TMG Yuriko Koike Tokyo Foreign Press Briefing, Two Years From Tokyo 2020

Tokyo 2020, the heat is on. We may associate the North African city of Cairo with some of the world’s hottest temperatures, but on Monday, July 23, Japan’s capital recorded a temperature of 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit), one degree higher than the Egyptian capital. With 38 reported heat-related deaths in Tokyo alone this month, it was a tough day to present an optimistic picture of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games that officially begin on July 24, 2020.

Despite Japan’s hottest day of the year, Koike resonated cool confidence, beginning her remarks by cajoling those present to donate our old mobile phones to the Tokyo 2020 Medals Project for use in manufacturing Olympic medals for the Summer Olympics. “Even the mobile phone that you are using is okay,” she joked. The goal is 100 percent recycled content, a first, but the first question wasn’t about where we deposit our old hardware. It was about the weather elephant in the room. With the extreme temperatures outside, she admitted that Japan and Tokyo have felt like “being in a sauna,” but that the New Tokyo would be ready, even if the Olympic Marathon has to start in the early morning hours or low heat-emitting pavement must be used to resurface the roads.

Koike proclaimed the city formerly known as Old Edo the New Tokyo, three cities in one. As she explained to the Cairo Review in 2017:  “I want Tokyo to be a safe city where people feel more secure, more at ease, and can live more vibrant lives; a diverse city where everyone can actively participate in society and lead fulfilling lives; and a smart city that is open to the world, and a leader in the fields of the environment, international finance, and business.”

The Tokyo-based organization, Lawyers for LGBT and Allies Network (LLAN), would like to see Koike further her 2017 statement in support of holding a national discussion on marriage equality. When I asked her if she would promote such a discussion now in order to make Tokyo 2020 the most inclusive and LGBT-friendly Games in Olympics history, she referenced the Olympic Charter, which has condemned anti-LGBT bias as part of its Non-Discrimination Principle. Japan remains the only country among the G7 industrialized nations to not yet introduce a same-sex marriage or same-sex partnership system at the state or national level.

It’s just 24 short months to go and this is a city whose existing charms are already on full display to the world. Anthony Bourdain famously said that if he were stuck in one city forever, he’d choose Tokyo. In 2017 Tokyo was ranked “most livable” by British-based Monocle magazine. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked it number one among fifty in its Safe Cities Index of 2015. But a mega city of global charms with a renowned mayor must prepare for all scenarios. A reporter from Bangladesh asked about terrorism, a jolt to the senses when just minutes earlier we were being shown a slide of the super kawaii Tokyo 2020 mascots Miraitowa and Someity, selected by school children across Japan.

Koike, an award-winning journalist turned politician, is fully aware of another heat yet to come: the global media spotlight and the eyes of the world. With so much high regard for the city, she knows that just one bad situation—athletes delayed by transportation or overcome by heat exhaustion—and the revenue in global goodwill will evaporate.

“Since becoming Tokyo’s first female governor two years ago, I have pursued a grand reform of Tokyo. With this grand reform, I aim to put the citizens of Tokyo first.” This includes using Tokyo “as an example of a model society, one capable of helping to solve global issues.” This putting-people-first strategy includes recruiting 110,000 Games and City Volunteers to help everything run smoothly during the Olympics (July 24-August 9) and Paralympics (August 25-September 6).

With so many people involved, what can possibly go wrong?


Is America on track to be the Great Satan again?

Is America on track to be the Great Satan again?


This week I published an essay in The Japan Times about the perception some have of America as a Great Satan. This piece explores the nomination of Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, the largest oil company in the world. Is this a sign of a Trump administration embrace of corporatization of foreign policy? I’ve always been troubled by too much top-down, for-profit focus in American foreign policy. This was the subject of my first book, Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America’s Culture to the World.

CNN Reports on Millennials and Sexless Japan and I’m Part of the Story

On  Tuesday I was interviewed by CNN International “Japan’s Virgins” about a recent government survey that reported nearly half of millennials in Japan (well, actually 44%) are not sexually active at all. Of course this is no one’s business but the person being surveyed, but why this matters beyond the titillating headline is that we all know how obsessed the government of Japan is with fertility and procreation.

Japan’s future survival depends on producing more Japanese to support a rapidly aging and long-living population (think inverted pyramid). It’s not reasonable to expect Japan to reverse a long course of severely limiting immigration or opposing much intermarriage. That’s why whether or not young people are even open to sexual relations with each other is a policy and political concern with international implications. Think about it. If Japanese aren’t reproducing themselves in larger numbers, then Japan won’t have personnel for its military and industry. And Prime Minister Abe’s Japan has big plans for Japan’s military. He needs to replenish forces with more Japanese men and women.

