Introducing our new video podcast series: Tokyo on Fire!

In early January of this year, someone told us that we should start a podcast. We followed their advice.

With the coming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, and other major internal and external events abound; the world is becoming increasingly interested in Japan. As Japan specialists, we at Langley Esquire are constantly sensitive to the gap of perception in the actions of Japan’s legislature between those on the inside and those commenting from overseas. Tokyo on Fire aims to bridge that gap in an informative and entertaining way. Whether we actually achieve such a lofty goal, however, is left to be seen.

This is what we have in store:


Tokyo on Fire!

Tokyo on Fire is a new video podcast series by the team at Langley Esquire. It focuses on news and (our) views on the politics of Japan. Each week, Langley Esquire Advisors Michael Cucek and Dr. Nancy Snow join host Timothy Langley in discussing a particular Burning Issue. With weekly updates from our Tokyo-based team, our aim is to deliver our audience a snapshot of Japan’s latest political developments.

At Langley Esquire, our mission is to excel in facilitating success in Japan. With Tokyo on Fire, we hope to give the global audience another venue from which to obtain more in-depth information on Japan’s political environment. It is our hope that more businesspeople and scholars will develop a greater understanding and appreciation for Japan, while also encouraging a greater global debate on Japan’s politics and foreign relations.

Tokyo on Fire is available to watch on YouTube, and is coming soon to iTunes as both a video and audio podcast. Our audience is encouraged to reach out to us on Twitter using #TokyoonFire or by sending us your comments at comments@tokyoonfire.com.


We hope you enjoy this series; and if you don’t, tell us what we could be doing better!

WATCH EPISODE 1: DEBATE ON COLLECTIVE DEFENSE
WATCH EPISODE 2: GROWING AGRICULTURAL REFORM
WATCH EPISODE 3: REVISING JAPAN’S CONSTITUTION

2015: The Year for Nation-led Brand Japan

2015: The Year for Nation-led Brand Japan

The snap election results of December 14th might make one think that Abe 2.0 has secured a new and reliable update. It was a landslide for the ruling coalition, but featured a twist in the record low voter turnout.

There is currently no credible opposition to Abenomics and little, if any, chance for voters’ concerns to be heard, which is why nearly half of the electorate stayed home. For those who voted, it may have been to follow the political standard: “You got to dance with them what brung you,” and the Abe-lead slow dance of recovery from the Bubble.

Japan’s internal politics aren’t likely to change anytime soon, but an area that needs rapid improvement is its soft power and image abroad—nation brand Japan. In this realm, Abenomics may have been a starting point of publicity but should not be the end point of results. I have met countless numbers of Japanese who express frustration with what is a predictable democracy here—a democracy in name but with little surprise and cookie cutter candidates. In such a system there is slow movement to change and a veritable lack of creativity.

In nation brand Japan, it’s long overdue time for the people to lead the politician.

You can’t manage a nation’s brand through a political leader’s capital that waxes and wanes like the phases of the moon. Just ask Obama or Putin. A much larger number of Japanese people need to take the lead in engaging with the world. Enough of the steady drip of world headlines about the yen’s rise and fall, adult versus baby diapers, the robot restaurant or cuddle cafe. Japan is anime, manga, and cat café, and it is so much more that doesn’t have cute or weird taglines.

Japan hosted a record 13 million international visitors in 2014, majorities of who were neighbor tourists from Taiwan, South Korea and China. How many of these visitors had a chance to experience an interpersonal encounter outside of a shopping transaction or hotel restaurant? Too often, visitors see Japan through an economic or commercial lens (e.g. Abenomics, Womenomics, yen’s rise and fall) but the real asset to life here is the culture. An authentic culture means people, their habits, beliefs, and ways of life passed down from one generation to the next. Those collective stories aren’t being heard because the people aren’t being asked to help shape Japan’s narrative in the global media environment.

Right now the people of Japan have the best opportunity to make 2015 the kick-off year for telling Japan’s full story to the world. Cool Japan, which launched November 2013, is a public-private partnership driven by successful status quo industries working with the government to expand their market share overseas. That’s just one business-as-usual approach, but it’s not enough to improve Japan’s story to the world.

