Ambassador of cute

Ambassador of cute Shizuka Fujioka PHOTO BY KOHJI SHIIKI

TOKYO —

Japan has ambassadors to more than 150 countries. Earlier this year, the Foreign Ministry appointed three more – “kawaii” (cute) ambassadors whose job is to travel abroad to introduce Japanese pop culture to young people in other countries.

One of the ambassadors is Shizuka Fujioka, 20, whose trademark high school uniform-like fashion has already proven a hit on her first official assignment abroad at the Japan Festival in Thailand in March.

Born in Ibaraki Prefecture, Fujioka says her dream was to be a ballerina, although she had a secret desire to go into show business. “However, in Ibaraki, I didn’t have any connections and didn’t really go as far as to mail in applications to agencies or anything like that, so I just continued doing ballet. I was scouted at Yokohama Station, which led me to enter the world of show business when I was 18.”

Fujioka’s first acting job was the role of a classmate in the TV show “Shika Otoko Awo Niyoshi.” “Then, one night in February, I was on an NHK program called ‘Kawaii TV’ and someone from the Foreign Ministry who had been watching it took a liking to me and chose me as one of the ‘kawaii’ ambassadors. At first, I felt anxious and worried at the idea of being an ‘ambassador,’ but I knew I was being given a huge opportunity and decided to change those negative feelings and show my true colors.”

So what does a “kawaii” ambassador do? “My duties include introducing Japanese fashion, in my case, by starting off with school uniforms,” Fujioka explains. “By doing so, I will spread the message to Japanese people that school uniforms are very popular abroad as well as within Japan, and also induce an interest in Japanese culture in the minds of people abroad. In Thailand, I visited an anime production company, attended a fashion show of Thai models and participated in a talk show with a Thai celebrity named Neko Jump.

“The Thai people kept saying ‘kawaii,’ which made quite an impression on me. They told me over and over that they think Japanese people are really pretty. They said they were jealous that Japanese girls could wear such cute school uniforms. In Thailand, since they sell Japanese magazines translated into Thai, they know of Japanese fashion and told me that they implement a lot of the styles in their own fashion, in not just their clothes, but also their nail designs, accessories and hairstyles. They think of Japanese girls as their source of reference in terms of fashion. In fact, Thai girls looked like Japanese girls—their fashion, and their white skin…the only thing that was different was that they didn’t speak the language. Their image of the typical Japanese girl was someone who has really white skin, a small face, pretty hair, and just someone who is really gorgeous in general.”

Being a cute ambassador is not a full-time job for Fujioka. She most recently released a photo book that shows different ways of styling school uniforms according to each brand. Fujioka models the various uniforms in the book. She says fashion is her main interest. “I love clothes; not just school uniforms, but regular clothes too. I don’t always wear school uniforms…after all, I am 20. I love wearing girly dresses that have lace designs on them, and particularly those that are pink or white. I normally buy anything that I think will look good in, and spice it up a bit with accessories.”

When she is not busy being a cute ambassador, Fujioka enjoys watching musicals, especially Takarazuka, and trying out new cafes and cake shops. “I have a sweet tooth, which I’m trying to control because I don’t want to gain weight. I’m also into darts and billiards right now.”

Fujioka says she is very happy that her new role is garnering a lot of media attention. “My parents always tell me that I shouldn’t be afraid of challenges,” she says.

  • 0

    NeoJamal

    “My parents always tell me that I shouldn’t be afraid of challenges,”

    Looking like a convincing Middle school sophomore is not a challenge for many Japanese women in their early 20s.

    Breaking the Keiretsu glass ceiling for women, now that's the frontier where most J-women should aim for.

  • 0

    bcbrownboy

    Is Kawaii Japanese for ingenue?

  • 0

    gaijintraveller

    I have a feeling a Thai word that sounds like "kawai" means something completely different. In fact I seem to remember a Thai being amused by that word meaning pretty as to a Thai it meant ugly.

    If anyone who know the Thai language reads this, could they please either confirm or correct this statement?

  • 0

    Pukey2

    For god's sake - 20 years old and still wearing a school uniform. If Japan were my country, I'd be plain embarassed. Japan has plenty to offer, but why does it always go down the path of kawaiiness, otaku, lolita, manga, cosplay, etc? While other countries showcase their cuisine, history, heritage, Japan as led by Aso really does not offer anything mature.

    They told me over and over that they think Japanese people are really pretty.

