Table Speech

Culture and Diplomacy

February 4, 2015

Mr. Hiroyasu Ando
President, The Japan Foundation

 Culture has come to be seen as the tools of diplomacy in Japan these days, based on two reasons. One is a growing recognition within Japan on the importance and value of our own culture. Culture inevitably plays a greater role as a country matures, seen in France, the UK and other European countries. Also, Japanese culture is gaining international recognition, whereas a few decades ago our country was only seen as an economic superpower. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc., or Nikkei, conducted a survey in six Asian counties on their perception about Japan. The results showed that Japanese anime, manga, sushi, art works and culture dominated the top ranks of interest. Also, mutual understanding and cultural exchanges exceeded politics and economy in enhancing bilateral relations. “Public diplomacy” is gaining momentum to communicate with publics around the world in an effective manner.

 The second reason is that China and South Korea have come to take bold measures not only in historical or territorial issues but also in public diplomacy. The Japan Foundation has been offering the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test worldwide and there were 770,000 examinees as of 2009. Confucius Institutes of China also conduct the Chinese Proficiency Test and its number of examinees keeps growing, reaching 5 million in 2013. While Japan sends 100-200 language experts overseas, China sends as many as 10,000 Chinese language teachers. Also, the number of language courses provided overseas by China keeps growing to exceed 1,000, while the Japan Foundation gives only about 30 courses. China has an ambitious plan to send 20,000 teachers and provide 1,500 courses overseas by 2015. Likewise, Korean dramas and pop music are gaining great popularity in Southeast Asia. Exports of their cultural contents surged from 1.3 billion dollars in 2005 to 4.3 billion dollars in 2011, boosted by a sharp increase in national budget allocations on their contents industry since the Kim Dae-jung administration of 1998. Total exports of Korean terrestrial TV programs overtook Japan in 2004 and it was three times as large as Japan in 2010. Such strong competition from our neighboring countries stimulates us to take more active measures. It is reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will set up “Japan House” in major cities around the world to disseminate information on Japanese culture, technology and diplomatic policies.

 However, there are two points to note. One is to distinguish between public relations and cultural exchanges. It is important for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide clear and accurate explanations on our governmental policies to governments, media and key figures in other countries. Cultural exchange is different in nature. The Japan Foundation implements various programs, based on a neutral position. We keep ourselves at “arm’s length” from the government to gain confidence from other countries. We must make it clear that we are not a propaganda tool for the government. Although Japan has some sensitive issues with China, the Japan Foundation continues to implement its cultural programs, thanks to a strong bond of trust. We are working on the general public, not experts, to get understanding on Japan and to build friendship slowly but steadily.

 The second point is that Japan needs to take a different approach from China and South Korea and ensure the quality of our overseas initiatives. While the Confucius Institutes of China have set the aforementioned ambitious numerical target, some of their programs are questionable that led the University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State University to close the Confucius Institute.

 Another point I wish to raise is the importance of building mutual exchanges with other countries by respecting the views of our counterparts. The number of Japanese learners, especially at the secondary educational level, is growing dramatically in Southeast Asia, from 130,000 in 1998 to exceed 1.1 million in 2012. But there is a shortage of Japanese language teachers. The Japan Foundation has launched the “NIHONGO (Japanese language) Partners” program which dispatches retired workers or students who go through training sessions and assist local Japanese language teachers in Southeast Asia. Last year we received 500 applications and sent 100 partners. We aim to build two-way exchanges so that they not only facilitate the spread of Japanese language education but also learn the language and culture of the host country. Another example is the terrestrial TV program series Kokoro no Tomo (Friend in my heart) produced by an Indonesian TV station. This hit program is named after a song by Mayumi Itsuwa which is extremely popular in Indonesia. The program introduces Japanese pop culture, tourist attractions and Indonesians living in Japan, guided by a beautiful girl who was the 1st runner-up Miss Indonesia. It is an effective way to introduce Japan, based on the views of the audiences in different countries.

 Before closing, let me add two points. One is that the so-called pop culture like anime and manga has become the mainstream of cultural exchanges, yet Japan has a greater variety of cultural assets. Thus we must introduce our culture by balancing out the traditional and contemporary elements.

 Another point is that Japan must shift its focus on the Western countries to a much more diversified world, including Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. We must also value and develop the Japanese culture.