Dobrinskaya О.А. Characteristics of Japan’s Soft Power in Central Asia

Characteristics of Japan's Soft Power in Central Asia

О.А. Dobrinskaya

The article is an analysis of the role played by soft power in forming and implementing Japan's foreign policy in Central Asia. Resting upon common cultural identity, Japan creates an attractive image in the region actively using the resources of public and cultural diplomacy, as well as official development assistance. This creates favorable conditions for promoting the country's business interests and implementing foreign policy initiatives.

Keywords: Japan, Central Asia, soft power, cultural diplomacy, ODA.

In contemporary international relations soft power is an integral component of foreign policy. An ability to build up and informationally support a country's image increases the efficiency of its diplomatic efforts. The processes underway in the system of international relations result in the fact that influencing people's minds and hearts and working with the public become an important element when defining a state's impact on the global arena. Besides, the growing importance of soft power in the modern world is linked to the trend to diversify participants in international relations, in particular, to non-governmental organizations becoming stronger and more influential. In today's world where more and more people get access to information, the most effective strategy is promoting ideas "upwards" via dialogue and debate as well as via the demonstration of cultural achievements and the way of life appealing to the international audience. [1]

The concept of soft power was introduced by Harvard professor Joseph Nye in 1990. The American political scientist defined it as the ability to attract and co-opt rather than by coercion (hard power) through appeal and attraction. A country's soft power is its appeal which, first of all, is based on three types of resources: culture (in places where it is attractive to others), political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority). [2] Despite the fact that the concept of soft power is often used as a synonym of the cultural diplomacy concept, the latter complements but doesn't replace the first one.

Cultural diplomacy is closely connected with the concept of international cultural relations, however, they aren't identical. The concept of international cultural relations is used to describe attempts to establish contact between different cultures through national borders. Such relations imply two dimensions - policy/actions (which intentionally promote cultural relations) and the phenomenal dimension (cross-border movement of people, goods, money and information). Thus, cultural diplomacy belongs to the first category of these relations. [3] From the point of view of research of soft power influence, both cultural diplomacy and cultural relations are of great importance as they, intentionally or spontaneously, make for shaping mutual perceptions and positive attitudes which are the foundation of one state being attractive in the eyes of another state's public.

Soft power could be called a traditional instrument of the post-war Japanese diplomacy. Renouncing the use of military force as a means to solve international disputes was its cornerstone sealed in the pacifistic constitution, as well as a course aimed at supporting the UN activity. [4] In line with the Yoshida Doctrine Japan preferred to keep a low profile in international affairs, having focused on economic development. This influenced its new image in the world. On the one hand, this image is connected with Japan's economic achievements. Today it is the acknowledged leader in the sphere of technology and innovations. Moreover, the global attention was drawn to the success of Japanese business model. On the other hand, Japan has stuck to the implementation of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) program within its economic diplomacy, the move that is considered one of the main tools of Tokyo's foreign policy. According to Tsuneo Akaha, ODA is one of the most successful and illustrative examples of Japan's use of soft power tools. [5] After 60 years of implementing ODA, Japan has secured its place among the leading donor countries. The principles of development assistance reflect those values, commitment to which Japan represents on the international scene as soft power. They include environmental protection, unacceptability of using development assistance in military purposes, support of democratic development efforts and transition to the market economy.

Japan's potential as one of the leading global troubleshooters combatting poverty, population ageing, climate change and providing global public benefits including stabilization of financial institutions is also of great importance. As scholars put it, Japan reveals its soft power in being an example to be followed by other countries in solving such problems. [6]

Slowing economic growth and the bubble economy collapse had their effect on the image of Japan as an advanced economic state. Nevertheless, Japan continued to remain popular abroad. American journalist Douglas MacGray called the phenomenon of this popularity "gross national cool." [7] Its essence was the growing popularity of the modern Japanese pop culture. The bubble economy crash and the shift of values triggered by globalization made for the blurring of rigid social hierarchy framework based on the seniority system and allowing the youth to reveal their talents. Besides, technological development made for the new forms of artistic self-expression, such as anime and video games. [8]

Japan's approach was initially based on exporting its traditional cultural values. Their promotion in the outside world was to show the historical significance of Japan and its century-old culture for the global heritage. But in the existing conditions the layer of contemporary culture appeared to be the one unlocking the shortest way to make Japan popular all over the world and trigger massive interest in the depths of Japanese history and culture. [9] The importance of using the modern culture potential as a diplomatic resource was emphasized by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso. He noted: "What we have now is an era in which diplomacy at the national level is affected dramatically by the climate of opinion arising from the average person. And that is exactly why we want pop culture which is so effective in penetrating throughout the general public to be our ally in diplomacy." [10] In 2007, the International Manga Award was set up. Manga character Doraemon became the nation's Anime Ambassador. The use of pop culture undoubtedly makes for commercial success of Japanese products abroad; however, it can hardly be considered a serious factor of strengthening Japanese influence on the minds of foreigners.