    For the weak-minded, if you're told something over and over again, you start to believe it.

    As for 'kawaii', I sometimes get that word confused with 'kowai'.

  • 0

    womanforwomen

    From the things that the girl is saying here, it looks like she is a normal human being. BUT the adults around her, especially her parents and that nut of a man from the Foreign ministry had been misguiding her.What a pity? Amazing how the people's brain work here: 7 to 8 year olds dressed in skimpy tight skirts and stilletos, and whatever to make her a replica of a sexy mature and 20 or more year olds,in pink and white lacy dresses and bows with dolls looking like overgrown children.

  • 0

    pawatan

    I have a feeling a Thai word that sounds like "kawai" means something completely different. In fact I seem to remember a Thai being amused by that word meaning pretty as to a Thai it meant ugly.

    Young people in Thailand use 'kawaii' just like the Japanese girls do - Japanese pop culture is quite popular there.

  • 0

    tomico

    I really don't understand Japan's mentality of this. It's like the last article I read here called "Osaka 'maid cafe' waitresses fly to Taiwan to attract tourists"

    It would be like America using Hooters Waitresses to attract tourists.

  • 0

    techall

    Kawaii TV’ and someone from the Foreign Ministry who had been watching it

    This scares me. The Foreign Ministry doesn't have anything more important for these people to do with their time???

  • 0

    Potsu

    Um...perhaps they should actually find someone who IS cute.Great priorities from Japan with all these teen suicides,young parents abusing babies etc etc....let's just start a cute ambassador program.We really have found LA-LA land.

  • 0

    Himajin

    7 to 8 year olds dressed in skimpy tight skirts and stilletos,

    Really? This is one I haven't seen yet. I HAVE seen belly shirt and thongs for elementary school aged kids in the US, but have not seen Japanese little kids dressed like that. Usually Japanese kids' clothes are babyish in the extreme.

  • 0

    seesaw

    My duties include introducing Japanese fashion, in my case, by starting off with school uniforms

    You mean the school uniform fashion that you're wearing? How nice! And don't complain when the dirty oyaji grope you in the train...lol

  • 0

    herefornow

    I would honestly hope that her parents had bigger "challenges" in mind than just being cute. That's gonna end in about 4 or 5 years, and then she'll just be another pretty J-gal with no education or career. I see hostessing in her future.

  • 0

    abromofo

    Jeeze, lighten up people. Some of you guys speak as though you believe Japanese people are misrepresenting themselves to the rest of the world. Just get over it and let them be themselves.

    Why must you brow-beat every Japanese thing you see that isn't acknowledging or apologizing for all the problems you love to point out with Japan?

  • 0

    abromofo

    I for one wake up every morning pleased that I live in a country where some people still know how to enjoy themselves and have fun.

  • 0

    bamboohat

    Very cute. Vapid, but cute. Remember, dear leader Aso held up a fashion magazine a few months ago as Japan's contribution to the world, so this is in line with that foreign policy.

    The world does need cuteness, after all, and who better than Japan than to provide it?

  • 0

    Sarge

    Perfect knees.

  • 0

    tigris

    7 to 8 year olds dressed in skimpy tight skirts and stilletos,

    Really? This is one I haven't seen yet.

    Me neither. My guess is that it only exists in the warped phantasies of some posters.

  • 0

    Mittsu

    School uniform as fashion puzzles me. Most countries kids hate wearing school uniform. For the older pervert however, it clearly does something. You can but them in Donki for about 5,000 yen as a present for the mistress of your choice (do people ask their wives to wear this stuff)?

  • 0

    womanforwomen

    but have not seen Japanese little kids dressed like that.

    the part of Tokyo where the affluent live.

  • 0

    TokyoXtreme

    Scouted at Yokohama station? Every lady's dream.

  • 0

    norinrad21

    hehehe she does look some what cute, leave her be. Some of you get way too hysterical

  • 0

    abromofo

    Very cute. Vapid, but cute.

    How can something be vapid and cute at the same time?

  • 0

    WMD

    Just how pathetic can it get? But just right for japan, the nation of 12 year olds.

  • 0

    herefornow

    abromofo -- Fair comments. By the same token, is cute really something that Japan wants to bet on for helping to improve perceptions of it? And, what about the dark side of this whole uniform fetish -- like guys continually being arrested for taking photos up young girls' skirts. Is that "still know how to enjoy themselves and have fun" spirit you wake up each morning being pleased about??

