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Semenenko Elizaveta, Japan's cultural diplomacy: How to conquer the world through pop-culture? Печать E-mail
17.11.2012 г.
Elizaveta Semenenko

During the changing history of humanity we were witnesses of many events: from the rise of nations and culture, establishment of common balance and peace to its collapse. These events influenced people, psychology, relations and strategies. The critical point came the Second World War and its consequences, which are imprinted in memory of many generations for a long time. But it is obvious that old reminiscences sometimes don't become a thing of the past, their shadow still exists in a modern world. The shift of a nation's paradigm replacing "hard power" by "soft power" is connected to this fact. The representative of these "new concept" oriented countries is Japan striving to overcome the prewar image of Japan as a militaristic country for the sake of attaining certain goals.

The definition of cultural, public diplomacy and "soft power"

The study of cultural diplomacy and other related means or strategies is a new and large field, whose definition is still a controversial issue. There is hardly a single accepted one. It is also worth mentioning that except cultural diplomacy there are two other terms, which are overlapping in some spheres; nevertheless they differ as conceptions - public diplomacy and "soft power".

The best explanation of cultural and public diplomacy is given in the article by Kazuo Ogura: "Cultural diplomacy is the use of cultural means to enhance a nation's political influence"[1]. He says, that "there is a subtle difference between the two because public diplomacy is usually linked with an effort to improve the nation's image for some specific strategic purpose"[2].

So far as the "soft power" is concerned it was first defined in 1990 by J. Nye. According to Ney, «soft power is the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment. A country's soft power rests on its resources of culture, values, and policies»[3].

The connection between these terms is getting a little bit more clear: if the "soft power" is an opportunity to achieve certain political results with the help of authority and attraction, the public and cultural diplomacy are tools to increase the popularity. In conclusion I want to emphasize that there are no apparent differences.

The origin and development of Japan's cultural diplomacy

When we remember that the cultural diplomacy strives to enhance a nation's image using various culture aspects, language promotion and traditions, the first question that emerges is "What kind of image is Japan seeking to produce through cultural diplomacy?."

The evolution of cultural diplomacy comprises several shifts during the period of 1950-2006 and at every stage Japan was facing various obstacles.

The first stage began in the 1950s - the aim of cultural diplomacy was to "transform the prewar image of Japan as a militaristic country into a new image of Japan as a peace-loving democracy"[4] promoting traditions and arts such as the tea ceremony and ikebana, distributing brochures and calendars featuring images of Japan's landscapes among organizations and people. But these attempts emphasizing ancient traditions were unsuccessful, more than that language education abroad was perceived by Korea and China as propaganda of formerly imperial Japan.

The second shift is seen in the late 1960s and early 1970s and is connected to the idea that "the Japanese economy was about to reach a new stage and to project the image of Japan as a technologically and economically advanced nation"[5] instead of dispelling the prewar image. This shift came in response to negative attitude and even accusations of dumping and market disruption. Another positive change was the establishment of the Japan Foundation, which was responsible for supporting the Japanese studies abroad (especially in the USA and China). Later to overcome anti-sentiment in Asia against the Japanese economic onslaught new offices of Japan Foundation were established (this action led to the opening of ASEAN Culture Center).

The late 1980s brought another shift - the idea of Japan as a responsible partner in the international community. This concept comprised different means: cultural cooperation and supporting developing countries in this sphere, launching the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). Only at this time has cultural diplomacy begun to be conceived as one of the important directions of foreign policy.

The mid-1990s are known to be the outbreak of globalization. In these conditions Japan had to redefine the concept of foreign policy - "Japanese cultural diplomacy began to focus on the relationship between the country's time -honored cultural traditions and its modern technology"[6].

The new century brought a current stage of Japan's cultural diplomacy which is rather influential and powerful.

The pop-culture is in the spotlight

As we have already understood, the foreign policy of Japan was relying on the Japan Foundation, the JET Program and other offices, but another means was put in use - products of pop-culture.

According to Peng Er Lam, the production and global consumption of anime (cartoons) and manga (comics) was ruled not by the government. Their growing popularity and influence were very beneficial to Japan's economy. This in witnessed by one simple example -advance of the anime "Sailormoon".

