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The Kawaii Ambassadors
(Ambassadors of Cuteness)

Meet Japan's Pop Culture Envoys

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The Ambassadors of Cuteness. Photo: Takamasa Sakurai

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Japanese manga, anime, fashion, and other pop culture has taken the world by storm. In an attempt to harness this boom to deepen understanding of Japan among young people around the globe, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan appointed three young leaders as Kawaii Taishi ("Ambassadors of Cuteness") in February 2009. The role of the three ambassadors, each a leading figure in a particular genre of fashion, is to represent Japan's vibrant popular culture overseas. They have already been making a splash at Japan-themed events around the world.

Stars of Street Fashion In the past, the Japanese government has presented a decidedly traditional face to the outside world, highlighting such aspects of Japanese culture as kabuki theater, noh drama, the tea ceremony, and cherry blossoms. This began to change in 2008, when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed its first ever "Anime Ambassador," with the idea of using pop culture to stimulate interest in Japan overseas, especially among young people. The job went to a blue-and-white robot cat known as Doraemon, a favorite among children in Japan and other countries thanks to a long-running series of manga and anime adventures.

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A fashion show.

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The first of the three Ambassadors of Cuteness is celebrity model Aoki Misako, representing the "Lolita" style of frills-and-lace fashion. Aoki models regularly for leading fashion publications such as Kera and Gothic & Lolita Bible. She has also appeared in the catalog for the "Baby, the Stars Shine Bright" brand of clothing, whose flagship store became a magnet for fans of Lolita fashion all over the world after it featured as the frilly-dress outlet of choice for the heroine of the international hit movie Kamikaze Girls.

Kimura Yu, meanwhile, represents the Harajuku style, named after the Harajuku area of Tokyo frequented by young trendsetters who love browsing the used clothes stores there. True to this genre of fashion, Kimura has a highly individual style, often combining several layers of secondhand clothing to create her own unique look. She is also the vocalist for Peep 4U, a pop group that plays some 100 shows a year; she even designs her elaborate stage costumes herself.

Completing the trio of ambassadors is Fujioka Shizuka, a star in the world of school-uniform-style designer clothing increasingly popular with young women in various countries. Her eye for the perfect combination of socks, skirts, and schoolgirl blouses has earned her a reputation as the "magician of school uniform coordination." She works as a coordination advisor at a popular store specializing in designer school-uniform fashions.

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Cosplay.

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The venue for Japan Expo. (C)EURO JAPAN COMIC

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On Parade in Paris Fujioka was present in uniform at the Japan Festa held in March in Bangkok, where her style tips and fashion advice were a big hit with Thai high school girls looking to enhance their look.

The biggest celebration of Japanese pop culture anywhere in the world took place in Paris, where the Japan Expo celebrated its tenth anniversary in July 2009. One of the big attractions this year was a fashion show featuring ten of the biggest names in Harajuku fashion. Aoki Misako and Kimura Yu modeled and appeared on talk shows to publicize the event. The promoter of the show was Laforet Harajuku - a Harajuku department store known as the place to go for all the latest on what's hot in the center of Japanese street fashion. Other attractions included a screening of the Full Metal Alchemist anime, live music from Puffy Amiyumi and the girl group AKB48, and a cosplay ("costume play") event at which fans dressed up as their favorite manga and anime characters. Also in attendance were members of Clamp, a famous female group of manga artists. French fans were also introduced to the cartoon rock band The Loonies, who first featured in a promo video by the popular band Triceratops. Many fans chose to attend in costume, a sight that attracted a lot of local media attention.

With a number of similar events already scheduled in other countries, the three young ambassadors will have plenty of opportunities to spread their message and introduce people around the world to the charms of Japan and its popular culture. (August 2009)

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