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Deconstructing Japan's PR: Where is the public?

Deconstructing Japan’sPR
Where is the public?
Nancy Snow
Japan is not necessarily the most interesting subject around the world.
(Masato Otaka, spokesman, Japanese embassy in Washington,DC)
A quarter of a century ago, Karel van Wolferen, a 17-year veteran East Asian correspondent for
the Dutch daily newspaper, NRC Handelsblad , published a critical assessment of Japan’s political
economy and parliamentary democracy system. The Enigma of Japanese Power:People and Politics
in a Stateless Nation (1989) was well received internationally but not in Japan. This was at a time
when most of the world’s headlines were trumping the wa (harmony) of corporate and gov-
ernment relations known collectively as “Japan Inc. as well as the rise of Japan as an economic
superpower to rival the US. In stark contrast, Karel Van Wolferen described a country still under
the military-political protective thumb of the US, its former war nemesis and post-World War
Two occupier, and without an active citizen public invested in how the nation was running.
His concern then, as it is now, is a propensity in Japan to passivity in democratic government
participation (Beeson and Stubbs, 2012 ). Aparadox of Japan is a resilient populace with societal
stability driven by kizuna (bonds in human relations), but with a weak political structure (Miura
and Walker, 2012 ). Arecent study of East Asian citizen participation by Doh Shin ( 2012 ) showed
that deferential authoritarian types– those who go along with their political leaders and report
living either in a full democracy or a democracy with just minor problems– were most numer-
ous. Deferential authoritarians are over one-and-a-half times as prevalent as critical democrats
(34 per cent versus 21 per cent)– citizens of democracies who report living either in a democ-
racy with major problems or a non-democracy. Japan is of import since it is the oldest and most
democratic East Asian nation state and has served as a model for democratization throughout the
region (Beeson, 2009 ). Further, Japan’s postwar occupation, allegiance, and bilateral alliance with
the US in national security protection and constitutional heritage make this case study of the
missing public in Japan’s public relations (see Leitch & Neilson, 2001 ) a comparative bridge in
the public relations literature from East Asia to a US-dominant core (L’Etang, 2005 ).
Karel van Wolferen’s thesis still has applicability today:it lays out the incredulous real situ-
ation of a professed parliamentary democracy that is run by one dominant party, the CIA-created
Liberal Democratic Party (Dubro and Kaplan, 1995 ; Mann, 1995 ),  rst hatched at the end of
occupation in 1955, and which has, with few hiccups, occupied the Japanese political landscape
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ever since. As Jim Mann writes in the Los Angeles Times :“the CIA supported and subsidized top
leaders of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party while doing what it could to weaken and
undermine its opposition, the Japanese Socialist Party.” The LDP is responsible for the neoliberal
policies of the second Shinzo Abe administration (2012–present), which include a three-arrow
economic reform agenda as well as a US-championed state secrets law and Article 9 revision.
The subtext of Japan’s enigmatic power holds a lesson for critical theory public relations
scholars:you cannot question what does not exist. Astate without a nation has little, if any,
accountability or transparency to its domestic or global publics. Wolferen will not go so far as
to call Japan a client state under the complete protectorate of the US– but he comes close. His
analysis, along with an ex-insider’s perspective, Straitjacket Society:An Insider’s Irreverent View of
Bureaucratic Japan (Masao Miyamoto, 1995)form a critical backdrop for Japan’s public relations
dilemma:it is in the world, but not of it. This invisible hand of information management mani-
fests to thisday.
In September 2014, the NewYork Times (Lipton, Williams & Confessore, 2014 ) ran an investi-
gative story with a foreboding headline designed to draw eyeballs:“Foreign Powers Buy In uence
at Think Tanks. Japan was singled out among a number of activist governments seeking to buy
political in uence at major think tanks in Washington, DC. When the Japanese embassy’s min-
ister for public a airs, Masato Otaka, was asked why the government of Japan spends so much
money on political in uence, his response was in keeping with common Japanese virtues of
humility and reserve:“Japan is not necessarily the most interesting subject around the world.
We’ve been experiencing some slower growth in the economy. Ithink our presence is less felt
than before. No truer words were spoken about the need for Japan to invest more in its inter-
national public relations pro le, but at the same time those words defy the numbers about this
cultural and economic superpower. Otaka-san’s choice of words illustrates a recognized lack of
con dence that the Japanese nation has regarding its ability to persuade both generally and glo-
bally. This is re ected in an “in-house” rather than outside agency approach to public relations,
coupled with a tradition of on-the-job training in persuasive communications. Japan has no
professional accreditation system for public relations (Cooper-Chen & Tanaka, 2007 ). An aca-
demic study of public relations, critical or not, is missing at Japanese universities, driven in part
by Japan’s long tradition of lifetime employment that has led to in and out rotation in PR. One
spends a career with a company, not with a rotation. Watson and Sallot ( 2001 , p.392) describe
the “dearth” of recent public relations research in Japan; contrast this to a mountain of scholarly
research on Japanese culture (Benedict, 1946 ; Gudykunst & Nishida, 1994 ). Even more troubling,
there is a lack of understanding among Japanese people about how public relations relates to
the public interest, promoted facts, and social truths that are separate from paid media advertis-
ing. International public relations is perhaps best known in a historical context to Cold War and
Occupied Era Japanese scholars who recognize it in programs like the covert Panel “D” Japan, a
postwar American propaganda program to change the mindset of the Japanese through measures
such as pro-American themes in  lms, counterpropaganda campaigns against nuclear power and
nuclear weapons in Japan, and payo s to the LDP and Japan’s main public broadcaster, NHK
(Matsuda, 2007 ).