2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of relations with South Korea. Anniversary periods generate a lot of emotion—both good and bad—about a country’s history, present and future. There is no guarantee that everyone can come together in a spirit of mutual understanding but I’m sure about one thing: I’d rather rely on the people of Japan to promote this country than the government or industry alone. Right now the government and industry are working together to promote Japan; which is simply insufficient and inefficient. This isn’t just one outsider’s opinion, but the opinion of many of my well-intentioned friends who are working in the areas of international public relations and public diplomacy. They tell me that they cannot do this work in a vacuum and need more domestic engagement.

The advantage that the Japanese public has, is freedom from the burden of a hidden or official agenda. As a former government official, I know all too well that governments have to deal with litmus tests on their credibility, depending on who is in power and for how long. Likewise, industries rise and fall with the marketplace and use their own public relations to maintain a good corporate image in support of the bottom line.

As I’ve often told my Japanese counterparts: your nation brand is only as good as you make it. If you want to improve it, embrace 2015 as the year to begin to tell a fuller, people-driven story about Japan to the world.

Dr. Nancy Snow will publish a bilingual (Japanese & English) book on nation brand Japan in 2015.


Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow
Advisor

Dr. Nancy Snow is Langley Esquire’s chief advisor for public relations, media relations, public diplomacy, and leadership branding. Dr. Snow is a two-time recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, as a Fulbright student in the Federal Republic of Germany, and as Fulbright professor of international relations at Sophia University. She is an Abe Fellow at Keio University’s Institute of Media and Communications Research, where she is conducting research for a forthcoming book on Japan’s nation brand global image and reputation. Dr. Snow also completed the two-year Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) at the United States Information Agency and U.S. Department of State.

When she’s not seeking out hidden meanings and spreading Southern hospitality, Dr. Snow can be found on Twitter at @drpersuasion

Read more about Dr. Snow

2014 Sydney hostage crisis

Save the Humans: From Sydney to Tokyo

On Monday, December 15th, 2015, I gave a guest lecture on media and politics at Sophia University. The three-hour lecture didn’t require any notes, since media and politics were playing out in real time. CNN International was airing live coverage of an ongoing hostage situation in Sydney, Australia. In an unprecedented move, Prime Minister Tony Abbott took to the airwaves to urge calm, given the overtones of political violence given off at the Lindt Chocolate café by hostages pressing Islamic flags up against the windows.

I discussed the power of the media in shaping agenda—in this case, a lone wolf with a history of political grievances, and his ability to grab world press coverage by seizing holiday shoppers and morning caffeine addicts. His message: no one is safe this holiday season. The United States State Department (@TravelGov) subsequently issued a rare, 90-day worldwide travel alert stating that terrorists may be targeting ‘soft’ (unguarded, low security) areas such as hotels, places of worship, and schools.

Coverage of the hostage situation immediately usurped news of the elections here in Japan that had taken place only a day before. Prime Minister Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party won by a landslide, as everyone (Okinawa excepted) assumed it would, but without a real mandate, seeing that the single-seat voter turnout dropped from 69% in 2009 to 52% in 2014—the lowest in post-WWII history. A poll taken by Japan’s leading newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, showed that 65% of respondents chose the LDP because it was the “best of the worst.” In other words, outside of party cheerleaders and zombie politicians, the Japanese people are not thrilled with the LDP but feel that they have to let Shinzo Abe steer his boat away from the political and economic rocks (low fertility, aging populace, underemployed women) that continue to plague the country.

One Japanese lady from whom I buy an occasional sandwich bumped into me on the way to the train station and declared that the election was ‘pure B.S.’; or, rather, she spelled out the universal word for it being a giant waste; signifying that the snap elections meant more to the viability of the LDP than to any voter.

Politics-as-usual and public apathy are the greatest threats to an otherwise safe, clean, and pleasant country.

Abe gave a victory speech at LDP HQ the same day as the Sydney Siege, and it appeared that the world didn’t take notice how ramped up his rightist rhetoric was. Declaring a renewed opportunity to update the Japanese Constitution, he also promised to make schoolchildren learn more about Japan’s history and retell Japan’s wartime stories from a pro-Japan perspective. Abe 2.0 postures as being more attuned to the will of the people, as he pledged to “work hard to deepen people’s understanding and receive wider support from the public.” Being attuned, however, does not mean that he truly cares for voter concerns about the rising inequality gap, stagnant underemployment, rising food prices, or any other social condition that cause people like my sandwich lady to tune out and turn off.