Cultural and public diplomacy has a significant place in the foreign policy pursued by current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The proof is the decision adopted in 2015 by Japan's government to considerably increase expenses on public diplomacy (from 20 to 70 billion yens) and also to finance Japanese studies at universities and analytical centers abroad. [11] Implementing the "values-oriented diplomacy," promoting the "active pacifism concept", and also explaining Japanese stance on history dictate the need to pay close attention to the soft power policy.

Key instruments of projecting soft power on the public are cultural and public diplomacy. In Japan, these two concepts are closely connected; in the materials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs they are referred to as public and cultural diplomacy (коho bunka gayko). As Professor Seiichi Kondo observes, Japanese in their character tend to present their system of values which is a resource of soft power rather implicitly through artistic self-expression or creativity than directly in form of words and ideas. [12] Therefore, cultural diplomacy is vital for understanding the soft power policy of Japan.

Soft power of a country is linked to its national identity as channeling its image to the outer world reflects its perception within the country. After World War II Japan had to build its image from scratch, both internal and external; this created its new identity to shape Japan's soft power. According to the former director of the Japan Foundation Kazuo Ogoura, in contrast to other states that have managed to maintain a more or less stable image in the international community, Japan has over several decades undergone a rather rapid transformation of the society and, as result, its position in the international community. Accordingly, its public diplomacy has been closely linked with its cultural diplomacy because the country's image in the international community has been closely bound up with Japan's own cultural and national identity. [13]

Key directions of Japan's public and cultural diplomacy include the dissemination of information on the country, introducing its traditional and modern culture, measures to promote the Japanese language, organization of human exchanges, as well as cooperation with international cultural organizations. [14]

The main institution responsible for cultural and public diplomacy is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1972 at Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japan Foundation was set up, that is to coordinate events aimed at carrying out cultural exchanges. It was reorganized in 2003, having gained the status of an independent administrative legal entity. Today the Foundation has 22 offices in 21 countries of the world. [15] Its competence includes programs of cultural exchanges, trainings, organization of events introducing Japanese culture and promoting the Japanese language. In 2004, the Public Diplomacy Department was set up as part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs within the Minister's Secretariat.

Traditionally the main resources of Japan's soft power have targeted the USA and East Asia. On the one hand, Japan makes huge efforts to form a favorable image in such countries as China and South Korea. On the other hand, it competes with them for the hearts of people worldwide. Soft power has also a considerable say in Tokyo's foreign policy strategy directed at the five republics of Central Asia. In spite of the fact that this region isn't a priority from the point of view of Japanese national interests, it is in the scope of Tokyo's close attention, and Japan allocates considerable financial resources for it. Japan seeks to expand its cultural presence and to create conditions for favorable foreign policy and business in the region.

Soft Power in Central Asia

After the fall of the USSR, the new states emerged on the former Soviet Union space and Japan was quick to shift its focus to the countries of Central Asia. Already in October 1992, at the Tokyo conference on the assistance to the former USSR, Japanese representative stated that "as an Asian country we would like to render big support to the former Soviet countries of Asia." [16] Thus, from the very beginning Japan started to emphasize common Asian identity with the people of Central Asia that became the basis of its approach to the republics of the region. A necessity to build relations with the young republics of Central Asia was explained by their geopolitical value and proximity to Russia, China and the Middle East. Japan was also attracted by natural resources; however, according to Japanese, the latter had no crucial importance for their policy in the region. Economic benefit was rather regarded in the long-term prospective. According to the first director of the Newly Independent States and Russia Department Tetsuya Hirose, access to energy resources is not a primary rationale for Japan's current focus in Central Asia, while it is more about building long-term friendly relations based on mutual trust. [17]

At the same time, one shouldn't underestimate the economic component of Japan's advance into the region. Today it plays an important role, being a strong impetus to maintain favorable attitude to Japan in the region. Tokyo is interested in uranium and rare-earth metals import, Japanese enterprises are involved in oil, gas and uranium field development, have a share in such industries as oil and gas refining, chemicals, construction, mechanical engineering and light industry.

