Wednesday, February 8, 2017

U.S. Embassy Tokyo “Hits” Big with Ambassador Kennedy Doing a Pop Dance

U.S. Embassy Tokyo “Hits” Big with Ambassador Kennedy Doing a Pop Dance

Image from, with caption: Kennedy, the US Ambassador to Japan, busted out some moves to a Japanese dance in one of the videos

By Ken Moskowitz
Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Temple University Japan

A U.S. Embassy Tokyo YouTube video featuring recently-departed Ambassador Caroline Kennedy performing a pop dance with an infectious beat, the “Koi Dance,” has just topped 7 million hits—the largest total ever attained by a U.S. Embassy video.

The video, produced in mid-December last year and uploaded on December 20, spoofs a hit song and dance (the “Love Dance”) from a popular TV drama, roughly translated as, “We Married as a Job.” In music video style, with frequent jump cuts and lip-synching, the professional-looking product shows off the dancing chops of 50 Embassy and regional consulate staffers (and several outside guests). Given the work demands on the team, it was completed in only three days in 8 different locations (including one sent to PAS [Public Affairs Section] from an I-phone camera).

The light-hearted video was timed to convey the mission’s holiday season mood, and many of the performers wear Santa Claus or other holiday costumes. Ambassador Kennedy herself dons a Santa outfit.

The Japanese public, generally considered rule-bound and observant of proprieties and conventions, was delighted to discover American diplomats having such fun. The over-4700 YouTube comments frequently reflect their surprise but also appreciation: “very cute,” “cool,” and “wonderful,” as well as, ”hard to create such a happy mood in a Japanese company,” and “expresses good collaboration with Japan.” The latter seems to be an important element in that the video is as much about the Embassy’s appreciation of Japan’s pop culture as it is about the Embassy itself.

The Public Affairs Section seemed to be as surprised by its success as anyone. PAS organized a seminar in Tokyo on Feb. 6 to discuss where the video idea came from and to probe the secrets of success in the world of digital outreach by the U.S. Government.

Naoko Masuda, the PAS Visual Communications Specialist, said that Ambassador Kennedy early on expressed a wish to appear in a Christmas video. She accepted the Koi Dance proposal immediately, and the rest of the Embassy got on board. The video did not gain a “buzz” overnight, but the YouTube hits took off after it was cited on a national network TV show that aired right after the finale of the show. The video earned more than one million views in the next 24 hours. The popularity started with the young and female fans of the TV show, and the boom followed.

According to a Japanese social media specialist at the seminar, Twitter “geeks” were also crucial to getting the word out. They were the bridge to the mainstream media, which brought in the adult viewers. She lauded the video for incorporating the three components of YouTube success: Contrast (in this case, serious diplomats acting silly), rhythm, and emotions (holiday cheer).

Public Affairs Minister-Counselor Margot Carrington mentioned something on timing after the seminar: the video would not have been appropriate earlier in Ambassador Kennedy’s tenure, before she had a chance to establish her bona fides as U.S. Ambassador to Japan. The video was launched only at the end of an almost four-year tour, and especially after the huge success of President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, and Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s reciprocal visit to the Arizona battleship museum at Pearl Harbor.

Shawn Powers, the executive director of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, was a target-of-opportunity speaker at the seminar. He reminded the audience that such video work is also part of public diplomacy, which “is not always about policy.”

This reminded me, however, of the 1990s, when Sen. Jesse Helms decried the late U.S. Information Agency, and forced through its consolidation into the State Department in 1999. Helms and other Republicans criticized public diplomacy professionals for not being fully engaged with advocacy of American foreign policy, but rather wasting time and budgetary resources on frivolous arts and civil society programming. This mood was even more pronounced in the post-consolidation, post 9/11 years of muscular foreign policy and muscular public diplomacy.

Given the directives from senior State Department officials to operate in the social media world, this pressure to do hard policy promotion has eased, to be sure. But I am cognizant that at some point we must link this “liking the U.S. ambassador,” “liking U.S. diplomats,” or even “liking Americans” to Japanese public support for U.S. Government foreign policy goals that remain unpopular. These days, these include not only the longstanding thorny issues of the forwardly deployed U.S. military bases and the trade imbalance, but now also the troublesome statements of our new President.

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