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Repurposing Place Online: Japan’s Push for Foreign Tourists after 3.11

Laura Beltz Imaoka
University of California, Irvine
limaoka@uci.edu

Introduction

Three days following 3.11, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) sent an official letter of support to Japan’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism assuring him of their readiness to provide any assistance to aid recovery. Beyond condolences for the loss of lives and property, the Secretary General of the UNWTO added his concern for the damage caused to “the beautiful tourism destinations in North eastern part of Tokyo and many of other places.”[i] Far from an isolated incident, this geographical gaffe reflects a multitude of others following the disaster, as international media outlets saturated electronic screens with a menagerie of images, conflated maps, videos, and speculations.[ii] For Japan’s tourism sector, the disaster’s mediation had immediate and far reaching economic repercussions, resulting in a dramatic downturn of foreign tourists entering the country and a surprising number of tourists cancelling trips to areas located far from the disaster zone.[iii] To a global audience, “Japan,” the nation as a whole, had become unsafe.

In order to repair the negative aftereffect of international disaster coverage and reinstate confidence in their country’s tourist-friendly stability, Japan’s tourism industry embarked on an intense period of global image management via social media-based public relations (PR) campaigns. In today’s converged media-communications environment, participation, interaction, and co-creation have taken center stage. Media work now involves various stakeholders, from professional producers, audiences, to sponsors; each with different objectives, from commerce, creativity, to social connection. Disasters as media events transferred into cultural memory are thus co-constructed with indeterminate levels of control over meaning-making activities. Discussing a fraction of these cultural productions with a focus on the stakeholder goals, constraints, and the technology that facilitates them, this paper reflects on the contested nature of post-disaster social media interactions and their influence on the ongoing struggle over 3.11’s meaning in history.

Interacting with Disaster Recovery

The transformation of disasters into media events are complex processes of cultural production between a differentiated set of actors (Klinenberg 2002, 190). Internationally covered events extend involvement, as digital technologies and the Internet have made various netizens both watchdogs and amenable providers of relevant information. Rather than replacing traditional sources and interpreters of crises, journalists and governments have adapted to these changes by appropriating and soliciting user-generated content for their own purpose (Bahador and Tng 2010, 179; Lovink 2007; Klinenberg and Benzecry 2005, 11). At the same time, the strategies of “Web 2.0,” a cultural logic embraced by media companies to integrate participatory components and mixed-media marketing campaigns into their business plans in order to generate buzz for their brands via ever enticing Internet-based interactions, are being applied by governments and their industries to not only disseminate and collect information, but to extend “soft power” relations.

Far from being a vehicle for the dominant ideology, however, the Internet is best understood as a complex global marketplace of “repurposed” content and practices. Cultural power is produced and reproduced, mediated and negotiated, circulated and consumed, and importantly contested via a digital medium that furthers its indetermination. Yet, neither is the Internet a utopian, democratic environment of open participation and free speech. While pro-amateur creative activities dominated early conceptions of how digitization would change media production, today companies are more strategic in integrating participatory components into their business plans due to anxiety over providing too much freedom in the task of generating the raw material to enhance their brand’s value (Green and Jenkins 2009, 214). To place these anxieties and strategies into context, first analyzed will be the preferred content produced by a traditionally broadcast PR campaign.

From Pop Ambassadors to “Objective” Non-Citizen Tourists

In July of 2011, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) enlisted the help of their ambassadors, the all-male pop idol group, Arashi, to produce a short PR clip entitled, “Message from Japan,” featuring each member respectively enjoying the touristic pleasures of Hokkaido, Aomori, Tokyo, Kyoto, Kagoshima, and Okinawa. It would air simultaneously across the globe, in airports and Japanese embassies of more than 133 countries, including on a giant electronic billboard in New York’s Times Square. The goal: to repair Japan’s image and entice tourists. Beyond gratitude for foreign support, discussion of the disaster is purposely neglected; bypassed in favor of benign shots of rice fields and sandy beaches, kimono-clad women, summer festival dancing, and long tables filled with dishes of regional delicacies untouched by the shaken earth, risen ocean water, or invisible leaks of nuclear radiation. It adopts a tone of naïve curiosity and wish fulfillment as the five members express childlike attributes of awe and wonder at tilled farm fields and pots of boiling tofu and vegetables, while encountering friendly, carefree citizens along the way. The pop idols, benign geography, and jovial citizens not only produce a preferred narrative for the home country, but, in this case, “work” to invite foreign travelers to a land seemingly untouched and innocent of trauma.