Some believe that Japan seeks relations with the region to avoid international isolation. Japanese scholar Tomohiko Uyama has analyzed statements made by officials and said that they all imply that friendship with individual Asian countries could compensate for Japan's isolation among the developed countries of the West, as well, as its awkward position in East Asia where neighbors quite often condemn its colonial and militaristic past. [18] Tokyo is interested in gaining political support from the countries of the region at the global level, for example, backing its candidacy to the UN Security Council permanent members and its initiatives in the sphere of combatting the climate change, human security etc. Strengthening positions in Asia and increasing its international influence undoubtedly played and still play a big part in developing Japan's foreign policy in Central Asia. Gaining a positive image in the eyes of people of Central Asia was to be achieved on the basis of "soft power resources" that were to show Japan's appeal and to be directed on the creation of long-term favorable attitude towards the country.

What are the characteristics of Japan's foreign policy in Central Asia from the point of view of soft power? First, a rather short history of bilateral diplomatic ties. Since the 1990s, when Japan established relations with Central Asian republics, its goal was to secure a diplomatic position in the region and to win the hearts both of its leaders and population which required quite serious efforts. Secondly, Japan from the very beginning emphasized common Asian identity with these countries. Cultural and racial commonality and an emotional affinity resulting from it became an integral part of Japan's official rhetoric. Thirdly, unlike East Asia, Japan's reputation in this region isn't tarnished by the negative baggage of history. Some researchers even talk about "warm memories in the region associated with Japan's victory over Russia in 1905." [19] All of the above allows one to say that in Central Asia there were initially favorable conditions for the implementation of Japan's foreign policy initiatives.

Public and cultural diplomacy plays a key role not only as a means to create positive image of Japan in Central Asia. It is also crucial for justification of the importance of the Central Asian foreign policy vector in the eyes of the Japanese. Japan is geographically remote from the region, has no strong historical links to these countries while its economic interests in the region are not that vital. Nevertheless, Tokyo is allocating impressive funds to aid the region and gradually increases economic and political presence there. As of 2014, Japan allocated $3.6bn to the five republics of Central Asia. [20] According to former ambassador Akio Kawato, Japan's economic assistance plays a substantial role in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, but its involvement in Central Asia still lacks general understanding and support from own society. [21] Kazakh researcher M. Nurgaliyev speaks about the lack of information on Japan in the region that generates mutual misunderstanding and has a negative effect both on the development of bilateral ties and on Japan's initiatives of multilateral cooperation in the region. [22]

Extensive media coverage of Japan's aid projects also meets the Japanese interests as it increases the efficiency of Japanese taxpayers' money sent to the region. Promoting the region among the Japanese, as well as studying cultural and historical interrelations and increasing Central Asia's tourist appeal also remain topical.

Japanese discovered Central Asia long time ago. The first Japanese who visited the region is considered Japanese diplomat Nishi Tokujiro. Having worked in the consulate in St. Petersburg, in 1880 he made a trip across the Russian Turkestan, and in 1886 published a book Description of Central Asia, the first work on this region. At the turn of the 19th-20th centuries Central Asia drew attention not only as a backyard of the Great Game between Russia and Great Britain but also as a treasure trove of undiscovered cultural riches. In the period between 1902 and 1914 the region was visited by three missions organized by Count Otani Kozui (1876-1948). He participated in the first expedition himself, however after his father died in 1903 he had to stay in Japan, having become the 22nd Abbot of the Nishi Honganji temple in Kyoto, and could only finance two other missions. Otani's expeditions significantly contributed to the studies of cultural and religious heritage of the Great Silk Road and promoted Buddhism in Japan. Besides, Japan labeled itself as one of the parties interested in the region's studies. Today Otani's collection numbering hundreds of ancient manuscripts, drawings, sculptures and fabrics is divided among museums in Kyoto and Tokyo, part of it is in China and Korea.

The discovery of the Buddhist ruins of Ajina-Tepa in the Soviet period (south of Tajikistan, the 1960s), Kara-Tepa (close to the town of Termez in Uzbekistan), Dalverzin-Tepa (in the south of Uzbekistan) sparked interest in the region which reached its peak after the NHK documentary series The Great Silk Road aired in the 1980s. Already at the end of the 1980s - early 1990s, Japanese researchers were part of joint archaeological expeditions to the region. [23]