In this chapter Japan is considered a most interesting subject around the world as a case study
to examine the paradoxical nature of public relations:a nation state that has one of the top
economies in the world but with an internal and external reputation for a weak or “marginal”
(Yamamura & Shimizu, 2009 , p.1) persuasive communications pro le (Holmes Report, 2011 ;
Batyko, 2012 ). For more than 40years (1968–2011), Japan, a country whose geographic size is
slightly smaller than its trans-Paci c neighbor state, California, was the world’s second largest
economy, with half the population size of its economic better:the US. Despite the rise of China,
Deconstructing Japan’s PR
the world’s largest developing economy in the twenty- rst century, Japan remains a formidable
economic giant in East Asia and worldwide, although, like the European Union, it has often
been referred to as an economic giant and a political dwarf (Blaker, 1993 ; Bukh, 2014 ; Hellmann,
1988 ; Mahbubani, 1992 ). It is widely recognized as a cultural soft power superpower (Lam, 2007 ;
McGray, 2002 ; Monji, 2010 ; Nye, 1990 , 2004 ; Watanabe & McConnell, 2008 ), and its public dip-
lomacy pro le rests almost exclusively on promotion of a “Cool Japan” brand focused on mass
consumer and creative industries (Christensen, 2011 ; Hayden, 2011 ; Snow, 2013b). It is led by
the global popularity of manga (comic books), anime (animation), cosplay (costume play based on
animation), J-Pop (such as the Akihabara-inspired girl group AKB48), modern J-Fashion (such
as Harajuku and Lolita), as well as the traditional crafts and cuisine of Japan. Kenjiro Monji, the
former director of public diplomacy at the Ministry of Foreign A airs responsible for Cool Japan
promotion, described it this way (Miller, 2011 ; Monji, 2010 ):
We see many cos-players in various Japanese pop culture events. But Iwas also impressed
that young girls in foreign countries were wearing Japanese young girls’ fashion such as
Lolita and high school uniform fashions. Therefore, Iassigned three young fashion leaders as
Kawaii or Cute Ambassadors. They were dispatched all over the world to promote Japan’s
pop culture and were received with many fans. In Recife, Brazil, 20,000 people gathered for
Kawaii Ambassador’s Fashion Show. One high school in Thailand that modi ed its school
uniform after Japanese Anime characters drew eight fold applications for entrance.
Laura Miller ( 2011 ) describes the Cool Japan ideology as a cute masquerade and the pimping of
Japan. It masks a global campaign of government exploitation of uncomplicated cuteness ( kawaii )
in which women and girls are one-dimensional passive objects and not active subjects that can
shape, resist, create, or critique Japanese popular culture.
Japan’s internal image is one of distinction. While it sees itself as nationally distinct rather
than internationally common, it forges ahead paradoxically with seemingly safe versions of other
countries’ public diplomacy models, mainly those of its shadow superpower, the US, and those of
shadow soft power theorist, Joseph Nye, Jr., but also from other countries that are seen as Japan’s
(almost) equal in high culture status– France for sophistication and luxury branding– or middle
and geek class popular culture status (Cool Japan for Cool Britannia). For instance, the ministry
of economy, trade and industry (METI) oversees the Cool Japan brand, which has raised eye-
brows among some observers who question the viability of a notoriously uncool entity– a gov-
ernment bureaucracy– being used to promote creative culture. Manabu Kitawaki (Grunebaum,
2012 ), the director of a Meiji University summer English-language program on Cool Japan, even
questioned the promotion campaign in the context of Japanese values:
To call yourself cool is by de nition uncool– and it de es Japanese modesty. Creativity
doesn’t spring from marketing. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry hired Dentsu
for its Cool Japan campaign. It’s become a way to funnel money to a big ad rm.
Despite its critics, METI raised the stakes in November 2013 (Snow, 2013b ) with the creation of
a $500million dollar Cool Japan Fund to help Japanese industries become more globally com-
petitive and expand their markets overseas. Japan sees itself playing “catch-up” with its regional
rivals, China and Korea, and in anticipation of the global attention it will receive during the 2020
Summer Olympics it sees no other alternative in culture promotion (Snow, 2013a ).
In a much broader politico-economic context, the phrase “Made in Japan” has come to
signify advancements in high-tech (robotics, optical instruments, hybrid vehicles, high-speed
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rail), and the natural resource poor and earthquake prone country must rely on international
trade to sustain this economy (Anholt, 2009 ). About one-third of Japan’s 127million popula-
tion resides in the Kanto region on Honshu, Japan’s largest island– which includes the Greater
Tokyo area of 35million inhabitants. The Greater Tokyo area is home to more than one-quarter
of Japan’s entire population and remains the most populous metropolitan area in the world.