Despite having control over message production and distribution, the economic and technical means to broadcast one-to-many does not assume a dispersed global audience will read texts as desired. Since the Internet only furthers possibilities for contestation, relinquishing control requires incentive. A campaign that received hyped media coverage before actual budget approval was JTA’s “Fly to Japan!” offering 10,000 free roundtrip tickets to travelers with the stipulation that they would publicize their trip on blogs and social media sites. The 1.18 billion yen requested for the campaign, however, was not approved as part of the governmental draft budget.[iv] Kyle Clark, head of PR and marketing at the London branch of the Japan National Tourism Organization, reasoned apologetically “how insensitive it would appear for the Japanese government to give people free flights to Japan when the cities, towns and villages devastated by the tsunami are still in desperate need of funding for reconstruction.”[v] The sudden acknowledgement of disaster victims and material devastation seemed to be an afterthought to the initial prospect of 10,000 voices proclaiming Japan as safe and visitor-ready. With heightened message distribution as one incentive, another was a belief that non-citizen, novice Japan travelers, removed from geopolitical space, can become “objective,” reliable workers to repair the nation’s image.

JTA’s concept of selecting influential blogger-types to relay positive Internet messages did not go untapped by smaller tourism agencies. One campaign that commenced in December of 2011, was the Travel Volunteer Project, the brainchild of a small travel agency called Magellan Resorts in Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture. The two Britons chosen out of 1,897 applicants to undertake the mission of traveling the country’s forty-seven prefectures in one hundred days, was photographer Katy Morrison and writer Jamie Lafferty. Their respective professions added to their desirability for the work they would be required to produce in exchange for the trip. Stated on the bilingual website is the company’s desire to support recovery, explaining the damage done by international media to the tourism business, and asserting, as the preceding PR clip that “all other places outside the evacuation zone are totally safe.” Katy and Jamie’s creative labor, an itinerary of photojournalistic blog entries detailing their stays in each prefecture, is announced by the company as “a volunteer traveler’s objective impressions on a daily travel blog.”[vi]

The couple’s product, however, reflects a Japan experience fully planned and catered to by commercial vendors whose websites are hyperlinked throughout their posts. Like traveler guidebooks and television travel programs which reproduce positive images of exotic locales, their blog details clichéd experiences of feeding biscuits to the deer of Nara Park, crossing the Shibuya scramble, and whisky sampling in the Suntory distillery. Photographs capture the familiar landscapes, cuisines, and culture of Japan, while their commentary, translated into Japanese for a bilingual audience, presents a conservative politeness; taking seriously the charge of promoting Japan’s tourism under the watchful eyes of a local audience.

Critique is also limited to addressing international media reports on Japan’s situation. The blog detailing their day spent in Fukushima prefecture, 88 kilometers (54 miles) from the power plant, attempts to position Japan’s safety vis-à-vis comparative critique of America’s heightened levels of radiation. A photograph of a handheld radiation reader displaying 0.16 millisieverts provides visual support to their perspective. The post ends as others with hyperlinks to local companies; a restaurant and grocer in Fukushima who helped make their day trip there possible.[vii] While the Travel Volunteer blog garnered interest and commentary at home and abroad, the content did not stray far from the messages produced via top-down means. Despite a facade of objectivity, the two travelers became commercial actors similar to the well-paid pop idols who work for JTA; producing an image of Japan far removed from the disaster that prompted their trip.

The Local, Non-Citizen Network

Another layer of media-communication convergence is between governments, multinational Internet corporations, and users; each using social media technologies for their own purpose. In May of 2011, YouTube/Google Japan launched a “partner” program called “Japan is Genki” (energetic, great), to bring together message videos from Japan-based video bloggers to report on the conditions of their location and to introduce and promote local sightseeing, business, and recreation to their foreign viewers.[viii] While receiving less attention and promotion than the preceding PR campaigns, the initiative and output best displays the reasoned anxiety over media’s participatory context and the costs and benefits of relinquishing control over meaning-making activities.