Thus, the interpenetration of ancient cultures is actively studied in Japan and Uzbekistan, researchers develop the theory about interference and synthesis of ancient civilizations and religions of the two countries. Two fragments of sandalwood dated 761 AD were discovered in Horyuji Temple where Sogdian and Pahlavi inscriptions have been preserved. [24] This indicates that Sogdians took part in sea trade in the Far East and proves contacts between Japan and Uzbekistan having existed already in the ancient time. Close cooperation between the Japanese city of Nara and the city of Termez in Uzbekistan (which, according to the archeological finds, in the I-IV centuries (during the Kushan Empire) was the center of the Buddhism in Central Asia [25]) is established. In 2008, the city of Nara had an exhibition The Great Silk Road: a Continuous Thread; and in 2010 as part of events dedicated to the 1300th anniversary of the foundation of the ancient capital of Japan, the large symposium Ancient civilization and religion of Uzbekistan: Searching the sources of Japanese culture was carried out. Thanks to the efforts of Japanese artist Ikuo Hirayama and his Uzbek colleagues, the International Caravanserai of Culture, exhibition and education center promoting the heritage of the Great Silk Road has been opened.

Post-war years became another link connecting Japan and Central Asia. After the capitulation of Japan, Japanese prisoners of war were sent to Central Asia - nearly 60,000 were deployed in Kazakhstan, about 25,000 in Uzbekistan, and other countries of the region. Japanese were involved in almost all major construction projects of that time. Many Japanese-built objects have survived till now. Among them there is the Central Telegraph and the Ministry of Culture in Tashkent, the Academy of Sciences, the Kirov Plant in Alma-Ata, the Palace of Culture of oil industry workers in Turkmenbashi, Farkhad hydroelectric power plant. [26] In 1946, the Soviet Council of Ministers adopted a resolution on the Repatriation of Japanese prisoners of war and the interned civilians, and the majority of them were able to return home. Surprisingly, many Japanese who stayed in captivity had warm feelings to the places where they lived in the Soviet Union, some even were somehow connected to the USSR afterwards. Among them was prominent researcher of Central Asia Kato Kyuzo, former prisoner of war who survived Siberian labor camps. Locals remembering the first post-war years also warmly spoke of the Japanese who were in Central Asia.

In the 1990s, Japan requested data on compatriots buried in the region after which work on locating the burials location began. In 1994, during his visit to Japan, Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev presented the Japanese with The Book of Memory with the names of prisoners of war buried in Kazakhstan. Ashes of nearly 400 Japanese were transported from Kazakhstan to Japan [27]. In Uzbekistan more than 800 Japanese citizens have been buried. In Tashkent, there is a Japanese cemetery and a nearby museum commemorating Japanese soldiers, who lived in the territory of Uzbekistan. The village of Tamga in the Issyk-Kul region in Kyrgyzstan has the memorial commemorating Japanese prisoners of war. Japan is grateful for such commemoration of its citizens. Thus, Uzbek leader Islam Karimov initiated removing "the prisoners of war" inscription on the memorial plaque on the building of the Navoi Theater constructed by Japanese. The Japanese government provided audio-video and lighting equipment to the theater expressing its gratitude. [28] Uzbek official H. Rasulov in 2008 was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun with gold and silver rays for looking after the cemeteries of Japanese prisoners of war. [29]

Thus, Japan and Central Asia have long shared common historical elements. This allowed Japan to find the starting point of foreign policy in the region and to use common history as a soft power policy element.

Cultural and historical value of Central Asia as the route through which Buddhism came to Japan formed the basis for the first diplomatic initiatives. [30] According to T. Hirose, originally Tokyo emphasized "microcosmic character" of the region and its value for the humanity. Later the accent was shifted to historical and cultural ties with Japan that became the rationale of the Silk Road diplomacy after 1997. [31] Thus, in his speech which gave a start to the Eurasian diplomacy, former prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto especially emphasized "deep-rooted nostalgia in Japan for this region stemming from the glory of the days of the Silk Road." [32]

Apart from common culture, similarity in the looks of the Japanese and people of Central Asia was emphasized. Thus, for example, during his visit to Central Asia, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Michio Watanabe couldn't even distinguish local population from Japanese. [33] Cultural and racial affinity was an important means to attract tourists from Japan and form close personal relations with leaders of the majority of Central Asia countries. [34]

The cultural component became not only the factor making for the establishment of ties with the young republics but it also naturally fit into the global priorities of Japanese foreign policy. Preservation of historical heritage of Central Asia, in terms of its value for the development of world civilization, became an important task of Japan as a country aspiring to have a big say in international cultural cooperation. Moreover, some saw that as the moral obligation towards the region: as Japan gained a lot thanks to the Great Silk Road in the past, today, having reached a high level of development and prosperity, it has to "repay its debt" to Central Asia. [35]

Image of Japan in Central Asia

Resting upon cultural and racial commonality and the lack of negative historical experience, Japan aims at gaining the most attractive image in Central Asia. It can be defined as follows.