Abe has secured his place in history as one of the few Japanese prime ministers to garner global name recognition. The question remains if Abe’s ability to hold power in this snap election will embolden his nationalistic tendencies, or if he will make a genuine effort to listen to a divided populace that seems to be ‘just holding on.’


Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow
Advisor

Dr. Nancy Snow is Langley Esquire’s chief advisor for public relations, media relations, public diplomacy, and leadership branding. Dr. Snow is a two-time recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, as a Fulbright student in the Federal Republic of Germany, and as Fulbright professor of international relations at Sophia University. She is an Abe Fellow at Keio University’s Institute of Media and Communications Research, where she is conducting research for a forthcoming book on Japan’s nation brand global image and reputation. Dr. Snow also completed the two-year Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) at the United States Information Agency and U.S. Department of State.

When she’s not seeking out hidden meanings and spreading Southern hospitality, Dr. Snow can be found on Twitter at @drpersuasion

Read more about Dr. Snow

Japan National Diet Building

A Brief History of the Japan National Diet Building

One facet of working in the world of Japan Public Affairs is being a frequent visitor to Japan’s National Diet Building. The hustle-and-bustle of politics never feels closer than when you’re dining with a Councilor in the sushi restaurant in the basement of the Main Building or passing through phalanxes of megaphone-blaring protestors as you meander between the three office buildings behind the Main Building that house 722 offices, one for every Diet Member.

The National Diet Main Building kokkai-gijido is both one of Tokyo’s most recognizable buildings as well as one of the least accessible. Since I am fortunate enough to have been able to walk the halls extensively over the years, first in 1982 when I was a secretary for Senator Taro Nakayama, and later as it became a component of my business, I thought a firsthand review of the Japan National Diet Building might be interesting.

Entering

The boulevard approaching the National Diet of Japan

The boulevard approaching the National Diet of Japan

Buildings that house Parliaments, Congresses, and other such bodies around the world are commonly designed with a focus on nation branding. In the days before GDP figures and nuclear warheads, mammoth imposing buildings were one important way of showing the power, influence, and importance of a country and its government. Japan’s National Diet Building closely follows this narrative.

Designed to be massive and commanding with no expense spared, the construction of the National Diet Building was so expensive that it nearly bankrupted the country during the 16 years of construction that led up to its completion in 1936. This is endemic of the strategy employed by Japan’s leadership in the prewar Showa Era to mold Japan into a world superpower. This was the third parliamentary building; the first two were built in the adjacent area that is now known as Hibiya Park and were wooden structures that both burned to the ground in massive fires that were unfortunately commonplace in Meiji era Tokyo. The first one, in fact, burned down within a year of its completion!

With this background, one of the most splendorous parts of the building is the Main Approach with the massive circular driveway. And what an entryway it is! To paraphrase a particularly apt quotation, “From the beautiful avenue of gingko trees running from Ginza to Sakuradamon, the National Diet of Japan stands on a hill keeping with the Diet’s position as the political center of the nation.

Original elevation for the Japan National Diet Building by German architects Hermann Ende & Wilhelm Böckmann

Original elevation for the Japan National Diet Building by German architects Hermann Ende & Wilhelm Böckmann

Made almost completely from Japan-sourced materials, from the dominating columns at its front, to the distinctive façade that was purposefully simplified from a design done by a pair of German architects in the Italian Renaissance architectural style because it looked “too Western,” the National Diet Building is a resplendent beauty of the few pre-WWII buildings that still exist in Tokyo. In fact, while all of Kasumigaseki, including Shinagawa all the way to Nihonbashi and beyond, stood an ashen heap in August 1945, the grounds of the National Diet and Imperial Palace were left intentionally untouched.

The massive bronze doors that guard the building’s Central Entrance are only used on a few rare occasions: the arrival of the Emperor, State Guests on official visits, and convocation day for newly elected Diet Members. Approximately 8% of the construction cost of the entire complex was devoted to areas for exclusive use by the Emperor, and facilitating these rare special occasions.

Roll Call

Diet Members are not without their duties. Upon entering the Diet Building, they are tasked with “signing in” by pressing a button underneath their name on a large signboard. You may notice signs of age on some of the longer-serving Members’ name placards, but that is a story for a different time. Also of interest is the gilded chrysanthemum lapel badge that each Member wears: if they are not wearing the badge when signing in, they cannot enter the Main Building.