Officially launched in December of 2005, YouTube remains a thriving, global video-sharing website that touts the democratic possibility of converting media consumers into producers, while intersecting with new media economic models of spreading and channeling content from corporations and investors through networked niche groups and in-site advertisements. By servicing the productive capabilities of its users and allowing produced content to lead to social connection, YouTube provides non-elites a powerful medium to communicate, support each other’s struggles, and create equivalent insider groups at scales going from local to global (Sassen 2007; Bernal 2006; Jenkins 2006). Japan-based video bloggers, or “J-vloggers” as they term themselves, are an example of a networked community who are providing the commodity of information to a growing base of people that are migrating to more informal and non-institutionalized digital resources for a wide range of needs.

Members of the J-vlogging community connect via their foreigner status and desire to share personal experiences and information about Japan via social media. Demographically, this group is trans-multinational and intergenerational; composed of long-term residents with families, to temporary English teachers, study abroad students, and Japanese nationals seeking to connect with both a local and international audience. The community is reconstructed through brief generations, partially due to passing interests in vlogging as a hobby, but also to the transitory nature of Japan’s foreigners. Beyond a cyber community, ties are actualized through planned meet-ups and video collaborations.[ix] Their dispersed audience often has an inherent interest in Japan and use J-vlogs as stepping stones in their dreams of geographic mobility. A networked niche community with a well-defined, engaged audience who could relay information to others in their online and offline social circles, makes J-vloggers seemingly well suited to assist in the various initiatives taken to stimulate Japan’s tourism. Reminiscent of Jamie and Katy’s labor for local vendors, J-vlogger’s requested work would both extend Japan’s soft power, while inconspicuously furthering the humanitarian brand of Google, who stands as another stakeholder in this media-communication convergence.[x]

YouTube’s self-described emphasis on user-generated community, however, often discourages marketers from placing their brand in the hands of its user producers, due to a lack of control over the messages produced and how they are displayed and then shared (Andrejevic 2009). While supporting tourism to Japan is less commercially specific, anxiety is expressed in YouTube Japan Team’s invitation letter to its non-citizen partners. The letter states similar reasons behind other PR campaigns, detailing Japan’s drop in foreign tourists and a need to assist recovery. The only incentive to participate is an allowance to monetize videos, with a slim possibility of content being promoted on their central channel. Still, guidelines are provided; attempting to steer content by stressing the importance of introducing oneself and location, listing desired types of promotion, a reminder to encourage audiences to visit Japan, and tips for lingual effectiveness.[xi]

An analysis of these productions reveals the reasoning behind these requests. A 700-view count, two minute vlog produced by “Camswitzer,” a J-vlogger and twenty year Fukui Prefecture resident, follows the letter’s advice and stipulations, but does not present the similar glossy aesthetic presented in the “Message from Japan” PR clip or the Travel Volunteer blog. Instead, for one minute in front of a busy Shinjuku Station exit through nervous hand gestures and unscripted, choppy dialogue, he tells the audience to visit Japan for the non-descript “shopping,” “culture,” and “food.” The last forty-five seconds are a shaky point-of-view shot walking through the crowded and slightly darkened subway terminal, harking to the post-disaster energy conservation mandated throughout Japan.[xii]

One of the most viewed partner submissions, currently around 13,000 view counts, is by J-vlogger “Rhyminggaijin” on Fuji-Q Highland; a theme park situated outside iconic Mount Fuji.[xiii] “Rhyminggaijin,” who calls himself “Rhyming” for short, is a Tokyo-based, African American freestyle rapper whose vlogs detail his daily life as an English teacher and aspiring MBA student, while promoting his hopeful music career. He dedicates his channel to those “trying to do the impossible;” which for him is to become an internationally recognized, commercially successful, Japan-based rapper.[xiv] While other J-vlogger’s ambitions are less overt, there is often a sense of self-promotion. Reasons to participate in “Japan is Genki” is perhaps best expressed by “Camswitzer” on his blog: “I can’t turn down an opportunity to 1) help people, and 2) pimp myself out to the world!”[xv]

Effective participation in the attention economy means that users can employ the same tools to also gain attention, even if to simply share their subjective opinions (Lovink 2007, 28). Thus, while J-vloggers provide information to a global audience about life in Japan, it does not mean all their vlogs paint a positive picture of their host country. Among the vlogs inviting their audience to Japan, others by the same vlogger may detail their inconveniences encountered as a foreigner or opinions on the disaster itself. Furthermore, many J-vlogger’s on the ground reporting contributed to the damaging images utilized by international news outlets who usurped their content as they coped with sparse information on the disaster. High view counts coming from “Japan earthquake” headlined videos means several J-vloggers profited from 3.11 via ad revenue.