First of all, it is the image of a friendly state which has no mercenary goals in the region. According to former Minister of Foreign Affairs Yoriko Kawaguchi, Japan is a natural partner for Central Asia as it is the country which does not engage in the use of force, a country with no political, territorial or other potential sources of conflict with countries of Central Asia. [36]

Japan emphasizes it is a neutral player in the region. It has no need to participate in "another Great Game" which is regarded as an advantage. Experts believe states of Central Asia might, perhaps, listen more to Japan words, taking into account it has no political ambitions.[37] Moreover, Tokyo opposes itself to any geopolitical games in the region. In his speech Central Asia as a Corridor of Peace and Stability, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso emphasized: "We can't allow Central Asia to be tossed about by outside countries." [38] On its side Japan is ready to make efforts to assist independent development of these countries and interaction inside the region as a condition to such development. These efforts are also the cornerstone of initiatives within ‘the Central Asia plus Japan' dialogue set up in 2004.

The attractive image of Japan is based on the post-war model of development. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso summarized its essence as "peace and happiness through economic prosperity and democracy". [39] According to Aso, Japan can serve as an example for the countries of Central Asia of how economic development led to the strengthening of democracy.

Economy is a key component of this model. For the states of Central Asia which faced the necessity to choose the way of economic development in the 1990s having traditions of the planned economy of socialist type, the Japanese option stipulating the dominant role of the state in economy, is certainly, of a certain interest. Tokyo in its turn repeatedly emphasized the benefits of smooth transition to the market economy, opposing the "Japanese-East Asian model" to the "Anglo-Saxon" one. Japan sent its experts, arranged economic and business management courses to pass its experience. [40] Japan achieved the adoption of the unprecedented decision for the states of Central Asia which were allowed to join the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development and also became members of the Asian Development Bank in which Tokyo has a great influence.

The second component of the post-war development model is democratization. Japanese approach to democratization has its peculiarities, differing from the western one. First, Japan supports "democracy through development," considering that economic welfare growth will trigger better situation with democracy and human rights. Partly it is linked with the fact that in Japan democracy was introduced from outside in the course of post-war reforming of political system. Secondly, in democratization of Central Asia, Tokyo demonstrates a greater flexibility and readiness to take into account the specifics of local regimes. For example, according to Kawaguchi, "human rights and democracy can be realized within each country's cultural and historical context, and in this area too Japan hopes to be able to contribute its experience and its knowledge." [41] Thus, promoting ideas of democracy in Central Asia, Japan acts as a carrier of Western values with the Eastern specifics and that appeals more to local regimes, than a more rigid approach of Europe and the USA.

One of the aspects of the Japanese development model appeal is its leadership in innovations. Both Japan and the countries of the region have repeatedly emphasized that Japanese technology and natural resources of Central Asia complement one another. Leaders of Central Asia show interest in Japanese innovations, while the population of these countries considers Japan a desirable partner in terms of scientific and technological cooperation (47% respondents in Kazakhstan and 45% in Uzbekistan). [42] From the practical point of view, the image of a technologically developed superpower increases Japan's competitiveness in the region, makes for cooperation in the industrial sphere (for example, in uranium and rare-earth metals production in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and oil and gas and chemical industry of Turkmenistan).

Apart from transferring its experience in social and economic development, Japan allocated considerable resources to the solution of human security-related problems. They include fight against poverty, prevention of natural disasters, improvement of medical and health care etc. Tokyo pays much attention to projects in education, development of agriculture, etc. Thanks to these efforts Tokyo has gained an image of a non-military aid provider in Central Asia. This image is important for Japan at the global level as it is connected with its contribution to the international security as the member of the UN and G7. It is also an integral part of its regional policy as makes for the growth of popularity of Japanese cooperation projects among local population.

In particular, Japan positions itself as a country paying special significance to environmental issues. Tokyo participates in Aral Sea rescue projects, as well as in removing radioactive contamination near Semipalatinsk, drawing parallels between environmental problems of the Aral Sea and Lake Biwa in Japan, between the Semipalatinsk region and Hiroshima. [43] Resting on its experience of being the only country which survived nuclear bombings, Japan took the lead in carrying out the international conference on Semipalatinsk in 1999 and provided medical care to its residents. Experience in overcoming environmental problems which arose in the period of economic boom of the 1960s and the 1970s also appeared an asset that Japan could offer the region. International activity in the sphere of fight against climate change, well-developed "green technologies", the waste-free production - all these not only reflect Japan's experience, but also is based on the traditional Japanese concept of thrift (mottainai). In turn, Tokyo seeks support of the countries of Central Asia for its international initiatives in the sphere of fight against climate change. The latest issues on its agenda, namely energy saving technologies and the use of renewables have triggered interest in Central Asia.

