture and art, such as kabuki and noh.

It has also been playing up the growing popularity of Japanese pop culture worldwide. To target young people, the ministry chose the three women as Japan’s “flag people” in February.

When Prime Minister Taro Aso, an admitted comic book freak, was foreign minister, he promoted “pop culture diplomacy” by establishing an international prize for “manga.”

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

Kaori Maruya, a Diet member from New Komeito, is one of them.

“I’d like you to be careful about unwarranted criticism against overseas tours by ‘pretty ambassadors’ wearing very short skirts,” Maruya said at a session of the Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 24.

Kenjiro Monji, head of the Public Diplomacy Department at the Foreign Ministry, replied that it is important not to offend the host countries.

“We’ll try to effectively carry out the project by taking the local situations into account,” Monji said.

Envoy Fujioka agreed.

“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,” she said.