Communicating and Managing the Competitive Country Image: the Case of Japan and its Relevance for other Countries
In the rationally managed image of a country (or a region or a city), communication is nowadays often treated as a panacea to strengthen the common identity, to develop tourism, and to increase the country’s exports. Many developed and even underdeveloped countries and regions worldwide are trying to apply its tools and theories, seeking for a miracle. In the 21 th century, place (or nation or country) branding is the main leading approach in the field of country image communication, proposing several qualitatively new shifts in comparison to the 20 th century approaches, for instance that of public diplomacy. Some of these shifts are raising attention towards the notions of primary communication and identity politics. Japan is a country famous for its positive and strong image throughout the world. For instance, according to the Nation Brands Index of 2007, Japan was the only Asian nation to make the top ten, and many cultural terms are associated with this country worldwide. Meanwhile, other East Asian countries do not experience such success in the world of mass perception, in spite of having a long and rich history, and strong cultural traditions. The country image communication practices, managed by governments, could explain this imbalance. Usually, when talking about a country’s image, the economic factors are emphasized, but comparative research shows that Japanese government’s investments in its image communication are not very strong, and its secondary communication is not innovative. Obviously, the reason of the strength of the Japanese image is neither the big amounts of money nor the fancy commercials, but the wellstructured and smoothly managed country image communication apparatus, as well as the ‘factory of identity’, producing the strong cultural symbols, feed by nihonjinron (a genre of texts that focus on issues of Japanese national and cultural identity) and the positive cultural nationalism. Despite the fact that this apparatus, of course, has many components inherited from the local traditions and is specific for Japan, many of its successful aspects and practices can be structurally applied in the other countries, not excluding Europe, which recently is facing identity and common image problems. The thesis is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the theoretical aspects of country image communication, emphasising the place branding approach, and proposing the country branding triangular model. The second part analyses the case of Japan, analysing the structural apparatus (institutions and strategies) of government-managed communication. The third part raises a question of the possibility to apply some of the practices to other countries, particularly Lithuania. Note 1: Naschi is the youth organisation of United Russia, Putin’s party.