While there are multiple entrances into the building, separate for Members of the House of Councilors and House of Representatives, one will find these backlit boards in predominant areas and all Diet Member entrances. These are wired to ensure that any Member’s presence or absence is known throughout his or her House.

Splendor

There is nothing subdued or even remotely subtle about the building’s interior design. The Central Hall features murals of Japan’s four seasons, extensive use of stained glass, and all marble floors. In a sense, it almost seems un-Japanese due to the flourishes of uncompromised and grand opulence throughout. To replicate this building in the present day would be impossible: the raw materials and master craftsmen no longer exist in enough quantity in Japan.

Stained glass in the Main Building of the National Diet of Japan

Stained glass in the Main Building of the National Diet of Japan

Another interesting feature of the Central Hall are the statues that mark each of its four corners directly under the pyramid-shaped central roof. Four pedestals stand, but only three statues stand atop them. The fourth pedestal stands permanently empty as a reminder of the potential for the future.

The Emperor of Japan's throne in the House of Councilors

The Emperor of Japan’s throne in the House of Councilors

The Chambers of the House of Representatives and House of Councilors both feature semicircular seating facing toward a main podium. In both houses, the Prime Minister’s seat is notably below that of the main podium. Yet the two houses are not completely the same: in the (Upper) House of Councilors there exists an elaborate throne. This throne is to be occupied only by the Emperor, and only during the convocation ceremony. This is because the Emperor, though constitutionally the ceremonial head of state and the symbol of the Japanese people, is restricted from participating in politics according to the Japanese Constitution.

As an aside, the Emperor of Japan is the world’s only reigning monarch bearing the title “Emperor” and is also the head of the longest surviving unbroken hereditary monarchy in human history, far surpassing even that of Egyptian pharaohs!

Combined with the always-surprising nature of debate and intrigue swirling about the place, every visit to the National Diet of Japan is one with a uniquely fresh and invigorating flavor. There is tremendous history and tradition ensconced within the walls and in the way that business is conducted in this house of democracy. I love to give first time visitors a guided tour through it whenever I get the chance.

Frank Sinatra

Context in Media Relations

“We do not first see, and then define; we define first and then see.”
– Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (1922)

In the fall of 2001 I was working as Associate Director of the UCLA Center for Communications and Community. The Center was a service, research, and training institution working at the intersection of communications, race, and community transformation. Dr. Frank Gilliam, now Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, was Director of the Center. Many of the communities we worked with (Oakland, Des Moines, Hartford, Inglewood) faced challenges in how they were covered by their local media.

For instance, the “inner city” has certain connotations for many in the media—often negative, driven by pictures of crime scene yellow tape and disaffected minority youth. So-called “bedroom communities” connote something entirely different—tranquility, affluence, and drug-free zones. Whether accurate or not, these “pictures in our head” that Walter Lippmann first wrote about over ninety years ago still persist in our media minds today.

We sought to address these media stereotypes head on with training programs whereby we brought together community leaders with media research scholars, working journalists, and policymakers. We tried to create an atmosphere of trust-building and mutual understanding.

Thirteen years later I still believe in the power of communications and the personal power to communicate. Despite the rise of the Internet and Social Media, we are still tethered to mainstream media influence, particularly our local television news. We are susceptible to the agenda-setting process of the news media—not having the power to tell us what to think, but certainly having the power to tell us what to think about and find important.

The news media provides a lens through which we frame or interpret issues. One of the media frames in Japan this November is that Abenomics is in trouble. Two months ago in September, the media frame had not only Abenomics holding steady but also Abe’s Womenomics in vogue. Media power anywhere in the world sounds a lot like Frank Sinatra singing “That’s Life”:

“You’re riding high in April, shot down in May.” – Frank Sinatra – “That’s Life”

The media as a whole seems to love to build up personalities but also bring them down. That’s why media relations management for a company or individual is so important. It cannot be neglected. There are just too many opportunities for the media system (sometimes we call it the “media beast”) to set the agenda and control the message. Add to that power the reality of our limited carrying capacity: all of us who consume media live in a world of mental shortcuts.
In order to take in increasingly larger amounts of data and information, we often resort to certain scripts, stereotypes or prototypes in our memory that are efficient go-to measures but also incomplete pictures. We never complete the picture because we are easily distracted or left inattentive by our day-to-day responsibilities.

