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Japan pushing cultural diplomacy by Tai Hayashi

Japan pushing cultural diplomacy

Tai Hayashi

TOKYO - The government is stepping up its cultural diplomacy, which requires relatively little cost, amid a deteriorating fiscal situation that has stripped Japan of its position as the world's top provider of official development assistance (ODA).

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi inaugurated a private advisory council late last year to discuss how to promote cultural diplomacy, saying such efforts will improve recognition of Japan abroad and contribute to enhancing the safety of Japanese overseas.

The council, headed by Tamotsu Aoki, a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, is expected to come out with a proposal in April, and new projects will begin in fiscal 2006.

One of the key projects being studied is a Japanese version of the "artist in residence" system popular in Germany, France and the United States.

Under the project, young foreign artists and architects will be invited to Japan, and their activities will be supported with their residences and workshops provided.

The project is aimed at getting such people to deepen their understanding of Japan and fostering them as "missionaries" of Japanese culture, government officials said.

In addition, there will be more financial assistance from the Japan Foundation and private organizations to translate Japanese-language books to popularize Japan in Muslim and other societies which are not familiar with Japanese culture.

The "Japanese-language population" will also be increased through offering systematic curriculums for Japanese-language education, and monetary contributions of a certain amount to private organizations promoting international exchange will be tax-free so that such organizations can collect contributions easily.

The government has already been strengthening its cultural diplomacy in Iraq. At the end of October 2003 immediately before the Self-Defense Forces were dispatched to that country, the government provided the popular TV drama "Oshin" with Arabic subtitles to a local TV station.

The broadcasting of another popular TV drama, "Project X," started in January. Water trucks given to Musanna State have stickers of the soccer comic Captain Tsubasa (wing), which is popular among Iraqi children.

Last summer immediately before the Athens Olympic Games, the government invited Iraqi judoka to Japan for intensive training by the Japan Judo Federation. Although Iraq was defeated in the first match, some of its judoka thanked Japan in an interview.

Seiichi Kondo, director in charge of cultural exchange at the Foreign Ministry, said, "An improved Japanese image will lead to active personal and commodity exchanges."

Although something similar to the explosive popularity in Japan of Korean TV dramas cannot be expected, Kondo wants to gradually expand the "Japan boom" overseas to narrow the distance between the world and Japan. (Kyodo News)


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