If you haven’t had a chance, please buy a copy of my latest book, Japan’s Information War, published in July 2016. Copies are literally flying off the shelves. The difference is that those shelves are mine as I remove copies I bought to take with me when I give invited lectures. (Warning: If you a student enrolled in my classes at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, you are a  captive audience and you will be required to read my book this semester.) Read my chapter, “No Sex: Brand Japan Stereotypes.” In it I spend a lot of time talking about sex in Japan as portrayed in the global media. Why? Because the world seems fascinated with whether or not the Japanese younger generation is getting together, coupling, dating, uniting–you get the picture. Well, let’s just ask Barry White to paint that picture for us:

So the world is fascinated with sexless Japan. Just check out this YouTube personality, Philip DeFranco, who showed my picture and quoted me from the CNN story:

You see, sex sells! Always has, always will. I could talk about the most serious policy issue and get no attention but if I comment about sex, then I’m famous for a half a minute.

Here’s the rub.

What is happening here in Japan is occurring in other parts of the world. Like Italy. The difference is that we associate Italian men and women with romance and love. It’s part of nation brand Italy: fast cars and even faster men. Or if we are seeking classic romance, then it’s Italy again. Think Roman Holiday. Better yet, watch Roman Holiday. Maybe it will put us all in the romantic mood. But I digress.

My suggestion to Japanese Millennials: Relax.half full

Don’t feel pressured to overcome global media stereotypes or exaggerations. The country of Japan is going to survive. It will be fine. It may have to open itself up more to foreigners in various categories from short-term workers to permanent residents, but I have full confidence that this country is going to right the ship. Or should I say love boat?!


Caroline Kennedy’s Japan Greeting (US Embassy Tokyo)

In this video message, the new ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, delivers a personal “Ohayo Gozaimasu” from her home in New York. She studied Japanese history in college, traveled to Hiroshima with her Uncle Ted when she was 20, and spent part of her honeymoon in Nara and Kyoto. I welcome her as America’s newest ambassador and believe that she will be an excellent cultural mediator between the U.S. and Japan.

The BBC presents: No Sex Please, We’re Japanese

No Sex Please, We’re Japanese

Thank you, BBC, for reinforcing cultural stereotypes. Isn’t low fertility a phenomenon happening in quite a few other countries? Joshua Keating makes this point in Slate: “A number of Eastern European countries have lower fertility rates than Japan, but we don’t often see articles portraying Czechs and Poles as sexless nerds.”

Public Diplomacy is Flourishing–Spread the Word


This funereal op-ed is so fundamentally flawed that it is more like a drive-by shooting.  Shooting USIA in the back is an unfortunate metaphor for the context of public diplomacy since many of us who engage in public diplomacy think of it in terms of ballots over bullets and swords into ploughshares.  Even those who don’t like this tender-hearted approach view it in the tougher-minded context of political campaign strategies.  October 1, 1999 is not a day that should live in public diplomacy infamy, as much as I wax nostalgic for my former employer.  (I worked at USIA in the 1990s.)  Many of us are more active in the field of public diplomacy than ever, USIA’s “death” notwithstanding.  I’ve taught courses in public diplomacy from Beijing, China and Tel Aviv, Israel to Tokyo, Japan.  I’m now living in Tokyo as an Abe Fellow conducting research on Japan’s image in the world since 3/11.  I have seen many of my students find successful work in the field, not only in Washington but also in the nongovernmental sector.  These are social change agents deeply committed to using public diplomacy for the common good.  Their efforts shouldn’t be made light of by an op-ed mired down in inside-the-beltway politics of the 1990s.  It’s like evaluating Bill Clinton by his Lewinsky days and never by the Clinton Global Initiative.

 There are more talented people engaged in public diplomacy than ever.  There is recognition of public diplomacy in the academy with graduate programs and courses proliferating (USC, Syracuse, George Washington, American University to name a handful).  There are titled careerists in public diplomacy that weren’t around in the 1990s.  (Schadler identifies himself as a senior fellow in public diplomacy.) To bemoan a talent loss from the demise of the United States Information Agency’s dismantling under Bill Clinton is specious.  In sheer numbers and recognition, public diplomacy is flourishing.

Whatever you think of their politics, Bill and Hillary Clinton represent the more formal faces of public diplomacy, but there are as many unsung public diplomats in the 21st century as there are non-traditional journalists blogging and tweeting their information and influence.

The whole spirit of this article reminds me of those Beatles fans who never got over the band’s breakup in 1970.  USIA was dismantled in 1999, but what the agency was all about then in centralizing the process of public diplomacy is a global social network of activity today.  The whole world is buzzing with public diplomacy in this age of decentralization where a visit by Lady Gaga to Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 garnered media attention historically reserved for a visiting head of state.  Yes, Russia, the People’s Republic of China and jihadi radicals are all “in the game” of effective public diplomacy, but so are Japan, South Korea, the European Union, among many others.  Japan’s Cabinet just set September 18, 2013 as the effective date of the establishment of the Japan Brand Fund, a nation branding initiative that comes on the heels of Japan’s winning bid to host the 2020 Olympics.

In the 21st Century, we all are public diplomats.  It is no longer the precious reserve of a few.  It’s better to have more “in the game” than fewer if one wants to challenge the narrative of those organizations and individuals who are using public diplomacy as a tool for more harm than good.