Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba met with members of all-girl idol group AKB48 on Thursday and thanked them for taking part in a campaign to attract Chinese tourists and dispel harmful rumors about the safety of Japanese food products.

The “Vibrant Japan” campaign will start Feb. 16 in Beijing, before moving on to Shanghai toward the end of the month and Hong Kong in late March.

During his meeting with three of AKB48’s members — Tomomi Itano, Rie Kitahara and Yui Yokoyama — Genba, a Fukushima native, expressed his gratitude for the group’s support of disaster-hit areas in the northeast and said he hoped its participation in the campaign will help deepen ties with China.

AKB48 were approached to be official campaign supporters because “it is a vigorous group that currently represents Japan . . . and is popular in China as well,” the Foreign Ministry said, noting that its members have actively supported disaster victims in Tohoku by making large donations and monthly visits to the region.

The AKB48 members chosen for the promotional campaign will visit and perform at all three venues where “Vibrant Japan” exhibitions will be held. It is still unclear whether all or just some of the group’s members will participate.

At the meeting, AKB48’s Itano talked with Genba about the visits group members have been making to devastated areas in Tohoku: “We go there hoping to cheer people up. But by the time we return, we are the ones filled with smiles and energy. We hope we can continue energizing the people in disaster-hit areas, as well as throughout Japan.”

The exhibitions in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong will promote various tourist spots in Japan, exhibit and sell Japanese products and have Japanese food-tasting corners to counter rumors about their safety following the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

For further information, visit www.huoli-japan.cn/, which includes full details in both Japanese and Chinese.

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