Japan’s cosplaying Wiki-diplomats
Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 24, 2009
“Embassies are relics of the days of sailing ships. At one time, when you had no world communications, your ambassador spoke for you in that country. But now, with instantaneous communications around the world, the ambassador is primarily in a social role…I would recommend we redo the whole embassy structure.”
– Ross Perot
A FEW WEEKS AGO, reader NB sent this message with a link to a Kyodo article:
“(Here’s) an item I’d like to see in another post.
What do you think about the Japanese government harnessing stereotypes about the Japanese and using “pop culture diplomacy” to sell themselves around the world as “cute” manga-reading girls in short skirts?”
Here’s the story in brief: The Japanese Foreign Ministry has appointed three people known officially as “pop culture ambassadors”, but known casually as “ambassadors of kawaii (cute), to promote the Japanese version of chewing gum culture to people in other countries. Their appointments will last for one year.
The three are Aoki Misako, a model associated with the magazine Lolita Fashion; singer Kimura Yu, referred to by some Japanese as a “fashion leader” of the Harajuku type, and Fujioka Shizuka, an actress known for wearing designer brand high school uniforms.
Ms. Fujioka appeared at an event called the Kawaii Festa in Thailand in March to offer fashion advice. Japanese-language Internet sources suggest that the word kawaii has become part of the international lingua franca. A photo at the link shows a banner at the event bearing that title.
There’s a reason she was sent to Bangkok. School uniform-type outfits are now the rage among college-age Thai girls (the phrase “college women” no longer seems applicable) due in part to the local success of a Japanese anime.
The article quotes one young Thai (boy or girl, we don’t know; the article is sloppily written):
“You look very pretty in the uniform. I would like to go to Japan.”
The other two envoys to Global Youth Land visited the Japan Expo in Paris earlier this month, an event that drew more than 100,000 people last year. The Kyodo article says that cosplay has intrigued young people in France.
The word “cosplay” is derived from the Japanese kosupure, which itself is derived from the English words costume and play. It involves people dressing up in costumes as characters from comic books or animated cartoons and acting out those roles.
That the Japanese government has become involved with cosplay—there’s no better way to describe older females wearing high school uniforms as a fashion statement—should tell us that we’re dealing with a serious international phenomenon here.
Epictetus, a Greek philosopher born in the first century AD, had it right when he said, “Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent.” That applies just as well to a person’s taste in the arts and his leisure time activities. As long as they’re not breaking any laws, how people to choose to spend their time and money is their own business.
The fashion aspect is not so difficult to understand. Women have always spent an enormous amount of time trying to guild the lily in ways unfathomable to men ever since there have been men and women, so this is just the latest chapter in a never-ending story.
Cosplay is not as easy for me to get my head around, however, particularly when males are involved. I’m one of those people who think that most people on the planet wake up every morning, put on a costume, and pretend to be the person whose name is on their birth certificate. Is that not a form of cosplay to begin with? But then esoteric philosophy is not a theme of this website.
On the other hand, reader Mac commented:
“What “better” or more commonly used PR is there in the world than using beautiful young women?”
Eat as becomes you…
An international phenomenon
I’d rather the Japanese had chosen other parts of their culture to present to the rest of the world—festivals, for example—but might there be a bigger picture that we’re missing?
Plug the word kawaii in English into Google and you’ll get 7,590,000 hits. Do the same with cosplay and you’ll get 24,200,000. Yes, I was astonished too. When the words kawaii and cosplay are so commonly known and accepted around the world, I think it’s safe to say we’re dealing with a phenomenon that transcends Japan.
Is this infantile? Yes, and that’s inescapably the truth. (That’s not preaching, that’s just an observation.) But infantilism seems to be the default position for a lot of people these days. Witness the global reaction to the recent death of the mega-infantile, Michael Jackson. Should we be shocked that every American television network chose to cover his funeral live, or should we just note that that’s how the modern world turns?
A few years back, an American comedian joked that Michael Jackson was the only example he’d seen of a poor black boy growing up to become a wealthy white woman. Jacko was so wealthy, in fact, that he could go beyond clothes and cosplay for years with his pigmentation and facial structure.
But even that does not tell the full story of conditions in the United States. Try this account from a Detroit newspaper:
“Two hearses jammed with stuffed animals left in memory of Michael Jackson were given a two-car police escort Friday to the toys’ burial at Woodlawn Cemetery…
Detroit Police officials said they couldn’t say how much the escort cost the city. The escort guided the hearses from the funeral procession through red lights.
Mourners had left the toys and other items at the Motown Historical Museum on West Grand Boulevard since the singer died June 25 at age 50. After sitting outside for three weeks, the toys were not safe to donate to a children’s museum or orphanage, museum Chief Operating Officer Audley Smith said.
“We have now concluded that it would be best to bury the items,” Smith said Friday morning…
At the cemetery, the toys were unloaded from the tops of the hearses and from boxes inside the vehicles. They were then placed into clear plastic bags and then inside donated vaults…”
The article reports that senior officers of the Detroit police are upset, but let’s not forget that someone in authority thought it was a good idea and executed the decision to provide a police escort to a hearse full of ruined toys given to a dead 50-year-old child, including the right of way through stoplights, to be buried in a cemetery.