Tokyo is also the mega-city face that is home to Japan’s postwar propaganda industries (pub-
lic relations, public diplomacy), which intertwine in service to the interests of their primary
clients– industry and government (Kerr, 2001 ; van Wolferen, 1989). The public sphere as prom-
ulgated by Habermas, Lennox & Lennox ( 1974 )– and particularly a place and practice where
the voices of everyday Japanese citizens who don’t  ll the corridors of the Diet or the execu-
tive suites of Toyota come together to form non-governmental opinion– is the weakest social
institution in Japan, a result of historical tradition and culture that mandate social cohesion
and stability and view too much public participation as chaotic and unstable. There are excep-
tions in Japanese history, with contests between labor and management, and, most recently,
during national emergencies like post-3/11 (Avenell, 2009 ; Hasegawa, 2011 ; Slater, Nishimura
& Kindstrand, 2012 ) when citizens were momentarily galvanized to protest against the Tokyo
Electric and Power Company (Tepco), the agency responsible for exceedingly poor informa-
tion management of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant. But there exists no Ralph
Naderesque Public Citizen or Common Cause public interest lobby to champion citizen rights
on an ongoing basis. This is also a lack of education about the role and function of the citizen
in a modern democratic open society, against the backdrop of the historical reality of a nation
state replete with undemocratic structures. The concept of the “public” in Japan can itself be
traced back to the Meiji era (1868–1912), known as Japan’s Enlightenment period, that led to
many modern economic reforms but without accompanying democratization (Yamamura &
Shimizu, 2013 ). Japan’s twentieth century interventionist foreign relations and authoritarian
culture further sti ed the rise of an autonomous public. In the postwar period, when Japanese
citizens did “talk back” to their government, they were strongly in uenced by a Marxist/
socialist ideology, whether it was in opposition to atomic bombs in the 1950s or the Vietnam
War and the Japan-US Security Treaty of the 1960s. This leftist orientation further radicalized
in the 1970s and 1980s, thereby distancing dissenters from a mainstream that viewed peaceful
protesters as more threatening to stability than weak political leaders. Shin ( 2012 , p.5) notes
that East Asians are more supportive of hierarchism; they “understand fairness in terms of equal-
ity before the law and blame disruptions of peace on those who do not conform to rules and
regulations. Critics of hierarchism say the immense trust placed in authority poses a serious
risk. The memory of social movements in postwar Japan is one that is not a fond one for many
Japanese. This further weakens a sphere for a public voice, or indeed any public opposition to
political authority.
In the context of mass communications in support of corporate culture and government
interests– from nationalist imperial regimes to military occupiers– public relations in Japan has
a short, but predictable history. For a country that actively engaged in the two world wars of
the twentith century, and established puppet regimes throughout Greater Asia, public relations
became associated with the manipulation of international public opinion (wartime propaganda)
in favor of Japan’s push for imperial expansion and in uence (Inoue, 2003 ). Public relations
in this role and context was strictly a one-way controlled information campaign– to manage
occupied territories and incite a nation to world expansion through armed force. It would take
many years and total defeat in World War Two for Japan to begin to recognize public relations
more along the lines of how modern industrialized democracies might use it as a form of infor-
mation management practice, or to enhance an organization’s relationship with its stakeholders.
Deconstructing Japan’s PR
This realization would come during the MacArthur democratization period of Occupied Japan
after World WarTwo.
Not until the post-Occupation era decades of the economic miracle (1950s–1970s), when
Japan emphasized mass consumption, did the public relations concept migrate to commercial
marketing and consumer communications (Kelly, Masumoto & Gibson, 2002 ). It was then that
public relations came to be associated interchangeably with advertising, an assumption that per-
sists today with behemoth  rms like Dentsu, the largest advertising and public relations company
in Japan and the  fth largest paid media  rm in the world (Yamamura, Ikarib & Kenmochic,
2013). Dentsu remains today the most in uential Japanese  rm in the domestic propaganda
industry. Its longtime president, Hideo Yoshida, known as the “Demon of Advertising, viewed
public relations in purely commercial and corporate terms, as was explained by his assistant,
Kanjiro Tanaka:
A corporation is allowed to exist when the society thinks its existence is desirable. For this,
corporations need to widely inform the work they are doing. Acorporation can exist when
it informs and is accepted. This process is what public relationsis.