Soft Power toolkit

The main soft power tools in Central Asia are the Official Development Assistance and public diplomacy.

ODA was the initial basis of Japanese penetration into the region. Already back in the early nineties, Japan declared that "as an Asian country Japan will provide considerable assistance to the former Soviet states of Asia." [44] It allowed the country to fulfill its G7 member obligations on assisting the former Soviet Union and at the same time to emphasize common Asian identity with the region. Under Tokyo's initiative the countries of Central Asia were included on the list of the developing countries of the Official Assistance Development Committee that opened the road to official allocation of ODA. Japan for a long time remained one of the leading aid donors in the region, emphasizing that the aid is seeking no profit and that Tokyo is not seeking access to natural resources of the region and is aiming at, first of all, forming long-term friendly relations with the countries of Central Asia.

Among other spheres, Japan uses ODA funds to credit projects on the creation of the necessary infrastructure, and also finances a large number of projects in the sphere of human security, such as giving a hand in recovery of agriculture, medicine and health care and education. Besides, considerable funds go to training and exchange programs.

Within ODA Japan provides free aid aimed at the development of cultural activities and higher education as well as maintaining cultural development in the developing countries. There are two schemes: cultural grants (for public institutions) and "grassroots" grant assistance (for non-governmental organizations). From the very beginning Japan has allocated considerable funds to cultural assistance, grants on supplying equipment to museums, universities, etc. Cultural assistance, on the one hand, is directed at preserving local values, and on the other hand, is part of efforts on promoting Japan. For example, free aid includes providing equipment for the institutions where the Japanese language is taught.

Tokyo carries out cultural assistance not only on the bilateral basis, but also via international channels. It provided funds to restore the famous Blue Samarkand ceramics production in Uzbekistan. With financial support from Japan, in 2003, UNESCO proclaimed intangible cultural heritage the art of akyns and shashmak epic tellers (Kyrgyzstan). Japanese trust fund gave money to restore Ajina-Teppa the VII-VIII century Buddhist monastery in the territory of Tajikistan in 2005-2008 [45].

Apart from financial assistance Japan regularly hosts various cultural events which, certainly, play an essential role in the rapprochement of Japan and the countries of Central Asia, better mutual understanding and maintenance of emotional affinity. According to a Japanese diplomat, cultural exchanges and cooperation not only allow other people to understand Japan and the Japanese and improve the image of the country. They also act as a means of assistance to other countries facing the same difficulties which Japan did in the process of achieving economic prosperity. [46] It is about both the huge layer of traditional culture and active promotion of contemporary culture of youth. Japan-themed events are often arranged in Central Asia both in capitals and smaller cities and villages. Japanese cuisine-related events (recently it made it to the UNESCO World Heritage list), Japanese movies, tea ceremony, martial arts are especially popular. School children can study the Japanese culture (for example, such practice is widespread in Turkmenistan).

The Japanese government pays special attention to educational initiatives targeting both young people and professionals. Programs of Japanese government and the Japan Foundation are popular in Central Asia. There are English-language courses for students, trainees and researchers, training for teachers, the "young leaders" program for government officials, experts in healthcare, industry and law etc. who are viewed as aspiring leaders of Asian countries, master's programs in Japanese colleges. [47] Intercollegiate ties are also well developed. Japanese universities of Hosei, Waseda, Tsukuba and others carry out student exchange programs with the leading educational institutions of the region. Thus, since September 2006 at the University of Tsukuba there works the International Center for Central Asia where joint researches and development in the field of teaching is carried out. Educational programs are aimed at increasing the appeal of Japanese educational institutions and at the same time to involve youth from different countries in exchanges. Tokyo works with youngsters from Central Asian countries, bringing up the new generation of political and business elite familiar with the Land of the Rising Sun and ready and willing to cooperate with it.

The launch of ‘Central Asia plus Japan' dialogue in 2004 contributed to the elaboration of a uniform approach to cultural interaction with the countries of the region. Firstly, cultural and humanitarian exchanges are singled out as a separate direction which gives it a special place on the relations agenda. Secondly, the launch of intellectual dialogue within Central Asia plus Japan initiative can be considered as one of soft power policy manifestations. This dialogue is used by Japan to involve experts and influencers in its work. Thus, combining work with the youth and dialogue with representatives of elite, Tokyo strengthens its image in the region.