This infantile reordering of priorities might be closer to the norm than we think. Consider baseball fans in the United States, who have morphed into something their parents and grandparents would have found unimaginable. Once upon a time, the priority for young American men in their 20s was to get married and get started on a career and a family. Those who were interested in the sport followed it by watching the occasional game on TV (most games weren’t televised) or listening on the radio, reading accounts in the newspaper the next day, and perhaps attending a handful of games a year.
The harder guys joined softball leagues—fast pitch—for summertime recreation.
Now, however, there are websites for baseball fans in which they analyze every play of every game with game threads during the action, and argue about player evaluations using such newly created statistics as VORP and OPS+. Those evaluations not only include the players on the major league team, but also every last player on each of a team’s seven minor league affiliates, with occasional examinations of the players in the Dominican summer league. The U.S. major leagues hold their annual draft of amateur players in early June; these fans already began talking about the June 2010 draft before the June 2009 page was torn off the calendar. Many are members of fantasy leagues, in which they create their own teams from scratch and play simulated games on a computer. When the lads actually do attend a real baseball game to watch real players in real time, they often wear the jersey bearing their favorite player’s name and number and a team hat. Some even paint their bodies and faces.
Is that whole subculture not a type of cosplay too?
Perhaps it’s time to draw conclusions from these facts, and one of the conclusions we may safely draw is that society everywhere—Thailand, Tokyo, or Toronto—has become more infantile. To say that 40 is the new 20 is already a commonplace observation.
Since things are thus, who among us would dare single out young Japanese females as somehow being a goofy exception? Suddenly, a magazine named Lolita Fashion doesn’t seem all that strange any more.
There comes a point when you realize there are only two choices—either live it or live with it.
Foreign Ministry involvement
But there is one aspect to this whole business I do find inappropriate. To wit: I can understand that the private sector would be anxious to leverage the zeitgeist for national PR, or to boost tourism. It’s good for business, after all.
But why is the Foreign Ministry wasting its time and our money on this?
One of the Japanese-language links sent in by reader Ponta contained this explanation, though it sounds more like an excuse to me:
(These projects select) people to serve in PR roles for the country or a region…Today, with the spread of the Internet, anyone can express their opinion to the world. The ideas of the general citizen have a much greater impact on relations between two countries. Rather than improve relations between Japan and other countries by limiting discussions and contact to diplomats, it is important to further mutual understanding based on a mutual interest between citizens.
The same entry reminds us that the cartoon character Doraemon was designated an “anime cultural ambassador”, and in that role, the feature-length movies in which the cartoon character appeared were screened in 65 countries around the world in five languages.
While Ross Perot’s 1992 suggestion that the concept of diplomacy be reworked has been shown to be prescient despite the initial ridicule it received, even Mr. Perot might be astonished to see that less than a generation later, the conduct of relations among nations has degenerated into a kind of Wiki-diplomacy.
The goldbricks of international diplomacy
The only response to the infantilization of culture throughout the world might be to sigh and shrug the shoulders, but the Japanese foreign ministry, like its counterparts elsewhere, still has serious business to attend to.
Unfortunately, the Japanese equivalent of Foggy Bottom doesn’t seem to be doing much in the way of attending to those issues.
* When the Japanese government donated $11 million to restore the Mesopotamian marshlands in Iraq that Saddam Hussein had purposely drained, then-Prime Minister Koizumi asked the Foreign Ministry to conduct a survey of local residents. The ministry said it would take a year to complete.
Not wanting to wait that long, the government turned to the Self-Defense Forces already in Iraq and asked them. The SDF personnel conducted the survey in their spare time and finished in a week.
* The story of the five Japanese citizens forcibly abducted and finally returned by North Korea more than two decades later is fading from public memory, but it’s worth remembering that Pyeongyang at first allowed the abductees to return only temporarily. The abductees didn’t see it that way, however. After having been captured while minding their own business in their own country and held prisoner in another, it was natural that they wouldn’t want to go back.
Yet the people responsible in the Japanese Foreign Ministry were upset by their decision and publicly criticized it. They insisted that Japan throw its own innocent citizens into the hellhole once again. Their justification was that Japan had to uphold its part of the deal with a country that’s welshed on every important international agreement it’s signed during its existence–and who were holding those people unlawfully to begin with.
Could they have been more wrong? The five abductees stayed and their family members followed later, demonstrating yet again that the hard line does work in diplomacy, especially with tinhorn bullies.
* One capability the Foreign Ministry does have is setting public policy without conducting public debates about that policy. Try this from a recent article in a Canadian newspaper:
“A Japanese diplomat once told me that his assignment in Canada was to acquire lessons on the merits of multiculturalism in an effort to convince the Japanese people that, for them also, immigration will fix the problem of an aging society.”