(Yamamura etal., 2013, p.150)
Dentsu would play a key role in mass marketing promotion in the postwar period. Because of its
large imprint in Japanese and global society at the time– Dentsu became the largest advertising
company in the world in 1964, a position it retained until 1973 (Dentsu, 2014 )– its model of
corporate-style public relations was marketed to the Japanese people as the ideal model of public
communication. This may explain the Japanese reaction to Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders
(1957) and The Waste Makers (1960), which, when  rst released in the US, were presented as
critical consumerism models of advertising and public relations. The Japanese language versions
of both books became bestsellers and were not taken as critical models. They were presented
as ideal models for Japan’s postwar pro-growth economy (Yamamura etal., 2013, p.150). An
uncritical mass consumer mind was seen as essential to what would later be called “The Japanese
Today, Japan’s public relations expenditures are miniscule in comparison to paid media. For
a country whose GDP and advertising budgets are about one-third that of the US, its public
relations industries are only one-tenth the size of the US’s (Batyko 2012 ). An environment
of top-down control of information pervades. Access to information is limited, and commu-
nity values of perseverance, self-control, restraint, and patience are stressed. After 3/11 struck,
and food and water became scarce across wide areas of the country, global publics marveled
in response to media reports of Japanese citizens standing quietly and orderly in long queues
at stations and shops. This wasn’t aberrant behavior but rather routine that was in keeping
with Japanese traditional values (Sugimoto 2011). The picture of a well-behaved group of
people responding to crisis is a positive image enhancer for Japan, but what about the pic-
ture of o cials in industry or government not taking responsibility during that same crisis?
In the immediate aftermath of 3/11, Tepco, the utility overseeing the second worst nuclear
disaster in world history, displayed an inability (or an unwillingness) to communicate with its
global audience. Perhaps it was an unwillingness masked as inability. When it did communi-
cate, it was to o er an apology and to o er regret for the situation; but during multiple press
brie ngs Tepco’s CEO, Masataka Shimzu, o ered little information about the gravity of the
situation, which served only to frustrate the gathered press covering the crisis (Mie 2011 ).
Ayear before 3/11, Toyota had made Japan subject to embarrassing international headlines
when the longtime trusted brand had to recall more than 400,000 Prius and other hybrid
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vehicles as a result of the discovery of faulty brake systems. Time magazine’s Bill Saporito
( 2011 ) described Toyota as “ at-footed by the spiraling public relations disaster as its global
recall crisis worsened. Its chief waited weeks before giving his  rst full press conference.
In 2014, another Japanese company, automotive parts company Takata Corporation, would
su er damning headlines when a NewYork Times investigation (Tabuchi, 2014 ) revealed that
the company had not only failed to disclose the potential lethal consequences of its airbags
deploying, but had covered up the tests and punished the whistleblowers who had brought
the matter into the public arena. The company CEO, Shigehisa Takada, failed to address the
press and sent his chief  nancial o cer to an analyst brie ng in Tokyo at the height of nega-
tive international media coverage.
A helpful, but not exactly determining, factor in explaining Japan’s poor public relations
strategy in these high pro le cases is culture. There are cultural dimensions re ected in Japanese
society that may apply to its public relations. Dutch social psychologist and former IBM execu-
tive Geert Hofstede ( 2009 ) explores Japan’s culture in six dimensions: power distance, indi-
vidualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, pragmatism, and indulgence. Hofstede’s work is
open to criticism, most notably for its tendency to stereotype national cultures, but his extensive
workplace datasets on culture and communication across more than 70 countries o er a useful
insight in spite of this. Courtright, Wolfe and Baldwin ( 2011 ) champion the use of Hofstede’s
cultural dimensions in research and teaching, noting limitations that include conceptualizing
dimensions in terms of dualities (masculinity, femininity) as opposed to continua; and also not-
ing application limitations that assume individuals and groups act the same in national cultures.
As Lisbeth Clausen ( 2006 , p.60) says about Hofstede’s much-cited work, “While ‘sophisticated’
stereotyping is helpful as a starting point, it does not convey the complexity found in cultures or
organizations.This author’s dissertation on the cultural mediation roles of Fulbright exchange
scholars (Snow, 1992 ) used Hofstede’s cultural dimensions to create a Fulbright Intercultural
Survey, and based a model of the cultural mediating scholar on the Hofstede-centric work
of my faculty colleagues in the College of Communications at California State University,
Fullerton– these colleagues included two of the leading intercultural communication scholars
in the world:William B.Gudykunst ( 2005 ) and Stella Ting-Toomey ( 1988 ; 2005 ).
Asian cultures are known to be quite hierarchical in interpersonal relations (Zhang, Lin,
Nonaka & Beom, 2005 ) and in this context power is distributed unequally. Hofstede views
Japan as a borderline hierarchical society, but most outside observers tend to view it as extremely
hierarchical due to the top-down management style of government and industry, both of which
are largely centered in Tokyo. The paradox of power distance in Japan is that unlike high power
distance societies where a top person can make all  nal decisions, in Japan there is often no sin-
gle top executive in charge (almost always a man) who can make a  nal decision. This is where
the Ringi system comes into play, a system that emphasizes the need for repeated consultation
and input in order to reduce risk and reach consensus in the decision-making process (Clausen,
2006 ). Lazaridi writes ( 2012 , p.30):
In the Ringi system no one has the right to make an individual decision; on the contrary,
decisions are made by each group member on the principle of consensus. Adecision is not
made if unanimity is not reached. Correspondingly, the whole group is responsible for the
failure or success of each particular decision. Everybody also therefore needs to be very dip-
lomatic when expressing an opinion.
