The World Forum on Sport and Culture will be held in Kyoto and Tokyo from Wednesday to Saturday to discuss and exchange information about the international contributions of sport, culture and the economy.

The forum, hosted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Sports Agency, is a multi-stakeholder event, with partners from both public and private institutions, including related ministries, economic organizations, local municipalities and private companies from more than 50 countries.

Sport and culture ambassadors were appointed to promote the forum and let the momentum continue to hold sports and cultural events for world peace and prosperity. They will promote this forum through events and social networking service posts as a goodwill messenger.

The sport and culture ambassadors are Kaoru Icho, a freestyle wrestler who won gold in four consecutive Olympic Games, Naomi Kawase, a film director, Sawako Takeuchi, a former president of the Japan Cultural Institute, Paris, and currently serving as an advisor to MEXT, Mayumi Narita, a Paralympian swimmer and the director of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Hideki Matsui, a world-renowned baseball player who has played for Yomiuri Giants, as well as New York Yankees, Saburo Kitajima, a veteran enka singer and soccer player Keisuke Honda, who plays for AC Milan and the national team.

A ceremony to appoint four of the ambassadors — Icho, Kawase, Takeuchi and Narita — was held in May, in the presence of former Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology Hiroshi Hase.

The following is taken from a brief discussion between the ambassadors and Hase after the ceremony. The theme of the session was “New potentials of sports and culture, with a focus on the power of software.”

Hase: Sports and culture have a unique persuasiveness. News from these fields creates new values, which turn into profit. Profit comes back to people.

What we need to do is to promote the vision that creates this good cycle that makes society richer. Players in such fields indeed can create values as professionals, and the forum is here to back up the players in promoting such activities.

We need to show international society that there are women in Japan with credibility and a strong voice in each of their fields. We strongly appreciate your dedication, support, and contribution to the forum, and I look forward to hearing your positive output.

Narita: Although I’m on the organizing side of the games, I also look forward to participating in the Paralympics as a swimmer. I hope my actions have helped children to have more hope in their lives.

Heading into 2020, I am doing my best to be able to give more hope to children through my sport. Any sport, including the Olympic and Paralympic Games, is not just for the athletes. There are athletes, volunteers and many young supporters. Each of us plays a large part in a successful game and I perceive my mission to convey this message as an ambassador to make this event more successful.

Icho: I really could not have competed for so long if I were doing it alone. Of course I fight each match by myself, but that is not the only thing that kept me going. There are the countless supporters who stood along the way, as well as my colleagues, friends and family. I would not be standing here today without them all.

I learned so much through wrestling, and it was the sport that made me dream big and those dreams came true. I hope my work is as inspiring to the youth as my predecessors were for me.

Kawase: I have released many of my films in France. My first film won the Camera d’Or (prize for new directors) at the Cannes Film Festival twenty years ago, in 1997. That was the first global recognition of my work.

Titled “Suzaku,” the film was about a family in a rural village in the mountains of Yoshino, Nara Prefecture. My own evaluation of the film was actually low, since it was about a small, disappearing village in rapidly industrializing Japan.

It seemed shameful to show the shadows of Japanese economic development, and I thought, maybe I should have made something more upbeat, positive. But the French judges at the festival told me that they grew up in the exact same kind of village, in the same situation.

This comment really hit home to me, and I realized that although we might be from different countries we are all the same. The same sunshine and winds nurture us, and we need such an atmosphere to learn to love, empathize and live spiritually. That is what culture is made of, and no economy grows without culture.

We need the youth to understand and embody culture more to make a livelier economy.

Regarding sports, I used to play basketball and I participated in national competitions in high school, hoping to become professional. But when I imagined how long I could be at the top, I realized I could only play until my thirties. That was when I decided to become a filmmaker, since it was a lifelong career. However, sports still have a deep meaning for me … sports clips always make me cry.

Upon this appointment, I will provide what I can, from the deepest part of me to spread the message. Right now I am in Tokyo, but I live in Nara, the oldest town in Japan. I believe it’s the place where culture started, where something bloomed. It is just another poor old town in rural Japan right now, but in such towns I feel strong potential. Those towns are where the hidden treasures rest and we need to dig them up.

In this spirit, I started an international film festival in Nara from 2010, and 2016 marks the fourth festival. I hope to promote our unique culture widely outside Japan with our local youth, at the same time remembering who we are and where we came from.

Takeuchi: This forum puts culture and sports on the same plane, but actually they are different things. Sports have international rules, and individuals can enter the international arena quite easily. Stepping across cultural boundaries is not that simple.

Monetizing sports and culture is another challenge. Additionally, structuring business through sports or culture is a growing challenge in international business these days. Those who have succeeded — places, countries and cities — welcome a huge number of visitors creating a large income stream. Those unable to produce such events would not see as many people, creating a large gap between the two.

France, where I lived for more than a decade, is a country that welcomes 80 million visitors per year. The GDP of France is around one-half of Japan’s, but Japan’s inbound target is 20 million, with around 8 million actually visiting. Why does France have ten times more visitors compared to Japan? They are very good at promoting their culture. They design, hotels, restaurants, art museums, theaters and more that are completely produced by capable hands.

Culture needs to be translated into the design of space. This is the key. Japan has great athletes and extraordinary artists, but we need designers, in architecture and industry, as well as the media to promote their activities. Such promotion is the largest factor in winning competition. So media activities for the domestic and international markets would naturally be different.

Additionally, teamwork cannot be overlooked. We need locals with strong pride in their work and the tourism industry to provide information, which would result in appealing content for the global media. Such activities will create new flows of people and money. Looking from the outside, I wonder if people really understand Japan. They say that Japan is becoming more popular and Japanese food is good, but it’s not something you experience every day. Think about us, Japanese, eating French cuisine without a deep understanding of its roots. The same thing is happening with Japanese culture. We need to show more of our daily culture and lifestyle. I don’t think we have done a sufficient job yet, and we have more potential.

As an ambassador, I would like to stand on the global stage and spread my message. Most Japanese are content with praising our culture by ourselves. We have to measure how Japanese culture is appreciated in museums, theaters and film festivals abroad. Actually, there is very little information. Even in Japan, it is very difficult to go to rural, or hidden places. It is difficult to find the route, or guides.

The next thing is that we need to brush up our presentation. There is very little we can do in promoting Japanese culture globally. We almost don’t have the resources, with Ms. Kawase being an exception. How many artists have exhibits outside Japan? Almost none. So we need to raise more talent in this area such as people who can export, promote and critique our culture. We need to have more courses that train people who can work globally, with a good sense of promoting our culture. I hope I can help in creating such career paths.

Hase: Sports have high potential. They bond people across borders and help children in poor areas grow healthier. It promotes diplomacy, or even economies. That is why we have so many sporting events today.

Sports also spark fashion trends, help revitalize regions and grow tourism. Sports, and of course culture, have so much potential. All we need is good marketing and strategy. If athletes and artists share their emotions through their work and the media, expressing how sports and culture mean so much to life, it will make a difference in all of us.

Sports and culture show how extraordinary a person can be. I am greatly honored to have these four people that know such beauty and are equipped to convey the message as our World Forum on Sport and Culture ambassadors. I am eagerly looking forward to your future success.

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