The playful branding of Tokyo 2020 ignores a darker truth

Within the weeks main as much as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Video games, the BBC premiered its trailer for the video games – an extravagant, 60-second romp by the current imagery of Japan as a cute, colourful, anime and manga-inspired wonderland.

With signature music by Kenji Kawai, vocals by digital pop idol Hatsune Miku, and a maximalist aesthetic, the trailer has had a combined reception. In social media commentary, followers have been enthused, non-fans have been non-plussed, and a few extra vinegary voices muttered about cultural stereotypes.

The response of the Japanese-speaking world was equally break up. Many Japanese feedback on YouTube mentioned one thing alongside the traces of “I see, that is how Japan seems to be like from the UK,” after which added “but this does not look like Tokyo at all, more like Hong Kong.”


The portrayal of Japan on this trailer raises questions on how Japan is seen by outsiders and insiders, and what cultural or financial functions such photographs serve. One theoretical lens by which to deal with these is the idea of orientalism.

The time period, coined by the U.S.-Palestinian mental Edward Mentioned, describes how somebody creating a illustration of a person or tradition wields energy over those that are represented.

Mentioned argued that stereotypical depictions of the Center East in European artwork turn out to be intently linked to preconceived notions of the Orient as an unique and probably erotic place. Orientalism as a fashion of portray turns into a fashion of thought and, with the colonial enlargement of European empires, a company enterprise.

Though Japan was by no means colonized – aside from a 10-year interval after the second world battle – a comparable dynamic utilized to the Euro-American fascination with photographs of Japan. This was fueled by the craze of Japonisme within the nineteenth century that influenced artists, composers and novelists.

[Image: BBC]


Japan’s speedy restoration within the post-war years and its rising dominance within the world marketplace for shopper electronics and industrial robots within the Eighties led to a shift in picture greatest captured within the time period “techno-orientalism.”

Within the hostile rhetoric of the commerce battle between America and Japan, the submissive geisha fantasy was changed by a picture of the wage man as a conformist, robot-like menace to western dominance. Not held again by age-old traditions, Japan seems because the vanguard of know-how and leisure – a place the place you possibly can go to the long run earlier than it occurs to you.

Japan’s authorities has lengthy realized the potential of the cultural industries as instruments of cultural diplomacy and “smooth energy,” projecting optimistic photographs of Japan by shopper items, media merchandise, and in style tradition, corresponding to Good day Kitty.


What began as stereotypical picture of a toy-like Japan produced by western media, has now been become a course of of nation branding. Partly supported by the nation’s overseas ministry and different authorities companies, the “Cool Japan” coverage was speculated to unfold this picture of Japan around the globe.

Representing ‘Japan’

The Olympics are a world stage on which this shift has manifested. The Opening Ceremony of the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998 closely featured Japanese traditions corresponding to native festivals and sumo wrestling. In distinction, the flag handover from Rio 2016 centered completely on in style tradition: then-Prime Minister Shinzō Abe appeared as the pc recreation character Tremendous Mario, assisted by the comedian ebook characters of Doraemon and Captain Tsubasa.

These photographs are consonant with different methods of selling Japan within the UK, such because the yearly HyperJapan Festival which inspires guests to “discover your interior Japanese.” You may gown up in kimono and play at being Japanese, cosplay as your favorite manga character, spend three days as a samurai warrior or pattern make-up traits from Harajuku. A lot of what’s on supply could possibly be seen as orientalism and cultural appropriation – in different phrases, treating and branding components of Japanese tradition as property to be able to promote it for a revenue.

However can we actually communicate of cultural appropriation, when one thing has been explicitly produced by a Japanese firm with a overseas shopper in thoughts? HyperJapan is organized by the London-based Japanese agency Cross Media Ltd, whose purpose is to bridge Japanese and UK tradition by occasions like sake tastings, and owns the label eat-Japan.

That is the place issues get slightly murky. Whether or not the photographs are created by an orientalist “outsider” perspective or by an essentializing “insider” level of view, the outcomes are shockingly comparable: cultural and social range is silenced in favor of a playful however uniform depiction of Japan. Maybe the excellence between insider and outsider is not helpful in a world the place everybody could be a media producer.

The BBC trailer is one other living proof. Many feedback on-line assumed that this was a trailer representing Japan produced by a British crew, when in actual fact the artwork director, Fantasista Utamaro, is a Brooklyn-based Japanese artist.

Shot in Tokyo with a native crew remotely directed from London, the clip is actually an intercultural manufacturing. Clearly, one can not anticipate that a 60-second trailer supplies an correct picture of Japan in all its complexity. There may be an unbridgeable pressure between creating one thing that’s recognizably Japanese and but avoids the stereotypes on which this recognition is predicated.

Ultimately, the true drawback of these Olympic video games just isn’t illustration, however the truth that the bulk of the Japanese inhabitants don’t want them to happen.

A citizen’s motion has fashioned round this resistance and a collection of convincing arguments have been made by the protesters: with out guests, the financial funding into the Olympics is actually meaningless and, as has been proven already, the Video games are a hotbed for potential new COVID infections.

From this controversy emerges a picture diametrically against the playful “geek stylish” aesthetic of the trailer: Japan as a divided nation, with low ranges of belief within the authorities and gaffe-prone officers.

Fabio Gygi is a lecturer in anthropology at SOAS, University of London. This text is republished from The Conversation underneath a Artistic Commons license. Learn the original article.