In such a system, it is hard to ask to see the manager in charge, thus relieving the system of indi-
vidual responsibility.
Deconstructing Japan’s PR
Japan’s educational system, in principle, is not unlike that in other modern industrialized
democracies:it is based on meritocracy and hard work. Everyone is expected to have an equal
outcome if they work hard enough, a modifying factor in power distance. McVeigh ( 2002 , p.14)
challenges this assumption:
The biggest myth of Japanese higher education is that…it is more meritocratic than others.
Again, it depends how one de nes one’s terms, but there is considerable evidence that as
in other places, education is geared toward a reproduction of elite/mass distinctions that
hampers genuine meritocracy.
Relatedly, Asian cultures are known to be more collectivistic (in-group oriented) than individu-
alistic societies, like many in the West where people are responsible mostly for themselves and
their immediate families rather than social groups or society as a whole. Japan is collectivistic, but
not as much so as its neighbors Korea and China where the extended family system and overseas
diaspora are more extensive. Japan is more paternalistic than individualistic, and company loyalty
is almost like a son’s loyalty to a father. Certainly Japan is seen as more collectivistic than indi-
vidualistic to Western eyes, but within Asia, Japan is viewed as more individualistic. The moderate
collectivism mitigates an aggressive and assertive individual competitive nature. What manifests
is high competition among groups– whether it is one company against another, a high school
sports competition, a hotel competing with other hotels in an ikebana display, or even competi-
tion in presentation such as food presentation or Japan’s famous gift-wrapping.
Hofstede ( 1980 , 2001 , 2009 ) notes that Japan is at the top of the masculine value scale and
“is one of the most masculine societies in the world.” Masculine societies are more competi-
tive and stress economic growth as a priority over protecting the environment. Countries with
“a more feminine value position will put higher priority on environmental conservation and a
more masculine one on economic growth” (Hofstede, 1980 , p.297). Hofstede ( 1980 , pp.285–6)
argues that countries with highly feminine values place more emphasis on life satisfaction and
“work to live” activities, while countries with highly masculine values like Japan are more apt
to “live to work” and place value on job satisfaction. The masculine values of endurance prevail
in the excessively long hours in the Japanese workplace; this latter feature is creating challenges
for Japan’s e orts to re-employ women who have left the workplace to marry and have a family.
Between six and seven out of ten married Japanese women will leave the workplace for good
after having a child, with traditional thinking in Japan viewing childrearing as strictly a women’s
occupation (McKinsey & Company, 2012 ; Steinberg & Nakane, 2012 ).
In tandem with masculinity is Japan’s high ranking in uncertainty avoidance. In a country
that is one of the most susceptible to natural disaster, and in which earthquakes, tsunamis,
typhoons and volcano eruptions are more norm than exception, it is no surprise that the
Japanese are famous for planning for disaster. Planning for all contingencies is designed to
minimize damage after disaster– which will always occur– and maximize the predictability
of imminent disaster. The way people behave in a high uncertainty avoidance culture is quite
ritualized and prescriptive. The high need for uncertainty avoidance makes people follow
precedent and does not allow much room for change without lengthy feasibility studies or
consensus-building measures. Japan displays a high need for pragmatism as is often heard in
the phrase, Shikata ga nai (it can’t be helped/nothing can be done about it.) Japanese bitoku
(virtues) are practical and not driven by the notion of an omniscient, omnipotent God.
Rather, one lives one’s life as best one can, knowing that your life is a brief moment in a long
history. This pragmatism applies to how Japanese workers are known to view investments or
economically di cult times– like that of the early 1990s to the present day. Companies are
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not here to show pro ts every quarter, but rather to serve society over the long haul and
over many generations. Related to pragmatism is Japan’s low score in indulgence. Controlling
one’s impulses is strength, while giving in to indulgences like too much leisure time is weak-
ness. Overly indulging oneself is restrained by social norms that favor controlling immediate
grati cation.
What all of these cultural values suggest about Japan’s public relations industry is that a great
deal of the workings of this persuasive communications sector is out of the sight and mind of
the average Japanese citizen. The system as a whole, even the security of the nation’s well-being,
supersedes notions of the “public good” or “public interest” outside of how the public can sup-
port the status quo system. This explains why it is more often the case in Japan that even the
highest levels of industry and government are able to get away with no public accountability
statements. More often than not, public apologies are the norm if something goes awry, delaying,
if not denying, the release of information that is so essential in a participatory democracy and
which would shed light on the inner workings that led to the problem in the  rstplace.
Japan’s moral and cultural imperatives give up individual self-responsibility to the collective
authority of the ministry-industrial complex. What dominates in Japanese society today is a cozy
relationship– that is sometimes referred to as incestuous in nature– between the bureaucratic
and corporate cultures. It is very common in this setting for political and corporate leaders to
say that they have no information in response to any public demand for news during a crisis. As
Batyko observes ( 2012 , p.10):
The indications to the public relations practitioner are that this is a culture not well-adapted
to unstructured situations, such as crisis. Power is held closely at the top of the hierarchy
and response times are slow. Individualism is not valued, so it would be di cult to voice
opinions that run counter to the chief executive. Female practitioners would  nd it most
di cult to advance in this culture.
