State-sponsored Cute: Kawaii Ambassadors

There’s no doubt that there are some quirky aspects to Japan and Japanese culture, but how about state-sponsored quirkiness?

Meet Misako Aoki (青木美沙子), one of Japan’s three Cute Ambassadors who were appointed by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs February 2009.

Cute Ambassador: Misako Aoki

Misako Aoki, in all her ultra-cute Lolita garb, performs an official function for the Japanese government.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs hopes that sending Aoki-san and the other two cute ambassadors around the world will increase international understanding of Japan and its people. These activities will then benefit Japan in the future by cultivating goodwill towards Japan as a nation. This is sort of cultural diplomacy is practiced by other countries around the world in a variety of forms… None quite as cute as this though.

There are two other official cute ambassadors, Shizuka Fujioka who is a stylish school girl, and Yu Kimura who apparently is a master of layering clothes to create cool fashions.

Cute Ambassadors (Image from MOFA)

The official Japanese term for “Cute Ambassador” is Kawaii Taishi (カワイイ大使), and the cute initiative is no joke, the ambassadors have been busy. Shizuka Fujioka was in Thailand in March, and Misako Aoki and Yu Kimura in Paris in July being cute and creating new friends of Japan. Misako Aoki was also in Spain separately in October.

If you’re heavy into Gothic Lolita fashion you may have already known Misako. She has modeled for BABY, The Stars Shine Bright, Putumayo, Algonquins and other well-known Japanese gothic and lolita fashion brands.

Here is a clip from the Brazilian media introducing lolita fashion and Misako Aoki. I believe this was recorded November 2009 in the build up to Misako Aoki’s visit to Brazil.

I wonder whether this type of cultural diplomacy will have any real impact on Japan’s standing in the world. For those people whose first interaction with Japan or Japanese people are the Cute Ambassadors, I would imagine that their view of Japan would become strangely skewed as a result. On the other hand, maybe that initial contact will be enough to spark a long-term interest in Japan that will eventually result in a well-rounded view of Japan… maybe even followed by a visit to Japan or serious study of the Japanese language. I guess this is the same effect that anime and manga have been having for the past few decades.

There you have it. Misako Aoki and the Kawaii Ambassadors. This was my post for the January 2010 blog matrsui. If you enjoyed this article please head over to JapanSoc and ‘soc’ it! While you’re there check out the other JapanSoc posts, it’s a great source for Japan-related topics.

One last thing. Misako Aoki was appointed as a Kawaii Ambassador for 2009, but there is no word yet on what will happen to the program in 2010. It will be interesting to see if MOFA decides to continue with the initiative!

I’ll leave you with one last clip of a message from Cute Ambassador Misako Aoki.

– Harvey

The Official Cute Ambassadors of Japan

Other Misako Aoki and Cute Ambassador Related Links around the Web:

Misako Aoki’s official blog, the lovely pink diary.

Many more pictures of Misako Aoki.

Carousel of Crowns introduces Misako Aoki.

Misako Aoki on Facebook.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Cute Ambassadors description.

‘Cute ambassadors’ roam globe to promote Japan’s pop culture – Japan Times

– Harvey

Japanese 101: Particles updated with New Content

Particles Cover Shot

The Japanese 101: Particles App was updated today, and the download, free for those who already have the app, should be available worldwide in the next 24 hours.

Now there are 20+ new JLPT 3 level particle questions you can study and quiz yourself on. This brings the total number of problems in the application to close to 100!

I have been getting a lot of positive feedback about this app so I’m thinking about investing some time in improving it further.

Other than the obvious addition of even more sentences, I have a few ideas… but let me know what you think.

Time limits:
In the quiz section each question could have a time limit, and you get the question wrong if your time expires.

Add some competition:
Make it more game like, with points for answering questions correctly. Maybe add some kind of leader board so players around the world can compare scores with each other.

These additions might be able to be added across all the Japanese 101 iPhone Apps. Let me know what you think.

Let me rave about the importance of particles for a moment…

A Japanese teacher told me once, “mastering Japanese is mastering the particles.” So particles are really, really important. Boring as anything, but important. If you don’t use particles correctly your Japanese will be downright confusing to the listener, and you may also misinterpret what people are trying to tell you. Sort at like talking for this.

In my opinion the best way to master particles is to memorize a lot of sentences that use particles correctly. After memorizing a ton of sentences, you’ll be able to swap out the verbs and nouns to make your own sentences that have a similar structure, and your particles will be correct. The near 100 sentences in Japanese 101: Particles might be a good place to mine for sentences if you’re looking for an accessible source.

You also might want to check out the JapanesePod lesson on particles here.

Happy studying!

– Harvey

Keep the Men outta the Kitchen

danshi chuubou ni hairazu

This is a fun phrase.「男子厨房に入らず」(danshi chuubou ni hairazu).

Literally it means that men should not enter the kitchen. Another variation on the Japanese for this phrase is 「男子厨房に立たず」but the meaning is the same.

A Japanese explanation of the origin of this phrase appears in this Kyodo Shimbun article here:


In translation:
It was said that men should not have to hear the death cries that result from killing pigs and chickens in the kitchen. This is an ancient Chinese idiom from the dialects of Confucius. In Japan this practice was taken up from the Edo period in order to preserve men’s dignity.

So, for those guys who don’t like to cook, maybe you can use this phrase to escape the inevitable duty. It might be hard to justify the death cries of animals in your kitchen nowadays… but you can leave that part out of the explanation and just mention the idiom itself.

Good luck escaping kitchen duty!


Mameshiba – the Kansai-ben speaking Bean

This bean speaks Kansai-ben.

Girl 1: そろそろお見合いとかどうなの?
Girl 2: そんなの必要ないわよ
Bean: あかんって
Girl 2: え?
Bean: まいど!
Bean: ね、知ってる?歌が下手なカナリアは、一生独身なんやって。
Girl 2: ええ?!うるせー!

In my Translation:
Girl 1: It’s about time you tried to get set up for an arranged marriage or something isn’t it?
Girl 2: I don’t need anything like that…
Bean: Hey that’s no good!
Bean: Welcome!
Girl 1: Welcome?
Bean: Hey did you know? A canary that can’t sing well will be single forever…
Girl 2: What?! Shut up!!!

Kansai-ben is an international language. You must learn it.

Check out our Kansai-ben lessons, and also check out the Kansai-ben iPhone application if you haven’t already!


– Harvey

Giant Store-front props in Japan

Happy New Year everyone!

I’m lazy and on vacation so here’s a random post.

This Japanese shop in Osaka sells jeans and is hard to miss from the road thanks to the gianormous dinosaur they have set up out front.

Buy our Jeans! Growl. Click for bigger dinosaur action!

Feels a bit like Jurassic park really. In all fairness, I believe the Rex image is to emphasize that this store sells jeans in BIG sizes. So big even a dinosaur could wear them. So, it makes sense in a way.

Japan (and especially Osaka) seems to have a thing for these huge displays. Check out these other posts for more giant prop action.

Singing Karaoke Dragons from Jan 2007.

Golden Dragon Ramen also from Jan 2007