A good media relations advisor can help you make sense of a media environment filled with clutter and noise. The best piece of advice that I learned from my years at UCLA is to seek out media engagement over media confrontation. It’s easy to “blame the media” for the world’s ills, but there are better ways beyond the blame game.


Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow
Advisor

Dr. Nancy Snow is Langley Esquire’s chief advisor for public relations, media relations, public diplomacy, and leadership branding. Dr. Snow is a two-time recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, as a Fulbright student in the Federal Republic of Germany, and as Fulbright professor of international relations at Sophia University. She is an Abe Fellow at Keio University’s Institute of Media and Communications Research, where she is conducting research for a forthcoming book on Japan’s nation brand global image and reputation. Dr. Snow also completed the two-year Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) at the United States Information Agency and U.S. Department of State.

When she’s not seeking out hidden meanings and spreading Southern hospitality, Dr. Snow can be found on Twitter at @drpersuasion

Read more about Dr. Snow

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

The Japan That Can’t Say No

The confines of Nagatacho, the neighborhood of central Tokyo hosting the Diet Building and the offices of legislators, are currently bubbling over with speculation about a snap House of Representatives election. Aided and abetted by reporters willing to broadcast and publish virtually any insider’s assertion or speculation, the nation’s news organizations are blasting the public with regular updates on the progress of forces, pro-election and con- in their struggle for control of the popular imagination and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s mind while he is out of town attending the APEC, ASEAN, and G20 meetings.

Only problem is, there is no real reason to have an election. The major decision the prime minister will be making, whether or not to delay a rise in the consumption tax from 8% to 10%, is written into the original legislation on the timetable for the rise. He has full authority to make the decision to delay the implementation, without limit, if he judges the Japanese economy too weak to absorb the jolt of a further rise of the consumption tax, the major reason the economy decelerated at a -7.1% annual rate in the second quarter of this year.

Furthermore, while delaying the consumption tax rise violates international commitments made on Japan’s returning to a path of greater fiscal stability and ostensibly defies a quid pro quo with the Bank of Japan of fiscal consolidation in return for ultra-loose monetary policy – a policy stance the Bank of Japan reaffirmed on October 31 through its announcement of an additional 10 trillion yen per year expansion of their balance sheet – the decision to delay is in no way unpopular. In the most recent public opinion polls, public support for a delay in the rise of the consumption tax ran between 65% and 75% in favor.

It is not as if a chastened Abe has to ask the public for its understanding. He already has that understanding.

Most egregiously, some in Nagatacho are insulting the public’s intelligence by intimating that an election is something of a mid-term referendum on the Abe Cabinet’s policies. If Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party does well in the election, it can come roaring out of the blocks in next year’s regular session, secure in having given a chance for the public to render a verdict on Abe’s economic and security policies.

Generally speaking, a referendum is a way of asking the voters yes-or-no, do they support the government’s plans and actions or not.

However, given the dilapidated status of Japan’s opposition parties, there will in many instances be no alternative “no” to an LDP “yes.” In the district elections, perhaps as many as a third of LDP candidates will be running unopposed, or at least unopposed by a non-Communist candidate. The largest party of the opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan, currently has only 134 candidates ready to run in the 295 district seat races The DPJ projects being able to field only about 150 candidates, if the election is held in mid-December. The second-tier Japan Innovation Party promises to field around 110 candidates but currently has only 67 lined up.

In the proportional half of the votes, the voters will have a chance to vote for parties other than the LDP. They may indeed split their ballots, voting for the LDP district seat holder they know and can influence but voting for a non-LDP party in the proportional half of the ballot, to send the Abe Cabinet the message that voters are not amused at Nagatacho’s sudden electoral fever.

However, with the opposition crippled in the districts, what right will the LDP and the Prime Minister have to claim the government has received a mandate to continue as it has been doing? Only a cynic would portray the electoral result as the public’s verdict on the Abe Cabinet’s performance and promises.


Michael CucekMichael Cucek
Advisor

Michael Cucek (known to many as simply “MTC”) is Langley Esquire’s chief advisor for issues related to Japanese politics and social issues. An Adjunct Fellow at the Temple University Japan Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, he is well-known as the author of Shisaku, one of the foremost blogs covering politics in Japan. A two-decade resident of Tokyo, you can listen in on Michael’s (often irreverent) take on Japan news and international affairs on Twitter at @MichaelTCucek

Read more about Michael