To compound the problem of the low budgets that are made available to it, public relations as
a  eld of research inquiry is not widely recognized, studied, much less critiqued, in Japan. This
means that public relations is not seen in a pejorative context as either “propaganda” or “spin”
because it is almost invisible at the mass conscious level. There is a benign dismissal of the power
that the public relations industry has in Japanese society and how government and business
operate within that context. Many Japanese people are quick to downplay any prowess that
the nation has in persuasive or promotional communications, thereby ending any opportunity
to assess the topic. “We aren’t good at promotion” is a common refrain. Further, foreign and
domestic professionals in public relations acknowledge in unison the innocence and incompe-
tence that the Japanese display toward international public relations, as this vivid example from
Burson-Marsteller managing director and CEO, Shuri Fukunaga,shows:
Japan has a weakness, and it is the country’s naïveté in communications. Japan means well.
It truly does. But it communicates its message to the world in undisciplined, staccato bursts.
The messages are cast into the wide night sky like distant  reworks that disappear before
making a strong impression on the viewers. Seen from the outside world, Japan fails to be
(Branding Japan,2014)
Ashton Consulting, Ltd. chief executive John Sunley adds that this lack of ability accentu-
ates the negatives and downplays the positive aspects of Japan’s society in the world. The main
Deconstructing Japan’s PR
reason for this perception gap is “poor international communication by Japan and its industry.
This raises the question of fame and infamy:Is it better for public relations to have a popular
reputation for propaganda and spin, however “loose” such critical descriptions may be (Weaver,
Motion & Roper, 2006 ), or is it better to be an almost unknown  eld of study and conversation?
To put it another way, when it involves the public relations of public relations (L’Etang 1997 ), is
it better to be feared than to never be feared at all? From my understanding as a professional who
has worked in euphemistic areas of public relations such as public diplomacy and international
public information, Iconsider the latter benign neglect to be the worst of two bad options. This
explains the publicity purpose of this chapter– to shine a light on an industry that exists in Japan,
but which has not reached any level of critical analysis.
In contrast to Japan, where public relations is either downplayed or viewed as ine ective,
there is no country so awash in public relations propaganda as the USA, Japan’s closest global
ally. From the venture capital hub of Silicon Valley and the executive suites of the Creative Arts
Agency (CAA) in Los Angeles, to the O ce of the Assistant Secretary for Public A airs at the
Pentagon (Fulbright, 1970 ), to the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia (Wilford,
2008 ) and  nally, the magazine, fashion and television headquarters of Manhattan that make
NewYork City the number one media market in the world, the US has no public relations
equal. The British-based nation brand scholar Simon Anholt (Anholt & Hildreth, 2004 ) goes so
far as to refer to the US as the most powerful brand in the world (“the mother of all brands”),
in no small part due to its public relations and advertising industries that began to  ourish in
the early twentieth century. The entire foundation of international public relations industries
originated in the US, and to this day non-US public relations scholars reference the work of
Harold Lasswell, Edward Bernays, Ivy Lee or Walter Lippman when discussing the history of the
profession. In contrast, living here as a half-time resident of Tokyo, Japan, one rarely hears the
English or Japanese interchangeable pejoratives for public relations:“spin” (Stauber & Rampton,
1995 ) or “manufacturing consent.
As noted, the subject of public relations does not have the same breadth and depth of schol-
arly and public understanding within Japan as it does in the US or Europe. Japan has mass
media and journalism departments and institutes– but just a handful of faculty with any pub-
lic relations background to o er specialized courses, and no degree majors in public relations
(Inoue, 2009 ). This is beginning to change with the rise of the digital economy and the social
networked society, along with Japan’s strong push for global education. Japan does have the
“invisible hand” of in uence of its post-World War Two market democracy sponsor, the USA,
which covertly  nanced and propped up the anti-communist Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)
during the Occupation period and beyond (Weiner 1994 ). Today, with few exceptions, the LDP
has remained the ruling political party over the past 60years; a comparable outcome would be if
the Republican Party in the US had dominated the political landscape unopposed in the execu-
tive and legislative branches of government since1955.
It is necessary to explore further the public relations situation in Japan with regard to the US,
given the political-military history between the two countries. After Japan’s defeat by the Allied
Forces in 1945, the concept of public relations was widely introduced during the seven-year
American Occupation and Reconstruction era. The Allied Occupation Army instructed local
and national governments in the use of American-style public relations, which, in that context of
a victorious power over a defeated nation, meant one-way communication from the American
victors to the defeated Japanese (Inoue, 2003). The Japanese translation of “public” during that
period was therefore associated with the publicity surrounding the American public adminis-
tration of postwar Japan (Cooper-Chen, 1997; Inoue, 2009 ; Yamamura etal., 2013). PR meant
N. Snow
marketing the occupying government’s interests (government publicity), not the more common
publicity agentry in the US that has come to be associated with sports, entertainment, and the
celebrity culture. This paternalistic approach to understanding public relations, with the father
gure General Douglas MacArthur at the helm as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers
(SCAP), operated as a combined form of political and sociological propaganda (Ellul, 1966 ), with
the “political propaganda” serving to market the Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan to the
Japanese public, and the “sociological propaganda” serving to promote a transformative market
democracy model based on American ideals of democratization, liberalization, and disarmament.
