It was another Thursday night, the weekend was upon us and I was more ready for a beer hall than a lecture hall. Who is this lady? Coming in here, talking to us about Japan of all random places? Well I’ll tell you who she is, she’s Nancy Snow and retrospectively, unsurprisingly, she captured seventeen Public Diplomacy students (and some randos?) attention for an hour as she led us down a storied path of Japan, Public Diplomacy, and the ways Japan was exerting its most powerful export: soft power.
First, some background on Ms. Snow. It’d be an understatement to say that Nancy Snow has one impressive resumé. Currently, she is the Pax Mundi Professor of Public Diplomacy at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies; the first ever full-time professor of such in Japan. She is also the Adjunct Fellow in the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University Japan. She’s taught at Keio University, California State University, Fullerton, and served as Associate Director of the UCLA Center for Communication and Community. To top all of THAT off, she also served in the Presidential Management Fellowship program and earned an honorary “fourth best” dissertation from the National Communications Association for her doctoral dissertation, “Fulbright Scholars as Cultural Mediators.” So yeah, what’d you do today?
Anyway, Snow started with a note of important humility. She said, “I still see myself as a student of Public Diplomacy.”
Often, as we grow and gain recognition, we believe ourselves beyond the classroom, when in reality, we never leave it. To understand a lack of knowledge is to acknowledge how much further the journey goes. That recognition is key to growth not only in academia or a career, but life as a whole.
From there, Snow’s lecture dove into the successes and obstacles Japan often faces in the realm of public diplomacy. The inception of modern Japanese public diplomacy can be traced back to Sony’s Akio Morita who took the struggling, post-World War II nation and developed its image as a low-impact, cheap goods manufacturing and technology power house. While Morita had no way of knowing the term “Public Diplomacy,” it was his efforts to rebrand the nation that laid the foundation for Japan’s “Cool Japan” image today.
However, where Japan often runs into trouble in executing its Public Diplomacy, especially in regard to the western world, is that it struggles with the interpersonal necessities of the job. An extreme emphasis on work culture, a very strict educational system, and an addiction to technology make it difficult for young people to interact, let alone build necessary interpersonal relationships for public diplomacy and, more pressingly, maintaining a working-age population. This lack of emphasis on interpersonal skills has led to a workforce crisis and an image crisis for the country as its realities often do not match their national brand. The extreme disproportion of the elderly to the young can often be jarring for visitors to the increasingly popular destination. Imagine going to see a 65’ Gundam statue in Tokyo, and instead you’re basically in Asian Florida (old-people Florida, not Spring Break Florida).
Finally, since World War II, Japan has had and seems to at a crossroads regarding its often isolationist world view. Two examples Snow gave were Japan’s precipitous drop in study abroad students and its reluctance to accept refugee from around the world, even as its smaller, more rural towns die from lack of replenishing population.
Japanese students studying abroad has dropped by over half in the last century. Today, 60-70% of exchange students are female. Young men are stuck in the “salary man” culture which has led to a female brain drain and men who can’t function well outside of the workplace. This, or course, only serves to exacerbate the aforementioned population problems. An obvious fix would be to bring in immigrants from outside the country and while there has been modest growth, the country still struggles with an image of keeping people out, especially regarding refugees. This can make it very difficult to attract a talented international workforce.
Ultimately, Snow concluded, despite these issues, Japan’s public diplomacy game continues to get better by the day and in the lead up to the 2020 Winter Olympics because of an emphasis on “Peaceful Japan.” Despite its proximity to North Korea, China, and Russia, the nation is regarded as a cool, exotic, and peaceful wonderland for tourists. So long as Japan can continue to leverage this image, their brand will grow ceaselessly.
Snow said one final thing that stuck with me. It so perfectly summed up one of Public Diplomacy’s primary goals, intercommunication towards peaceful resolutions:
Need I say more?
Follow Nancy Snow on Twitter @drpersuasion