An important element of this work is measures to promote the Japanese language. Teaching Japanese at universities of Central Asia has a rather short history. The first course of Japanese was admitted back in 1990 at the Oriental Department of Tashkent State University. In 1991, teaching of Japanese began in Kyrgyzstan, and in 1992 in Kazakhstan. Three Central Asian countries - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have Japanese language proficiency test (noryokushiken). Since 1997 these countries have the annual competition among Japanese language students from Central Asia. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan discovered Japanese quite recently (they began teaching it in 2002 and 2007 respectively).

A significant impetus to disseminating the language was the opening of centers for human resource development. If earlier Japanese was usually studied in government institutions, with the emergence of the centers the language became available to everyone. The centers support teachers and educational institutions -arrange training courses and provide materials. They also arrange contests, themed meetings, lectures, and exams to undergo training in Japan. A range of Japanese-related events and support of Japanese language teachers associations and other similar groups a certain communication network and the certain community connected by the interest in Japan and Japanese is formed and maintained.

For the first years of teaching Japanese its popularity grew steadily in the countries of Central Asia, however, today the trend is negative - we see fewer students and educational institutions where one can learn the Japanese language. Thus, according to the 2009 data, Central Asia made for only about 0.3% of the total number of all educational institutions in the world where the Japanese language is taught. This makes Central Asia penultimate leaving only North Africa behind. In 2009, students of Japanese in Central Asia accounted for 0.1% of all Japanese leaners in the world. [48]

According to the poll, Japanese is not that popular today. Most respondents answered they aren't interested in studying Japanese. [49] The reasons for such a shrink can be various. Japan is geographically remote from the region; there are not that many Japanese living in Central Asia which reduces real opportunities to use Japanese frequently. Japanese business is presented in the region modestly in comparison with the Chinese one. Besides, companies are not always willing to hire local employees knowing Japanese. The flow of tourists from Japan to Central Asia is small. There are not enough opportunities to find a prestigious job in Japan for university graduates from Central Asia. As for teaching or scientific career, employment conditions and wages don't meet the graduates' expectations. Thus, Japanese-speaking graduates are not always able to find work with Japanese which would meet their expectations and the efforts spent. According to experts, in future studying of Japanese, most likely, will gravitate towards two poles - education for not numerous elite of the country, and studying Japanese as a hobby. [50]

Soft power resource centers

The soft power policy is generally implemented through embassies, as well as joint human resource development centers founded under agreements between the governments of the Central Asian countries and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) also known as Japanese centers. JICA offices operate almost in all countries of Central Asia.

First Embassies of Japan in Central Asia opened in Uzbekistan and in Kazakhstan in January 1993 (apart from the Embassy in Astana, there also was an office in Alma-Ata till 2014). Tajikistan was next - with the embassy opened in January 2002, in Kyrgyzstan it opened in January 2003, in Turkmenistan only in January 2005. Embassies do informational and educational work, and also carry out trainings and cultural programs of the Japan Foundation. Recently websites of Japanese Embassies in the region have considerably improved. Apart from the latest news they offer materials explaining Japan's stance on topical issues. Thus, for example, one may now find materials concerning the disputed islands of Senkaku (Diaoyudao), Takeshima (Tokto). Recently a lot of attention has been paid to discussing and covering the restoration of Tohoku region after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster and earthquake in March 2011. Reaching out to people with its position also has its say in opinion making on the issues Tokyo cares about. Interaction of diplomats with the public in forms of interviews, articles and public lectures is equally important.

Now four joint centers for human resource development operate in Central Asia (they are also often called Japanese centers). The first such center opened in May 1995 in Bishkek as part of technical cooperation during transition to market economy. Later it was reorganized into the Kyrgyz-Japanese Center of Human Resource Development, which began its work in April 2003. [51] The Uzbek-Japanese Center opened in November 2001. It is very popular among locals; by September 2012 it was visited by 600,000 people. [52] In March 2007 the branch of the Center was opened in Bukhara. From September 2012 the center has been cooperating with the Japan Foundation in teaching the Japanese language and carrying out cultural events. Since August 2002 a similar Center exists in Kazakhstan with two offices in Alma-Ata and in Astana. Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have no such centers.

Japanese centers arrange various events, including business courses, Japanese language and computer classes, assistance to informational and cultural exchange. Apart from centers for human resource development, Japan assisted in opening the Center for Information Technologies in Kyrgyzstan. Now a potential opening of the Center for High Technologies in Turkmenistan is under discussion. Activity of these centers and implementation of educational programs provide not only for the dissemination of information about the country and formation of its favorable image, but also establish communities united by interest in Japan. For example, in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan there are Associations of JICA alumni that bring together former participants in JICA programs.