Concluding Thoughts

Just as the initial occurrence of dramatic events encouraged media outlets to go directly to citizen journalists, governments and their industries are finding citizens or in this case non-citizens, potential allies in national image repair work. Japan’s tourism industry rebounded to a normal level a year later.[xvi] Whether a direct result of these PR campaigns is indiscernible, but each suggests both the Internet’s viability and precariousness as a commercial platform capable of channeling hegemonic discourses; where a desire to assert Japan’s geography as safe in many cases made invisible 3.11’s victims and ongoing contentions. Knowledge production is an increasingly mediated affair and the heightened dependence on information technology to make sense of the world makes following these developments in the media-communications environment necessary to understand where power is situated in the social construction of disasters. It also necessitates analyses of other concurrent cultural productions, from local meaning-making activities to science communication, to understand the interactions and influences amongst them.


[ii] A good example of this is on March 14, 2011, when Fox News displayed a map incorrectly labeling two non-existent nuclear power plants in Tokyo, with one of them named “Shibuyaeggman,” which turned out to be a Tokyo night club (Source: http://mediamatters.org/blog/2011/03/14/fox-news-discovers-nuclear-reactor-in-japanese/177553).

[iii] According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, Japan experienced a 73 percent fall in the March 12-31 period following the March 11 disaster; a 62.5 percent drop in April (the largest year-on-year drop on record), and a 50.4 percent drop in May (The Japan Times, June 17, 2011).

[viii] YouTube instigated a partnership program in early 2007 to share revenue with their most-watched content providers, which they term “partners” (Wasko and Erikson 2009).

[ix] The now annual video collaboration, first called “Ganbare Japan” (you can do it Japan), started by well-known J-vlogger “Gimmeabreakman,” elicits anyone anywhere to send a video or picture to inspire recovery and remember 3.11.

[x] While outside the scope of this shortened paper, Google’s mapping and digital archiving initiatives, from a Special Collection of Street View of Japan’s tourism destinations immediately following the disaster, to current “Memories of the Future” project that archived Fukushima’s ghost towns and tsunami stricken villages, provides an interesting side note on the ongoing memorialization and meaning-making of 3.11.

[xvi] Source: http://www.seejapan.co.uk/JNTO_Consumer/media/press-releases/press-release-detail/12-07-26/Visitors-to-Japan-Recover-to-Pre-disaster-Level

References

Andrejevic, Marc. 2009. “Exploiting YouTube: Contradictions of User-Generated Labor.” In The YouTube Reader, edited by Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau, 406-423. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden.

Bahador, Babak, and Serene Tng. 2010. “The Changing Role of Citizen in Conflict Reporting.” Pacific Journalism Review 16 (2): 178-194.

Bernal, Victoria. 2006. “Diaspora, Cyberspace and the Political Imagination: the Eritrean Diaspora Online.” Global Networks 6 (2): 161-179.

Bockowshi, Pablo. 2004. Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Klinenberg, Eric. 2002. Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Klinenberg, Eric, and Claudio Benzecry. 2005. “Cultural Production in a Digital Age.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 597: 6-18.

Green, Joshua, and Henry Jenkins. 2009. “The Moral Economy of Web 2.0: Audience Research and Convergence Culture.” In Media Industries: History, Theory, and Method, edited by J. Holt and A. Perren, 213-225. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. London and New York: New York University Press.

Lovink, Geert. 2007. Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sassen, Saskia. 2000. “Digital Networks and the State: Some Governance Questions.” Theory, Culture & Society 17: 19-33.

Wasko, Janet, and Mary Erickson. 2009.” The Political Economy of YouTube.” In The YouTube Reader, edited by Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau, 372-386. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden.

Laura Beltz Imaoka is a doctoral student in the Ph.D. Program in Visual Studies at the University of California, Irvine, and holds a M.A. in Anthropology from California State University, Northridge. Her dissertation research analyzes the emergence of geographic information systems as commercial media platforms, their geo-literacy potential, and use and misuse as social media.

