The Fukushima power plant crisis has clearly damaged Japan as a country brand. There has been an outpouring of sympathy for the victims and a widespread admiration for Japan's perseverance, stoicism and orderly response, but the overwhelming perception overseas is negative: disbelief that such an accident could happen in such a high-tech nation, frustration with its crisis and information management, and outright fear of traveling to or making contact with its potentially contaminated products.

In June, the consultancy Interbrand published the first results of a survey it conducted in May on Japan's brand perception in the United States, Britain and China. Overall, Japan's image had fallen 12 points. But their perceptions of its "safety" and "reliability" — which are usually regarded as Japan-specific strengths — had fallen by an even greater margin.

Is this only a short-term phenomenon or will the Japan brand name suffer from the Fukushima crisis in the long run? To answer these questions, let us look at the world's perception of Japan prior to March 2011.