"The anime's success favored not only the sale of manga and dolls featuring main characters but encouraged TV-Shows, Musicals and another 5000 franchise-products."[7]

The increased consumption showed that these goods might be a great tool in projecting new image. The Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso in his speech on the 28th of April in 2006 declared that the diplomacy on the national level strongly depended on the public opinion and "that is exactly why we want pop-culture, which is so effective in penetrating throughout the general public, to be our ally in diplomacy".[8]

As a diplomatic tool adopted by MOFA (Ministry of Foreign affairs) pop-culture officially came into force in January 2007. According to the Diplomatic Bluebook 2007, Japan should take advantage of "the usefulness of incorporating culture into diplomacy, proposing the creation of an award for up-and-coming non-Japanese manga artists, the introduction of superior works of Japan's anime abroad as "Cultural Ambassadors"[9].

The example of the new directions is beloved cat robot Doraemon who is an ambassador travelling around the world and introducing Japan, advertising other Japanese culture, technologies and promoting Japan's presence all over the world. It was also at this time that the Japan Creative Center was established. It was set up in 2009 as the evidence of a new direction focusing on popular subcultures. The aim was to enhance Japan's "soft power" by introducing various cultural trends to the whole Asia.

Naturally one question arises: why subcultures? There is nothing to say about the popularity, but we shouldn't lose sight of 2 important facts. Attempts to encourage attention by feudal spirited traditions failed, but it doesn't mean that there is something wrong with them. Now they are considered to be the next stage after pop-culture which is serving as a starting point in introducing other aspects of culture. Ambassador Kondo during his visit in Denmark claimed:"Japanese pop-culture is a gateway to the deeper and more traditional Japanese culture". In other words, acquaintance with Japan isn't limited to manga and anime, in course of time people become involved and interested in learning more.

This fact is strongly connected with another one. Studying the Japanese language previously used as diplomatic tool enjoys wide popularity. But there is one paradox: how can previously inculcated language be now all the rage?

Increasing number of learners is accounted for by a different kind of interest in comparison to the past. Moreover one of the important factors is the expanding of the target group. If earlier the Japanese language was only in great favour because of some economic reasons and benefits in this area, but now more students want study the language "because of their fascination and love for manga and anime"[10]. According to the Japan Foundation's official statistics, the number of foreign students has increased from 580,000 in 1984 to 3,650,000 in 2009[11](It should be noticed that it is impossible to count all learners all over the world). That sounds like a pretty tall story, true sensation and shows the power of new foreign policy.[12]

During the second half of the 20th century Japan was trying to project its new image utilizing the cultural diplomacy. "Expanding across the globe the number of people who have a friendly feeling toward Japanese through increases in person-to-person interactions is what we might call the ultimate goal of cultural diplomacy"[13] said Taro Aso in 2008. New political line was adopted - using pop-culture as a diplomatic tool. As we can see new direction bears fruits: warm and bright image of beloved Japan, global consumption of its products, expanding of Japanese language education abroad and increasing influence and role in international community.

After all there is one question left: are you already smitten with Japan?

[1] Ogura Kazuo. Japan's Cultural Diplomacy, Past and Present. 2009, P. 44-45.

[2] Ibid. P. 45.

[3] Joseph S. Nye. Public Diplomacy and Soft Power // The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. - 2008. - vol. 616 no. 194-109. - P. 94-109.

[4] Ogura Kazuo. Japan's Cultural Diplomacy, Past and Present. 2009, P. 46.

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid. P. 50.

[7] Wolfram Manzenreiter. Die Mangatisierung der Welt: : Japans Populärkultur, Kulturdiplomatie und die neue internationale Arbeitsteilung // Japan aktuell : journal of current Japanese affairs. - 2007. - Vol. 15. - P. 9.

[8] Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso . A New Look at Cultural Diplomacy: A Call to Japan's Cultural Practitioners. 2008.

[9] Diplomatic Bluebook 2007 Summary. - 2007, P. 25. - URL: (accessed on 28.10.12)

[10] Peng Er Lam . Japan's Quest for "Soft Power": Attraction and Limitation // East Asia. - 2007. - Vol. 24. - P. 349-363.

[11] Survey on Japanese-language Education Abroad 2009. - URL: (accessed on 29.10.12)

[12] Despite the pop-culture as a diplomatic tool was adopted in 2007, the production and consumption of its products had begun earlier

[13] Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso . A New Look at Cultural Diplomacy: A Call to Japan's Cultural Practitioners. 2006. - URL: (accessed on 25.10.12)

Semenenko Elizaveta, the 2d year student of the Tomsk State University, department of international relations
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