Even MacArthur’s 1.83 meter height in comparison to the 1.65 meters tall Hirohito (Emperor
Showa) served as a symbolic representation of what Ellul would later call “vertical propaganda,
to underscore the leadership authority of the US in rebuilding Japan from its democratic postwar
infancy to adult nation statehood. The corresponding “horizontal propaganda” associated with
group socialization has been most often analyzed in the Japanese approach to education (includ-
ing higher education) and corporate society, where consensus and risk-avoidance are paramount.
The long-serving post-war Japanese Constitution’s disarmament feature, with its “Peace
Clause” (or Article 9), renounced the sovereign right of war and banned Japan’s ability to use the
threat or use of force in resolving international disputes. Japan gave up its “war potential” and
vowed to forgo anything but defensive forces. Article 9’s acceptance by the people and by the
political leadership in Japan was, paradoxically, a triumph of public relations, in that a militarized
society that had widely accepted its war emperor as a divine  gure and its military government
as sacrosanct turned sharply against future war when facing the reality of total defeat and the  rst
and only use of nuclear weapons by its former military enemy turned occupier. On July 1, 2014,
the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reinterpreted Article 9 by  at, and without reference
to a vote in parliament, to allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to be used in collective defensive
operations and international interventions, and to defend allies if war were to be declared upon
it. Though neighboring states like China and Korea denounced the move, the US supported it, a
change that for French social theorist Jacques Ellul would be considered a modern continuation
of the public relations propaganda foundation of the mid-twentieth century.
Procedurally, the Article 9 reinterpretation was a government public relations disaster in that
thousands of Japanese took to the streets in protest, an image that had not been seen since the
popular anti-nuclear protests following the Fukushima disaster. Further, international media and
foreign intellectuals living in Japan were quick to criticize the action (Kingston, 2014 ; Ziegler,
2014 ). For a formal, “emperor-system” democracy (Dower 1999 ), the fact that the govern-
ment felt comfortable with making such a drastic change by  at is a triumph for conservatives
and hawkish nationalists who had always resented the imposed Constitution. This is juxtaposed
with the two-thirds majority citizen opposition to changing the 68-year paci stic Constitution,
which led to the Nobel Committee in Norway shortlisting “the Japanese people who conserve
Article 9” for its peace prize. Nobel nominations notwithstanding, the 2014 update reinforces
my conclusions that a Habermasian public interest and activist public opinion in Japan are weak
in comparison to other comparable economically advanced societies. “Absent some adjustment
in Japanese corporate culture, the public at large and, in particular, those in the practice of public
relations, will see the results of the status quo whenever incidents like Tepco’s and Toyota’s tran-
spire” (Batyko, 2012 , p.12).
Harold Lasswell ( 1937 , p.525) famously said that propaganda “as a mere tool is no more
moral or immoral than a pump handle…the only e ective weapon against propaganda on behalf
of one policy seems to be propaganda on behalf of an alternative.” In today’s Japan, especially as
it relates to man-made problems at Tepco and Toyota, it would seem that the pump handle of
public relations is working e ectively on behalf of policies that favor the government-industrial
Deconstructing Japan’s PR
complex but ine ectively or not at all on behalf of the public’s ability to o er any alternative
policy formulations.
1 Quoted in Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams and Nicholas Confessore, “Foreign Powers Buy In uence at
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Japanese government gives money to Washington, DC research groups and think tanks. Mr Otaka
added:“We’ve been experiencing some slower growth in the economy. Ithink our presence is less felt
than before.
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... ambassadors On the other hand, the sustainable approach to the creation of Olympic and Paralympic medals from discarded mobile phones and electronic devices has become a meaningful opportunity for all Japanese citizens to contribute in a smart, easy and innovative way to the production of the most precious Olympic symbols. Considering the traditional context of Japanese top-down management approach and distance of power (Snow, 2016), this kind of initiatives evidence an innovative model of citizen engagement fostering inclusivity, commitment and sense of belonging. ...
... Although the prevailing culture of power distance, social cohesion and stability in Japan still considers an excessive public participation as chaotic and unstable (Snow, 2015(Snow, , 2016, the initiatives of Tokyo 2020 pre-game strategy evidences a shift from a traditional top-down managerial approach to a more open and inclusive dynamics of citizen participation in a global sports mega-event. Tokyo 2020 is in the process of implementing a comprehensive, inclusive and ambitious citizen engagement strategy, building a solid base level support through a multi-targeted participatory approach. ...
