I just came across a post on Kotaku about a new Toyota commercial where they use a virtual idol to promote their car (watch it above). However it's not the post itself that is important here, or the ad, but one of the comments on it that is so in sync with how I often find myself feeling about Japan and how it is perceived in the west that I just had to repost it here.
For those who don't know I lived in Tokyo for five years between 2005 and 2010 and I know exactly what FarmboyinJapan is talking about (just change America and American to Sweden and Swedish):
As someone who has lived in Japan for the better part of decade now, I find all of this incredibly fucking offensive, on so many levels.
1) I am CONSTANTLY engaged in an "image war" every time I go back to America. Family/friends come to me with BS questions like "I hear there is (some stupid shit) in Japan," or "I read that in Japan everyone does (some made up crap)", or one girl in Harajuku wears some ridiculous "hey look at me!!!" attention seeking outfit....and it ends up in the style section of The New York Times. And so now Japan has this stereotype of being "weird". And all this ad does is reinforce that stereotype. So now when I go home again, I'm going to have to explain to people that yes, virtual idols exist, but only the hardest of the hardcore actually gives a rat's ass.....and that the average Japanese person (much like the average American) is utterly bewildered at why something like this exists. This is absolutely embarrassing. I truly hope that the devastation and subsequent international coverage of the recent disasters over here will cause the tourism industry in Japan to change its marketing strategy. Because while the international media carries most of the blame with helping to create the image of a "weird Japan"....Japan itself is not blameless either. They have constantly been prioritizing "sub-culture" in how they have chosen to market Japan as a tourist destination. "Come to Japan! You can watch cartoons, read comic books, go to a maid cafe, and do cosplay." And while a model like that certainly helps attract a very specific group of people, it has done a lot to stigmatize this country as "weird."
The Micheline Guide has classified Tokyo as the "best culinary city in the world"...not just for Japanese food, but for any kind of cuisine you can imagine. In my travels, I've been all over the world, and Japan is by far the most fashion progressive country I've ever been to...Japan has a booming fashion industry for every taste imaginable. Japan has some of the most beautiful nature preserves in the world. Certain parts of Japan still have a tight grip on ancient traditions, so a trip to Kyoto can seem like you've stepped into a time machine. All of these are assets Japan has as a tourist destination...but they are rarely if ever exploited. Instead, Japan seems more content with marketing itself as a country "where you can buy video games, listen to virtual idols, and look at girls walk around in Little Po Peep costumes". It really truly does break my heart. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if part of this ad was subsidized by the Japanese government to promote tourism.
2) Right now, this very day, if you were to ask the average American what springs to mind when you say "Japan", I'm almost certain that it would be the recent disasters. So while "capitalize" might be a dirty word, why doesn't Toyota US start some kind of campaign that takes into account the recent headlines? How about an ad campaign proclaiming "Help support Japan with us at Toyota," or announce a percentage of sales will go to help disaster victims. Nope....virtual idols!!!