I was recently invited to a dinner in London with the Japanese Prime Minister’s press secretary & spokesperson, who called in to London on his way back from the G7 summit in Munich. The aim of this dinner was to discuss the soft power of Japan-a very topical subject given Abe’s desire to project an attractive image & leverage their power on a global stage as well as to attract more tourism and inward investment. As Chair of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme in the UK, with over 6000 members, we are a big part of this soft power by promoting Japan long after we have left.
What exactly is Japan’s soft power? Ask someone like me, who has lived in Japan and worked with them for 20 years, and you will get a very different answer from someone who has been on a business trip/holiday or has watched a programme on the TV. There certainly seems to be a much wider exposure of Japan in the UK compared to when I first went there in 1995 and a much more diverse promotion of what its selling points are, appealing to much wider audiences. Take the creative industries for example, which are being heavily promoted and funded under the “Cool Japan Initiative”. Naturally, it includes traditional arts and crafts but has started to appeal to a younger generation through its promotion of manga, anime, “kawaii” culture and fashion. Japanese food has quite rightly been given world heritage status and is much more accessible here-according to local Toyota staff, one of the best sushi restaurants in the UK is in Derby- I can vouch for that!
However, Japan does face a challenge in promoting a PR image that appeals outside of Japanese sensitivities, captures so many audiences and delivers so many targets. There are so many bureaucratic, accountability and communicational issues surrounding any promotional event/publication that sometimes it is difficult to capture what is really being promoted. There are also gaps between what many people imagine Japan to be and what it actually is-a contrast between an emphasis on quirky, strange elements taken out of a cultural context when reported in the Western media and a romantic image of Japan that some Japanese and many non-Japanese love to perpetuate. The reality is so much more diverse I assure you. More of this to come on an upcoming Radio 4 Programme on “Misunderstanding Japan” for which I recently recorded a small contribution, due to be aired on August 8th…Read more