Promoting Japan with kawaii characters, anime and manga
In a speech last year at the University of Digital Content (alternatively Digital Hollywood University) we just mentioned, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly spoke of the need to enlist anime in the promotion of Japan's international image. Along with the tourism campaign we've already mentioned, the Japanese government has also announced a five-year plan to promote Japanese culture abroad, in which manga and anime are pushed forward as important points of attraction for foreign interest in Japan. It would seem that manga are now very definitely taken seriously as one of Japan's most influential export products.
Seriously indeed. A kawaii character drawn in manga style is now actually used to promote the image of Japan's army (the Self-Defence Forces or SDF) in Iraq. 'Prince Pickles', as reported by the International Herald Tribune (click to see an image), is supposed to soften the image of the military. I'm curious to see how people not familiar with Japan's kawaii aesthetic will respond to seeing an army represented by 'Prince Pickles'. If nothing else, the fact that this cartoon character is trotted out on the international stage in the very grave context of the Iraq war does show that manga's influence in Japan is now indeed everywhere.
Update: another image of Prince Pickles is to be found on CNN.