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13 Comments
  1. Monamie Bhadra permalink

    This is a really great piece! I wonder if one would see the dynamics you observe in other places that suffered disasters, like in areas devastated by the 2004 Sumatra tsunami, or tourism in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake? I have no idea if tourism in these disaster-affected regions rebounded, but I wonder if there is a different way of enticing and beckoning tourists back after a seemingly “natural” disaster, than in one marked by the invisibility of radiation.

  2. Nicolas Sternsdorff permalink

    Laura — I enjoyed reading your essay, and it’s a great case of how the image of the disaster is shaped for a foreign traveling audience.

    I have heard of disaster tourism in Chernobyl, and I wonder if you every came across of the opposite impulse — some kind of disaster tourism that seeks to go specifically to Fukushima or the tsunami areas?

    I was also reminded by your essay of the domestic campaigns by Fukushima prefecture. They held one at Ueno station in Tokyo last summer, where they promoted the prefecture, the delicious food and the nice people. There was also zero mention of the nuclear meltdown.

  3. Scott Knowles permalink

    Thanks for this thought-provoking piece Laura. Like Nicolas I thought immediately of the inverse case, the “disaster tourism” evident in everything from crowds at fires to Hurricane Katrina tours, nuclear tourists (in the US), etc. I’m curious if authorities have noted “tourists” coming to Fukushima. If not, why not? Is there something special about radiation v. say a hurricane or fire that tamps down the urge to witness damage.

    Related, but more to the point of your essay, I’m wondering if you have seen any comparison between the consumption of images of death and destruction v. the types of pro-tourism messages you have studied? I know that some of the amateur videos of the tsunami on Youtube have reached sort of cult status. In the “democracy” that is Youtube your tourism promoters no-doubt had these negative images to contend with.

    I’m also interested in the status of the JTA. This is a state-sponsored group, or a non-profit travel industry promotional syndicate? Do they have a history of reacting in this way–post-Kobe perhaps or the Sarin gas attacks? Who works for them? Do they have an ideology that goes beyond selling plane tickets? Do they receive messaging support (or command) from the state? I ask because this opens a window into the “normalizing work” that stretches across many of the essays for this workshop–it really is done by a bizarre and broad cast of characters isn’t it–experts in everything from nuclear power to emergency management to public health to tourism. There is such a heavy investment in getting back to “normal.”

  4. People have raised several interesting issues in response to this essay. I look forward to responses in our meeting.

    On a rather different note, I wonder if it would be possible for you to show us examples of some of the “childlike attributes of awe and wonder” you mention. I raise the issue because there are more than a few instances in which expressions of interest/curiosity which Japanese would see as genuine (and unproblematic) are seen by people unfamiliar with Japan more along the lines of your description (and therefore, potentially problematic in terms of effectively communicating to non-Japanese).

    Early in the paper you note social media’s role in the “struggle over 3-11’s meaning in history,” but my sense is that this line of discussion was not developed throughout the paper. Perhaps you could comment on it in your remarks. Whose “history” is at issue hear? In this instance, what do we mean by “history?”

  5. Kath Weston permalink

    Do you know the work of Chris Pinney and others on the India Shining campaign? This was another glossy-aesthetic PR barrage, globally distributed, with travel poster visuals and nationalist imagery. Developed by the Hindu nationalist BJP government in 2004 in the context of an election rather than a disaster, it pretty much flopped domestically in India for reasons that some argue had to do with the way in which the Congress Party’s campaign countered with gritty black-and-white imagery familiar to viewers from Bollywood movies on the rise of the nation. But the India Shining campaign lived (lives?) on globally in foreign glossies and airline magazines, where most viewers didn’t share this history of aesthetic production, or associate travel industry style visuals with controversial moves to “globalize” the nation. On the topic of “what works” to repair an image, this came to mind as an interesting contrasting case for the campaign you describe by the JTA, where some of the culturalized imagery would probably have worked equally well for domestic viewers in Japan, who were being treated to post-disaster television coverage of the revival of cherry blossom viewing and hanabi (fireworks) festivals in Tohoku as the months rolled on.

