The Japanese government, along with Japanese
corporations, hopes to fight U.S. trade friction with yet another export:
their image. They are trying to win more and better coverage on American
television by offering production grants, sponsorship and cut-rate
programming as lures. And money-strapped, variety-hungry public and cable
television stations in the U.S. are taking the bait.
This month Peter M. Grilli, the director of film and
performing arts at the Japan Society of New York since 1975, became the
head of a venture called the Japan Project. It is run jointly with New
York public television station WNET.
The Japan Project will seek financial backing from
Japanese corporations. Its primary backer is the U.S.-Japan Foundation,
which contributed a $200,000 grant to the venture.
On the Japan side, two ministries are responsible for
promoting television coverage of Japan abroad: the Ministry of
International Trade and Industry (MITI) and the Foreign Ministry. In early
1986 they ended a long-standing rivalry to coordinate the government’s
public relations efforts.
“In the past, corporations would be asked both by
MITI and the Foreign Ministry to contribute money in order to make Japan
better know abroad, especially in the U.S.,” says Ian Mutsu, president of
International Motion Pictures Co., who has coordinated join
Japanese-foreign media projects for the past 30 years. “The upshot was a
committee in Keidanren (the Federation of Economic Organizations) to
coordinate these contributions."
Mutsu’s Tokyo-based production company has worked
with several government agencies and he notes, “Government sources lack
sufficient funds but they can pressure corporations to contribute.”
MITI works closely with TeleJapan, a Tokyo-based
public relations firm. It finances in full “This Week in Japan,” a series
produced by the Tokyo bureau of the Cable News Network (CNN). The show
presents news from a Japanese perspective, along with recent developments
in Japanese lifestyles. The program reaches an estimated weekly audience
of 600,000 viewers.
Since April 1984 TeleJapan has been producing another
news show on the U.S.A. Cable Network called “Japan Today” and a news
magazine, “Beyond the Horizon,” for the Christian Broadcasting Network. It
also supports programming on BIZNET and on independent UHF stations.
On the other hand, the Foreign Ministry in 1981
established the Japan Center for Information and Cultural Affairs (JCICA).
Mutsu’s production company has coordinated some of their projects.
“The Japanese have this infantile notion where if
they shell out any money to some visiting film company they expect a
commercial,” says Mutsu. “The situation is changing slowly, and when it
does it will be better for the country.” Mutsu believes many of the films
produced by Japanese corporations and government are so self-serving that
broadcasters disregard them and as a result they never reach a TV
Officials at the U.S.-Japan Foundation were aware of
this problem when they awarded WNET the grant money for the Japan Project.
They hope the project will maintain the editorial integrity of PBS by
enabling them to screen the growing flow of money and programming from
The Japanese-language press spells out clearly the
link between TeleJapan and MITI, and between the JCICA and the Foreign
Ministry. They also admit that the mission of these organizations is to
improve Japanese public relations. But something is lost in translation,
and as a result, English-language press releases are not as candid.
For example, an information series hosted by Dick
Cavett called “Faces of Japan” premiered this October after being
distributed to 144 PBS stations throughout the Pacific Mountain Network.
In the announcements, TeleJapan claimed to be an independent production
During the course of filming, several American staff
quit or were fired by TeleJapan over editorial conflicts; they felt
company president Junichi Shizunaga, a former employee of the ruling
Liberal-Democratic Party, had liaised too closely with the Prime
Minister’s Office and MITI over the budget and content of “Faces of
Japan.” These Americans failed to realize they were working for a public
Similarly, direct translation of the JCICA’s name (Kaigai
Koho Kyokai) gives a better idea of its role: “Overseas Public Relations
Organization.” Toshiko Yamazaki, the center’s executive director, points
out that whatever the name or her organizaitoin, she has her work cut out
“There was a survey done in the States on Japanese place names. You were
asked to write the name of any place you knew in Japan. What do you think
the No. 1 answer was?
“Hiroshima. Then Nagasaki. Number three was Tokyo.
Cities like Osaka didn’t even appear. At number four was Hong Kong! That’s
the state of things.”
Special to the Weekly
COORDINATOR: Ian Mutsu, president of International
Motion Pictures Co., who has coordinated joint Japanese-foreign media
projects for the past 30 years, says that Japanese governmental and
corporate sponsors of TV programs aimed at overseas markets have to make
their products less “self-serving” in order for them to be shown abroad.