  • 0

    kaoken

    And, what about the dark side of this whole uniform fetish -- like guys continually being arrested for taking photos up young girls' skirts.

    What the hell. It's analogous to saying it's your fault for being stabbed because you didn't carry stab protection.

  • 0

    jkoffman

    my future ex-wife, lovely!

  • 0

    abromofo

    By the same token, is cute really something that Japan wants to bet on for helping to improve perceptions of it?

    Yeah, in my opinion it's one worthwhile activity to try and improve overseas perceptions. People here (not you) seem to be forgetting they're not the target audience. It's similar to adults criticizing the telly-tubbies for being infantile.

    This is a 20 year old girl, and the target audience is people around that age, or younger. Perhaps more specifically Asian school girls who already have a keen interest in Japanese pop-culture. It's a real aspect of Japanese culture that already has a following, in a non-perverted way. If it promotes a bit of interest in Japan from overseas, that's great. I know I'd like to see any remaining barriers that young Asians and Japanese people might have removed, so this might help just a little.

    Non-perverted interest in Japanese cuteness also exists in other places, like in New Zealand, back when I was at high-school. I remember many girls at my school loving all sorts of cutesy Japanese schoolgirl type things whenever we had a visit from one of our sister schools. I can't imagine Ms. Fujioka going all the way down there, but it just illustrates my point that a lot of young people throughout the world are interested in Japanese pop-culture.

    As for freaks taking up-skirt photos being something I consider being in the spirit of fun... Err, no. I was referring to the girl in the pic and those members of the government that considered it a worthwhile thing to be doing. I'm sure she will take it seriously and enjoy herself. If I happened to catch someone taking up-skirt photos of either of my two daughters wearing their school uniforms, I would gladly beat seven shades of $hite out of their puny otaku bodies.

  • 0

    Himajin

    the part of Tokyo where the affluent live.

    ah, I'm not in Tokyo...I don't see a lot of silly stuff here in Kobe...I've only ever seen one ganguro, I bet she was a tourist. I think a lot of the weird stuff is confined to Tokyo. Well if it's in affluent areas of Tokyo it's not that widespread. Are Tokyo affluent different from say, Ashiya or Mikage rich?

  • 0

    lat

    Ambassador of stupid more like it. One of my pet peeves against Japanese girls is the fact that so many act so childish and think so superficially. I dont think this image really needs to be paraded around to make young girls in Asia dumber than theyre already expected to be. Id like to see more sophistication and intelligence come from these girls. Fujioka is 20 years old, and shes an adult now, so would it really be a bad thing to give her some more maturity at this point? 20 year old girls who act like theyre 12 arent cute to me, theyre seriously annoying and retarded.

  • 0

    womanforwomen

    Are Tokyo affluent different from say, Ashiya or Mikage rich?

    Capital city syndrome.Tokyo is where dream comes true!I sometimes think either the mothers dress their little girls that way to keep up with the jones or they do it so that the child will start a career in the entertainment industry, if she is spotted by someone important from the industry. Even Fujioka said that it was her secret desire to be in the showbusiness.

  • 0

    Foxie

    I find it rather sad that Japan will give out such an image to the world when it has so many quality cultural assets to offer.

  • 0

    tigris

    @abrofomo Excellent post(s). Maybe some people have a generation problem - as old as Adam & Eve. In my time it was the hippies, long hair, rock music. The negativity here tells more about the posters than the kids. Unhappy souls with too much time.

  • 0

    gogogo

    Government backed, I can't see how anyone would take Japan seriously, they need to call this "art" or "fashion" to which it belongs overseas.

  • 0

    herefornow

    abrofomo -- good response, but did you really stop to think about what you wrote? The issue has nothing to do with whether I'm the target or not. How many 20-somethings from other countries can afford to come here? And, even if they get here, how much will they spend while here? They are not the kind of tourists that the hotels, restaurants, etc. need. And they can download or purchase the manga and other stuff they are interested in over the Internet anyway -- without coming here. The point, which apparently escapes you, is that the Ministry should be spending our tax dollars in order to generate an ROI for the economy. Cute girls won't. Even if gals in Thailand get all excited about the uniform look, what makes you think they'll buy Japanese brands? Any textile plant in the world can produce plaid skirts or white cardigans-- and a lot cheaper than Japan can.

  • 0

    Klein2

    An engineering site from the States once hosted a rabid meme that went something like this. If you ever see something totally outrageous, bizarre, WTF, etc., you can make it entirely believable to anyone if you put two words after the statement. The two words are IN JAPAN...