  6. I actually showed my history of East Asia class a JTA PR video to analyze in class this year, so this paper interested me very much, and I’m looking forward to the discussions your paper will prompt. I’m especially curious about the “who” behind “traveler,” and how that demographic or the idea of the fit traveler has changed since March 11th. From reading this paper, I get a sense that “traveler” corresponds to white gaijin if the case of the two Britons is taken as a cue, but I suspect this is not the full picture, in fact. Aren’t many travelers large, travel agency-organized tour groups from China and Korea? While the identities of the vloggers are known, I wonder if you might share some information about the everyday Japanese person’s image of a traveler to Japan? I think drawing this out a bit more would be important would help speak to the role of 3.11 in mediating or countering some ongoing issues relevant to the contemporary history of East Asia and Japan-Korea-China relations. For instance, what is the overlap between these videos you study with those created by youths who wish to extend goodwill to Korea and China? Does the effort to repair the image of Japan converge with youths’ efforts to defuse the political situation in the region?

  7. Laura Imaoka permalink

    Thank you all for the wonderful comments and questions.

    Monamie, good question! I read that it took about 5 years for New Orleans to recapture its pre-disaster tourism level, with the BP Oil Spill causing continued problems. Again it’s a natural disaster later on made worse by a non-natural one. And the Sumatra earthquake certainly devastated the tourism industry in that area, and there were campaigns to promote tourists back. But it does seem that radiation poses a different kind of keep away threat.

    Nicholas and Scott – I have heard of instances of “disaster tourism” to tsunami-stricken areas in Japan. Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture made their disaster-ravaged port town into a tourist center to raise funds. The foreign ministry also lifted the need to purchase tourist visas when entering Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima prefectures, hoping to lure in more visitors from China, for example. And both Sanriku Railway Co. and JTB Tohoku Inc. started tours a couple of months after 3.11, taking visitors to the hardest hit areas. And Nicholas, the town of Otsuchi is an interesting counterpoint to the domestic campaigns you mentioned by Fukushima prefecture!

    One story I am following for my research is Google’s digital archiving of the disaster areas, with their Street View technology providing a before and after virtual tourism encounter with not only the tsunami-stricken areas, but also a town in the restricted radiation zone. The town of Namie in Fukushima actually collaborated with Google to have their now empty town mapped and archived. Conversely, Google also aided Japan’s tourism industry immediately following the disaster by upping the number of Street View catalogues of Japan’s popular destinations, all located far from the disaster zones. Google presents an interesting player in crisis response and recovery, and between governments and media, and I’m tackling their “information interventions” to understand how the Internet is a new stage for disaster representation.

    Scott, good connection! JTA was formed in 2008 by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism; though their mandate is of “being a government agency unlike the usual, unfettered by traditional framework.” Their concern aligns with the state, as being economic (with Japan’s low-birth rate and aging population mentioned throughout their official statements) and with tourism’s strong influence on GDP, they become image workers and revitalizers to build what they are calling “a true tourism nation.” So their role following the disaster certainly kicked into gear since there was a lot of normalizing to do.

  8. Laura Beltz Imaoka permalink

    Phil, the “Message from Japan” clip is uploaded to YT and available for viewing here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTT1O2VtrSY. I think you will see many examples of what I mention as expressions of curiosity/interest, which I agree are unproblematic in Japan. In my longer paper I do discuss some of the possible cultural miscommunications, along with the pop idol Arashi’s little known presence in North America, and the Maneki Neko (Lucky Cat) doll they travel with as having already lost its cultural specificity to become part of global kitsch culture. And thank you for pointing out this issue of “history.” I suppose I was thinking about it in terms of media representations of 3.11 and how later these will become documents of history. My focus is definitely a media industry studies one, so I’m interested in how governments are acting similar to and experiencing the same anxieties as media corporations when using social media as a means of promotion and cocreation. And when looking at the cultural texts, I am looking at how the narratives being produced show a struggle over representation.

    Kath, thank you for the suggestion. I have read Chris Pinney but not in regards to the India Shining campaign, which sounds like a really great case study. Also, you made me think further on how even though this “Message from Japan” PR clip is made for a foreign audience, it perhaps had a similar impact on the domestic audience as with the post-disaster television coverage you mention. News releases in Japan showcased the pop idols and showed footage of its run in New York’s Times Square, interviewing local New Yorkers or NY tourists to see what they thought. Similarly the Travel Volunteer Blog had a domestic readership and press conferences with the participants and local community interactions surely served similar domestic repair functions.

