Tourism promotion gone awry

A video produced by Miyagi Prefecture to promote tourism to the area has proven to be controversial.  Late last year I posted about promotional videos for the Oita/Beppu area and what fun they were.  The Miyagi promotional video is different.

The video features Dan Mitsu, a Japanese actress known for trading on her sexuality, as well as a number of scenes laced with double entendre and visuals that, to Japanese eyes, at least, imply sex and orgasm.  (This article explains some of the imagery.)  To top it off, the video apparently cost about four times what similar promotional videos usually cost and was paid for largely using funds earmarked for Tohoku region disaster recovery.  One must ask, was this really a sound use of funds? (Is no one auditing how disaster recovery funds are used?)

Needless to say, there have been a number of people disturbed by the video, but the most vocal opposition has come from female politicians.  As with many situations when gender equality is raised by women in Japan, this fact alone has resulted in a gaslighting response from the Miyagi governor and his office.  Their position seems to be one of “this is just women being shrill, why bother listening to them?”.

Among other responses to the criticism:  1) the video was only published on YouTube, not publicly broadcast, so it would only be viewed by those who chose to view it (which ignores the fact that many viewers will click just to see what all the fuss is about); 2) even bad press is a form of promotion for the area, so it’s not really bad; 3) some elder statesmen politicians of Miyagi don’t see anything wrong with the video so it must be okay.

When I watched the video my initial impression (as a non-Japanese, and as a woman) was that it was really just rather stupid.  The actress was dressed in a traditional kimono and, in the opening scene, was “soothing the heated brow” of a mascot character splayed out on the floor in heat prostration.  That rather traditional image of a woman as a decoration/helpmate never really appeals to me anyway (surely she’s just as hot and uncomfortable as he is, why should she have to focus on his comfort?), but in this case, I could not see why the scene said anything about the appeal of Miyagi as a destination, notwithstanding her suggestion that in summer Miyagi might be cooler than some other locations.

The actress proceeds to make a statue of Date Masamune (one of Sendai’s greatest samurai heroes) and an animated turtle blush–again, lots of sexual innuendo.  And there are several close ups of her pursed lips.  But why does any of that make Miyagi an attractive tourist destination?  Maybe it would appeal to middle-aged or older Japanese men, making them think that if they travel to Miyagi they’ve got a chance at getting laid (or at least getting a blow job), but otherwise…?

Was any thought at all given to the target audience for the promotional campaign that resulted in this ad?  The ad can hardly have any appeal to women or to anyone looking for a family holiday destination (notwithstanding research that shows these two demographics are the ones most likely to be interested in travelling to Miyagi).

Earlier this week the governor of Miyagi announced that he would pull the ad, but only after a promotional event scheduled for today at which Dan Mitsu is to be the guest of honor.  Maybe he wanted his chance to meet Ms. Dan in person, hence the delay?

It is a shame that an ad like this, which seems more like a promotional for sex tours than for Miyagi as a tourist destination, would even be produced and aired.  Don’t Japanese male decision makers realize how foolish they appear when they allow such images to be used to promote Japan?

It is also a shame that the video’s sponsors squandered an opportunity to really show off Miyagi as a tourist destination.  I’ve visited many parts of Miyagi; it’s a great place and has never disappointed the tourist in me.

The supposed theme of the video was that Miyagi is cool in summer, yet instead of showing cool mountain destinations like Akiu Falls or cool summer festivals like Sendai’s famous Tanabata, the video features “steamy” scenes calculated to get men all hot and bothered.

I have been privileged in my work and travels to meet a number of very forward-thinking senior Japanese men who are great ambassadors for gender equality and increased diversity in Japan.  I would go so far as to call them feminists (and I mean that as a compliment).  Even Japan’s prime minister seems to recognize the importance of gender equality for securing Japan’s future.

But sometimes it feels like those modern-thinking men are seriously outnumbered by the ones who want to keep Japan stuck in the 1950s, or even earlier; those would prefer a Japan where men’s roles and the men’s world are quite separate from women’s roles and the women’s world.

While I am loathe to ever be too critical of my adopted country, I do find this attitude to be extremely unfortunate. Creatures that can’t evolve are destined for–indeed deserve–extinction.  Yet that is not what I would wish on Japan.

This video is a piece of the Japanese puzzle that I simply don’t know what to do with.  It’s deeply disappointing.  I am embarrassed for the people of Miyagi.

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