    So you could say, the number one selling car next year will be a hybrid, in Japan. Or, third grade elementary school children have assembled a functioning 20 meter GUNDAM, in Japan. Or, there are three ambassadors of cuteness... in Japan.

    And it is so true. And, in fact, there is no other country that this works for. Cute ambassador? Why not? Sounds like Japan. Long may she wave.

  • 0

    Redhots

    Alright, they pick a girl who is actually cute. I am all for being serious but I don't see anything wrong with this...nice way to bring some non seriousness to the world.

  • 0

    KyotoChris

    Agree completely Redhots! To the nay-sayers, lighten up.

    WMD: you obviously know nothing about Japan which makes your comment even more of a joke.

    Lat: If you don't like the way Japanese girls are then don't bother with them.

    She's meant to appeal to younger girls primarily and they seem to like it so what's it matter? I'd choose her over Miss California and her gay bashing lying about body augmentation any day.

  • 0

    oberst

    she looks like a freakin' cartoon mouse..............kawaii indeed !!

  • 0

    KyotoChris

    I'm sure her parents and family don't think she looks like a cartoon mouse. That's not a nice thing to say.

  • 0

    NekoNoir

    I think she looks good i like the way her hair is styled but i dont like the colour of the tie :/

  • 0

    aelieth

    I love Japanese girls, especially mine. She's cute, but not as stupid as many of you seem to think of them. She has her degree, she works hard when it is time, but she loves to play and be cute as well! I don't mind the girls acting cute and silly, many of them do have a serious brain behind all the girlishness.

    America couldn't do anything like this. All of our women and men are becoming fat blobs, many with no education. Japan has one thing up on many countries, their women still look good and can even afford and enjoy looking cute.

  • 0

    rtega

    Wow, this article has futsuu all over the place! Nice, nice, ...

  • 0

    TokyoJake

    She's beautiful! I don't understand why some people are so negetive about this.

  • 0

    Sarge

    "She's beautiful! I don't understand why some people are so negative about this."

    Incredible, isn't it?

  • 0

    Redeemed

    At least she has a job.

  • 0

    tigris

    @herefornow

    I think you misunderstand the purpose of these 'ambassadors' There isn't a word about promoting tourism to Japan in this article. It is about soft power - the power to attract and shape the preferences of others. If you figure in J fashion, J make-up, manga, anime, J music, J movies, J TV programs, J food, J motor bikes.....Japanese whatever, it is a billion dollar business. And not just big business: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/4290.html

  • 0

    biglittleman

    @Aelieth,

    American woman and other foreign woman is what most Japanese women wish they could be like. That is why they have the dyed hair and eye-contacts. They as also believed they can't reach that goal so they created this cute style where they look and pretend to be little girls.

  • 0

    Triple888

    That woman in the photo does not promote the image of "cute".

  • 0

    fishy

    @biglittleman: American woman and other foreign woman is what most Japanese women wish they could be like.

    Oh YEAH???? I don't think J-girls dye hair for that reason. Simply just enjoying different colors as all(most) Japanese have blackish color of hair and eyes.. it's just fashin, almost like wearing different colors of shirts. When you say cute to older Japanese women, it's a compliment while saying cute to older western women, it might not be a compliment. Cute is a word for younger girls in western countries but not in japan.

  • 0

    abromofo

    @tigris

    Quite possible! A generation problem, and a bunch of unhappy souls could explain a lot :-)

    @herefornow

    Yeah, you make some good points too that the government should also be focusing on. Tourism and exports, definitely important. But "soft power" (borrowed from tigris), is more what this is about. Promoting an image of Japan that has massive worldwide appeal will lead to economic benefits. Actually I think this small piece of promotion is clever. It can reach much further than a normal tourism campaign. And lastly, if it makes a few hundred (thousand?) young kids overseas think "Japan is cool, I wanna visit there one-day", it's worth it.

  • 0

    randomenigma

    She needs thigh highs to perfect the look.

  • 0

    biglittleman

    @fishy,

    You must don't know any Japanese women or live in Japan. I do. Ask Japanese women who they want to look like. They will more than likely name western woman. I have talked to them about usually telling them they don't have to look like them to be attractive.

    It is another reason why Haafus are becoming popular in Japan. They think they are more attractive than pure Japanese people.