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This paper examines some innovative practices of citizen engagement strategy implemented by Tokyo 2020 in the pre-game period. Hosting a sports mega-event such as the Olympic Games is a key milestone in urban history and reputation of any city. The challenge of celebrating an outstanding global event with a long-lasting positive impact on the place requires the commitment and engagement of all urban stake-holders as the hosting city needs to maximize the number of supporters who share the games' vision and embrace the Olympic experience. The role of citizens as creators and prescribers of urban reality is increasingly recognized in the field of place branding as it confronts the traditional top-down agenda-setting approach with a new collaborative paradigm and participatory culture. The city of Tokyo has initiated the implementation of its comprehensive strategy for hosting its second Olympic Games in 2020. The foundation plan of the 2020 Games identifies the engagement strategy as one of the key strategic pillars of the event aimed at ensuring an inclusive and active participatory nature of the Games celebration. The research is guided by an exploratory case study approach to assess the citizen engagement strategy and participatory frameworks within the context of the Olympic mega-event to be held in Tokyo in 2020. The examination of some innovative initiatives in the pre-game period such as the national call for the creation of Olympic medals, the Olympic mascots selection process and the Volunteering program, reveals a series meaningful drivers of citizen engagement strategy of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games ranging from the access to a specific Olympic knowledge and sports experience to a personal self-realization and community empowerment, among others. The research aims at contributing to further academic discussion and effective practice of citizenséngagement in place making through sports mega-events in such a way as to ensure a truly inclusive, inspiring and meaningful nature of these global happenings.
... Japan has no public relations curriculum to speak of outside of a few courses here and there. Public and media relations are learned on the job and are often rotational duties for bureaucrats (see Snow 2015). The Japanese university, which could establish a public communication curriculum, is, by-and-large, a way station to mark time for the job market, not a place where students are expected to engage in critical exchange of ideas (Nakano and Snow, 2015). ...
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In this article I join the debate on Japan's soft power and cultural diplomacy. Most of the current scholarship focuses on Japan's agency and implies that through a skillfully crafted policy that utilizes its cultural resources, Japan can enhance its soft power. I question the utility of this agent-based approach. I suggest that cultural diplomacy is not simply a matter of diplomatic craftsmanship; it reflects discursively constructed national identities that, to a large degree, are shaped by international ideational structures. Applying this framework to modern Japan's cultural diplomacy, I argue that postwar Japan's incorporation into the Western camp, and the subsequent identity transformations, have precluded the emergence of a strategic definition of Japan's culture and hence constrained Japan's cultural diplomacy.
Place branding is happening. A new field of practice and study is in existence and whatever we choose to call it there can no longer be any doubt that it is with us. This collection of intuitive and well-reserached articles examines how places and regions see themselves, and how they reflect this in their branding.
How is the relationship between the Japanese state and Japanese society mediated by the press? Does the pervasive system of press clubs, and the regulations underlying them, alter or even censor the way news is reported in Japan? Who benefits from the press club system? And who loses? Here Laurie Anne Freeman examines the subtle, highly interconnected relationship between journalists and news sources in Japan. Beginning with a historical overview of the relationship between the press, politics, and the public, she describes how Japanese press clubs act as "information cartels," limiting competition among news organizations and rigidly structuring relations through strict rules and sanctions. She also shows how the web of interrelations extends into, and is reinforced by, media industry associations and business groups (keiretsu). Political news and information are conveyed to the public in Japan, but because of institutional constraints, they are conveyed in a highly delimited fashion that narrows the range of societal inquiry into the political process. Closing the Shop shows us how the press system in Japan serves as neither a watchdog nor a lapdog. Nor does the state directly control the press in ways Westerners might think of as censorship. The level of interconnectedness, through both official and unofficial channels, helps set the agenda and terms of political debate in Japan's mass media to an extent that is unimaginable to many in the United States and other advanced industrial democracies. This fascinating look at Japan's information cartels provides a critical but often overlooked explanation for the overall power and autonomy enjoyed by the Japanese state.
Nation Branding: Concepts, Issues, Practice is a comprehensive and exciting text that demonstrates why nations are embracing the principles of brand management. It clearly explains how the concepts and techniques of branding can be adapted to the context of nations- as opposed to the more usual context of products, services, or companies. Concepts grounded in the brand management literature such as brand identity, brand image, brand positioning, and brand equity, are transposed to the domain of nation branding and supported by country case insights that provide vivid illustrations of nation branding in practice. Nation branding is a means by which more and more nations are attempting to compete on the global stage. Current practice in nation branding is examined and future horizons traced. The book provides: The first overview of its kind on nation branding A blend of academic theory and real world practice in an accessible, readable fashion A clear and detailed adaptation of existing brand theory to the emerging domain of nation branding An original conceptual framework and models for nation branding A rich range of international examples and over 20 contributions by leading experts from around the world Country case insights on nation branding strategies currently being utilized by nations such as Japan, Egypt, Brazil, Switzerland, Iceland, and Russia Clearly and coherently structured, the book is an essential introduction to nation branding for both students and policymakers and will be an essential text for those interested in this fast growing area.