    Lisa, thank you for your comments. I admit that my paucity of knowledge of media interactions on Japan-Korea-China political relations and the goodwill videos of youth you mention, limits me in responding well. From what I know, the JTA ad was subtitled in Korean and Chinese for similar functions in embassies and airports in those regions abroad, and I know the foreign ministry rescinded visa purchasing for entry into the three prefectures worst affected by the disaster, in order to get back tourists from places like China. The Travel Volunteer blog was definitely an English/Japanese venture, definitely limiting interaction with non-English speaking countries. However, Japan’s prior “soft power” campaigns, especially during the “Cool Japan” era, were not limited to promoting Japanese popular and traditional culture to the “West.” I look forward to hearing more about what you mentioned when we meet.

    Thank you all for your comments and think-points. Looking forward to talking with you soon!

  9. Laura, your paper is very “genki”!

    These “Fly to Japan” and “Japan is very genki campaign” remind me of all the things I wish 3.11 would destroy in Japanese society! I am motivated by a Schumpeterian sense of creative destruction!

    For example, after 1945, Japan developed a more democratic society and political institutions. Similarly I wish post 3.11 could get rid of this extremely non-gender free, male predominant culture making that 98% of the power positions are held by men. (by the way, let’s also destroy this “all-male” pop idol group!)

    I would be interested to read your PhD thesis. Regarding GIS, would you agree with my comment on Charlotte’s paper?

  10. Wow, those Arashi boys really are omnipresent, aren’t they? Please don’t destroy them though, Paul. It would make my mother-in-law cry. She loves them.

    I want to second Phil’s comment, though I don’t think “childlike awe” is an inaccurate description. But I think that video definitely belongs to a staple genre of Japanese television — the famous “talent” exploring some local area, meeting the people, eating the food, and expressing “childlike awe and wonder” all the while. So I wonder how exploring this side of it might affect your analysis, Laura (if at all).

    I was also reminded of Cornell’s research travel policy in the months after the disasters. The university banned support for all research and travel to the entire country of Japan for about a year (for students) — at exactly a time when it seemed most critical to be there — because of “concerns about safety” (which I translate as “paranoia about liability”).

  11. One more brief comment — I can definitely confirm that disaster tourism is a prominently visible activity, at least in Miyagi and Iwate. I don’t know about Fukushima, though.

  12. Kyle Cleveland permalink

    Laura – I recall quite vividly thinking the day after 3.11 goodbye to all that recent fixation on pop culture politics, as the somber seriousness of the crisis would presumably displace the preoccupation with Hikkikomori Otaku and Akiba as the gravitational center of Japanese area studies. Your work bridges that gap, demonstrating how cultural diplomacy shifted toward Tohoku, marketing disaster sympathy rather than pop culture, in the service of institutional interests that took it on the nose in these tripartite disasters. David Leheny’s work in this area may be useful:

    Leheny, David (2006). “A Narrow Place to Cross Swords: Soft Power and the Politics of Japanese Popular Culture in East Asia,” in Beyond Japan: The Dynamics of East Asian Regionalism. Edited by Peter J. Katzenstein and Takashi Shiraishi, Cornell University Press.

    It may be worthwhile to consider how government priorities are commoditized and marketed in this context, and how difficult this is with the radioactive glow of Fukushima casting a shadow that is a difficult sell for foreigners who have a less than nuanced understanding of the situation on the ground, having been influenced by harsh media renderings. The alternate universe of the blogosphere is an interesting domain to explore how non-government actors are developing their own discourses and how this tracks (or not) onto government agendas.

  13. Imaoka addresses the very interesting question of the use of emerging information technologies to address questions of rebuilding a positive image of Japan as a tourist destination following the international news coverage of the disaster and the consequent perception of Japan as unsafe for visitors. She explores particularly the practice of J-vlogging, in which individuals blog their particular reports on Japan, and concludes that this can be both positive and negative. While most J-vloggers likely have strong interests in Japan, they can ..and do…report both positive and negative experiences. It proves to be an untested means of creating a positive image of Japan for the tourist industry, but represents an interesting use of social media that cannot be discounted in understanding processes of image creation and public perception of Japan. Such images likely affect the tourist industry, but it is not so easy to ensure that the images are positive.

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