Cultural and public diplomacy and ODA are government programs reflecting activities aimed at forming public opinion, however it is not the only component that affects the attitude to Japan in the countries of Central Asia. In the context of soft power we would like to mention the role of personal factor in developing the relations and creating a favorable image of Japan. The relations were greatly contributed by the famous artist Hirayama Ikuo, who has a series of paintings on the Great Silk Road and was one of the founders of ‘the International Caravanserai of Culture', cultural and educational center in Uzbekistan. It is also important to mention the legacy of Yutako Akino, the University of Tsukuba professor who worked in the UN mission in Tajikistan and was killed by extremists in July 1998. After this tragedy, Japan actively joined peace process in Tajikistan and launched the trainee program for those who would like to make a contribution to consolidation of peace and democracy in Tajikistan. [53] In 1999, the UN University introduced the fellowship grant commemorating Yutako Akino for researchers from Central Asia. [54] Tajikistan named a lyceum after Akino. Another example is the engineer of the Komatsu company Osaka Sigekatsu who worked in Uzbekistan in 1994-1998. After retirement, he and his family returned to the country, started giving free Japanese classes to children from poor families and spent his retirement benefit on a school of Japanese Noriko Gakkyu which is still active.

In implementation of soft power a considerable role is played by non-state actors, including individuals. Activity of these people can be viewed as a manifestation of soft power as they made a notable contribution to the formation of favorable attitude to the country among people of Central Asia.

Peculiarity of soft power is that its effect is difficult to measure. Unlike hard power whose effects are evident immediately, time is needed to see the soft power ones. However if soft power can be accelerated continuously, the results can be steady and long-term. [55] We can get a certain understanding of the attitude to Japan in Central Asia from polls. It is remarkable that from the moment of establishment of relations till 2015, Japan never carried out a centralized research of opinions of the population of Central Asian republics. To the question, what country deserves the greatest trust, Japan is ranked second (14%), conceding to Russia (63%), but being ahead China and Korea (35% each). At the same time Japan was mentioned the third important partner (23% of respondents) after Russia (75% of respondents) and China (35%). Most respondents were positive about Japanese enterprises being promoted in the region. Thus, thanks to intentional formation of Japan's image, it succeeded to create favorable conditions for further development of business. This brings us to the conclusion on the success of soft power policy in this region, especially in the light of rivalry with China and Korea.

As for the image of Japan, 72% of respondents called it "a country with strong economy and advanced technologies", 35% - "a country with great traditions and culture." [56] The perception of Japan in Central Asia is based, first of all, on its economic potential, technological level, the ODA donor status and also popularity of traditional culture.


Throughout the years passed since the establishment of diplomatic relations, Japan consistently fulfills its soft power potential in Central Asia. Having the initial advantage of a favorable ground amid the lack of negative historical past, Japan positions itself as a neutral player that isn't pursuing momentary goals and has no political ambitions in the region. It emphasizes that it targets long-term outlook and attaches major significance to friendly relations with the countries of the region.

Historical and cultural communality became a starting point of soft power policy formation in relations with the countries of the region. Japan willingly uses the rhetoric of common identity with Central Asia, positioning the post-war model of development as an example to imitate for the countries of the region. On this basis Japan promotes the most attractive aspects of its image, such as economic development, democratization (with Oriental specifics), advanced technologies, environment protection, and attention to social and economic problems.

Japan supports its image with impressive economic aid for the needs of the region, being one of the leading donor states. Considerable part of this aid goes to human security projects, where Japan is one of the global leaders. Also much attention is paid to cultural grants in the area of ODA, which are directed not only at preserving the region's cultural heritage, but also promoting Japan and the Japanese language in Central Asia.

Popularity of Japanese culture and art, activity of centers for human resource development, active humanitarian exchanges indicate that people are interested in the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan's image and values, commitment to which it demonstrates, are appealing to the population of Central Asia.

At the same time, due to the nature of soft power which is aimed at a long-term outlook and rather on creating a favorable environment, than on short-term achievement of concrete results, its efficiency is difficult to measure. Polls, popularity of Japanese centers and cultural events do not give an objective picture on the basis of which we could assess the influence of Japan in the region.

Implementation of soft power in the region allows Japan to create favorable conditions for promoting business and support of its foreign policy initiatives. Coverage of cultural and humanitarian events and also economic assistance projects is necessary not only to draw attention of people of the region, but also to explain to Japan's own citizens the motives of Japanese presence in Central Asia. In the process of boosting economic cooperation and promoting new global regional initiatives, Japan's soft power policy will continue to remain important.

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