  • 0

    herefornow

    tigris -- I understand the concept of "soft power" and the potential for Japan. However, as I pointed out, I don't think cuties in school uniforms is the best way to promote that. What is the link between this gal and manga, anime, music, movies, TV programs, etc. that you mention? I'll answer it for you -- none. Respectfully, Japan fashion is not a plaid skirt and a cardigan sweater -- that can be relicated anywhere, as I said. Sorry, but you will never convince me that "Japan = Cute" will ever help this economy in any significant way.

  • 0

    womanforwomen

    This young lady with long hair and a well proportionate body would look very feminine and elegant in any dress that fits her age. And just simply that with the fact that she is Japanese will do well as an ambassador of whatever that she was appointed for. Herefornow has said it well.

  • 0

    tigris

    Have you been to Bangkok lately or other cities in the neighborhood there? Ask young people there... it is a real eye opener. Maybe that can convince you. Anything Japanese - current Japanese trends mentioned above, including cute fashion - not Japanese traditional stuff - is what it's all about. My Japanese lady can't believe it herself and in the meanwhile she is enjoying the popularity. (Just that you don't misunderstand: she's a bit older and herself not much into Japanese pop art.) Quite a change from 20 years ago when there were strong anti Japanese feelings. Taxes well spend. What you, or for that matter I think (anything kawaiiiiii gives me the shivers) - or our taste, is irrelevant. It's these kids who count.

  • 0

    tigris

    Last of my posts (2:25) is addressed to herefornow.

  • 0

    aelieth

    @biglittleman

    Yeah, I agree with that and didn't dispute any of that in my post. Breast implants are becoming quite popular, and as you said, hair dye and other things too. Japanese girls may enjoy looking a little different sometimes, but the majority of American women are just... gah, poor America.

    Trying not to get off topic here. :-P There are many cute Japanese ladies. I'm glad these ambassadors don't look too over the top. They represent more normal Japanese I think, and that's what an ambassador should do.

    Tigris is right, it's selling and in a capitalist economy, you should try and sell, especially when the brand name is your country! Just don't go over the top is all. I for one am glad my woman is kawaii. She loves her Totoro and I don't mind my bathroom having the Totoro decor. I even walk around the house in fluffy snowmen slippers because she thinks they're so cute on me... don't tell anyone I said that. :-P

  • 0

    Redhots

    @KyotoChris and TokyoKake--Right on you two. I don't see what is negative with a cute girl doing something that isn't traditional in terms of an occupation. She's making money doing something fun, good for her! Wish I could do it but my country is vast becoming a land of women who want to look like men.

  • 0

    KyotoChris

    aelieth, I have to admit I rather like Totoro myself. :)

  • 0

    oberst

    randomenigma at 11:03 AM JST - 14th August

    She needs thigh highs to perfect the look. ......................

    right on, brother !!!!!!

  • 0

    biglittleman

    KyotoChris and Aelieth,

    Did you know Totoro is the "God of Death"? Also the two children that was with him in the story are already dead.

  • 0

    Himajin

    I take it you haven't watched Totoro.....

  • 0

    drw1926

    I have a feeling a Thai word that sounds like "kawai" means something completely different. In fact I seem to remember a Thai being amused by that word meaning pretty as to a Thai it meant ugly. If anyone who know the Thai language reads this, could they please either confirm or correct this statement?

    Good thing this is Japan and not Thailand, huh? ; )

  • 0

    TokyoRoughGuy

    I think this is a great idea, and a great way to spend taxpayer money.

  • 0

    biglittleman

    @Himajin,

    I have watched Totoro and read the book. I know for a fact that Totoro is the "God of Death". I take it you have done your research?

  • 0

    Himajin

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MyNeighborTotoro

    Moderator: Back on topic please.

  • 0

    biglittleman

    Himajin,

    Anybody can write a wiki page? Wiki has been proven wrong before. Try something better.

  • 0

    Himajin

    I did,the Mods deleted everything I put up.

    The studio itself debunked it on their website, you'll have to look for it yourself, the three links I posted are gone.

    And no, I don't have to try something better because you believe something nutty.....

    Moderator: Please stay on topic.

  • 0

    KyotoChris

    I've watched Totoro and yes, I know what it means. That has no bearing on whether or not I like it.

  • 0

    Darren Connearn

    Someone earlier pointed out that in Thailand kawaii pronounced 'Kwai' refers to ugly, in fact they actually use this tern to call someone stupid. Alternatively they have been misheard, they perhaps said "Suay" which means beautiful.

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