The health ministry often relies on the nation’s “soft power” to spread its public health messages. This time, it is using one of the hottest anime series — “Attack on Titan” — to promote proper coughing etiquette as the influenza season gets into full gear as the New Year holidays approach.

On Friday, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry released a new poster/leaflet featuring characters from the comic, animation and movie series, titled “Shingeki no Seki-echiketto” (“Coughing Etiquette in Force”), using part of the Japanese title of the series “Shingeki no Kyojin” created by Hajime Isayama.

The poster shows the series’ main protagonist, Eren, covering his mouth and nose with a jacket sleeve.

In the poster, Eren — who in the series fights the Titans, giant humanoids that eat humans for no apparent reason — is surrounded by two of his childhood friends: Mikasa, who covers his mouth with a tissue, and Armin, who wears a mask. They are overseen by Levi, who also is wearing a mask and says: “Choose what you like (to cover yourself) when you cough or sneeze.” Levi is known in the series as a “clean freak.”

And in the upper left corner of the poster is a Titan coughing out loud without using any cover.

Hiroshi Naruse, a ministry official behind the new campaign, said his biggest message is that there are three ways to cover your mouth, not just with a mask.

“Using a sleeve to cover your mouth when you cough has not taken root in Japan,” he said. “The message is: You don’t need a mask or tissue; you can practice proper ‘coughing etiquette’ even if you don’t have those things with you.”

The ministry’s recommendations are in line with those of the World Health Organization, which recommends coughing or sneezing into a sleeve or jacket to prevent flu droplets from traveling through the air.

The other page of the ministry’s two-page leaflet shows what not to do, such as coughing into your hands.

“Many people think it’s OK to use their hands, but it’s a no-no,” he said. “The viruses can spread widely if infected hands touch door knobs, or hand straps on trains. It’s not the right way.”

Naruse, 33, was also the mastermind behind the ministry’s AMR (anti-microbial resistance) awareness campaign in September, which featured Amuro, a lead character in the “Mobile Suit Gundam” anime series, in its poster.

Before that, he was involved in a ministry campaign to call on outbound travelers to get vaccinated for mashin (measles) before going, using the “Mazingar-Z” anime series.

Naruse argues that collaborating with “Attack on Titan” is “cost-effective” as its fans are mostly students and young people, who are among the core targets of the campaign. The use of anime is also likely to get more “leverage” on social media, he said, noting that the ministry’s tweet had racked up over 6,000 retweets and 7,000 likes as of Monday morning.

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