“For them, also”? Immigration without assimilation has never fixed any problem anywhere, much less “the problem of an aging society”. The problem they’re really talking about is finding a tax source to fund the social welfare services for an aging society when the birthrate is far south of the replacement rate and isn’t going rise in the foreseeable future—particularly when those of prime breeding age are adult kiddies in a cosplay world.
As the article points out, however, even the Canadians are realizing that immigration isn’t a solution to that problem. The result of that policy, as the Europeans are also starting to understand, is that the problem will cease to exist because the country as they have known it will cease to exist. Japanese like to cite the proverb, go ni ireba, go ni shitagae (in other words, when in Rome, do as the Romans do) as the model for behavior when living overseas.
What the dwindling native European population is discovering, however, is that their Muslim immigrants aren’t in the least interested in go ni ireba. To them one part of Europe is a lost area of the ummah, the Community of Believers, that once was theirs. As for the rest, the immigrants’ fertility rates will eventually incorporate that into the ummah too, while the Europeans fade out by cosplaying everything except traditional family life.
One phrase some Japanese use in public debates is the charge that if a certain person is allowed to continue in office, or certain policies are maintained/not adopted, then kuni ga horobiru, or the country will cease to exist. Often the use of this phrase is language inflation of the same type used in debates in other countries, too.
Except in this case Japan’s foreign ministry has apparently decided on its own, without telling anyone else, that the country must adopt a policy by which it really will cease to exist.
Try this instead
While Mr. Perot might have had a point when he said that embassies are obsolete, the foreign service does have a role to play overseas by speaking up for its country. Japan’s foreign ministry, however, is too often tongue-tied instead of calmly but forcefully making the government’s case, whether the issue is Takeshima with South Korea, undersea natural gas rights with China, whaling with Australia, or the comfort women issue with the United States.
The point here is not about agreement or disagreement with any of those policies. Instead, Japan’s Foreign Ministry does little or nothing to promote the stated policies of its own government overseas–and that is their job. It chooses instead to cosplay as diplomats in international conferences using the obsolete postwar paradigm of presenting the country as a responsible international citizen reborn. Sign up for everything, pay for a lot of it, and smile and say nothing.
But since 1945, Japan has been a more responsible international citizen than any other country whose name could be drawn from a hat. It’s time for the Foreign Ministry to draw that conclusion and take the initiative to make that point abroad.
Instead, they spend their time promoting Misako-chan, Yu-chan, and Shizuka-chan as the face of their country to that part of the world inhabited by childish spirits in adult bodies.
When are they going to stop cosplaying the role of foreign service officers, knock off the Wiki-diplomacy, and speak for Japan in the world?
Or have they become so integrated in the global infantile culture that we should forgive them, for they know not what they do?
* The Canadian newspaper article is worth reading for several reasons, chiefly about how immigration won’t work. It also contains this classic bit of journalistic stupidity about Japan:
It’s true, for example, that by working insanely hard, the Japanese are able to maintain high productivity despite their low fertility rate. But a 17-hour work day in a Tokyo cubicle, where you feel guilty taking bathroom breaks, is hardly a family-friendly environment.
45 words, five mistakes resulting from sheer ignorance masquerading as knowledge.
* When I have occasion to mention Nakagawa Hidenao here, it’s usually in a positive light. But Mr. Nakagawa is one of the most prominent politicians to have taken a clear public stand in favor of large-scale immigration. We disagree. Perhaps I should start sending his office e-mails.
* Anyone is free to disagree with me about multiculturalism without assimilation, but I suggest to put your socks on first. I grew up in the United States speaking only English. My father’s father was born in what is now Belarus and was not a native speaker of English. My father’s mother was not exactly sure where she was born, but the family thinks it might have been that part of Romania held for a while by Russia. She too was not a native speaker of English. (She used to joke that she was Austrian; her birth certification said Austria-Hungary.)
Meanwhile, of my four great-grandparents on my mother’s side, one each came from Poland, Lithuania, and Bremen, Germany; none of them were native speakers of English either. The fourth, however, was from Canada.
I’ve been multicultural since I was zero years old.
* Why is it that Japan shies away from talking about the Europeans’ experience with immigration? Not all the immigrants are going to come from China or The Philippines. As someone who occasionally is called by public prosecutors in Saga and Fukuoka to interpret for illegal aliens apprehended when they were being smuggled into the country, I know that many of the people who would come to take the unskilled labor jobs will be from Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, statistics show that the most frequently used name now for male babies born in Brussels–the capital of the EU–is Mohammed. And in Amsterdam. And in Rotterdam. It’s creeping up the charts in England. Sometime around 2025, there will be more Muslim babies born in The Netherlands every year than ethnic Dutch. Huis ten Bosch in Sasebo might wind up being more Dutch than the European country in another generation.
It’s time for the Japanese media to start talking about this openly.
Thanks to NB and Ponta for the links!
This entry was posted on Friday, July 24, 2009 at 3:42 pm and is filed under Demography, Government, International relations, Popular culture, Social trends. Tagged: Japan. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.