Japan picks "schoolgirl" among cute ambassadors

Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:20am EDT
 
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By Isabel Reynolds

TOKYO (Reuters) - Ever seen an ambassador dressed from head to foot in pastel frills? How about a diplomatic envoy in a mini-skirted school uniform?

In a bid to raise its international profile, Tokyo has appointed three young women as cultural envoys because they represent Japan's long-running craze for all things cute.

Inspired by the characters in Japan's distinctive "anime" animated films and "manga" cartoon books, one of the new ambassadors dresses as a schoolgirl, another as a Victorian doll in voluminous frilly skirts.

The third of the women, presented at a news conference on Thursday, was a singer dressed in a polka dot shirt with a bunny print, offset by bouffant back-combed hair, a look that has made her a fashion leader in Tokyo teens' favorite haunt, Harajuku.

Japan wants to exploit the popularity of the "kawaii" (cute) culture, which has influenced young people in Asia and Europe.

"It's all about mutual understanding," said Tsutomu Nakagawa, the head of the cultural affairs division at the Foreign Ministry, after presenting the three envoys to the foreign media.

"We want people abroad to know these kind of people exist in Japan and to feel close to them."

Faced with the prospect of being overtaken in both economic and military might by giant neighbor China, Japan has been making concerted efforts to boost its "soft power," a strategy that analysts see as important.   Continued...

 
<p>Ambassadors of Cute, Shizuka Fujioka (L), Yu Kimura, and Misako Aoki (R), pose during a news conference at Japan's Foreign Ministry in Tokyo March 12, 2009. Ever seen an ambassador dressed from head to foot in pastel frills? How about a diplomatic envoy in a mini-skirted school uniform? In a bid to raise its international profile, Tokyo has appointed three young women as cultural envoys because they represent Japan's long-running craze for all things cute. REUTERS/Michael Caronna</p>