“Virtual Youtuber” Kizuna AI was declared a cultural ambassador for a Japanese tourist initiative earlier this week. This move presumably comes as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Cool Japan” promotional campaign. In an effort to encourage travel to Japan, Kizuna is releasing a series of videos exploring Japanese culture.
Kizuna AI is one of Youtube’s most popular “virtual Youtubers.” These animated Youtube personalities make vlog-style productions. Kizuna is purportedly a sentient, artificially-intelligent being that exists only in the digital sphere. Her digital life bores her though. Therefore, she hosts live streams and chats with her fans to learn about people.
A peculiar mix of generic Youtube vlog and anime tropes, Kizuna has grabbed the attention of many since her debut in winter of 2016-2017. Her content ranges from video game play-throughs to general interest vlogging and now includes tourist videos.
Tour Guide Kizuna AI
Kizuna’s tourism videos are similar in format to her normal content. However, instead of gaming, she discusses various types of Japanese cuisine. Here she touches upon sushi, ramen, and wagashi (a sort of traditional sweet, usually visually intricate and served with tea).
The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) sponsored the video as part of their “Come to Japan” outreach program. In recent years, the Japanese government has made the promotion of Japanese culture an issue of national concern. In an attempt to boost tourism to Japan, the government is capitalizing on cultural exports like video games, anime, and manga. This is a key part of JNTO’s appeal to a younger crowd.
Of course, “Cool Japan” does not stop at anime or manga. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) outlines a broad promotional campaign. This campaign touts domestic crafts, landscapes, and places of interest. Notably, Kizuna AI’s first video is about food, not about the domestic entertainment industry. This reflects METI’s continuing focus on mass appeal, even in a niche outreach campaign.
While Kizuna AI is certainly famous in her niche, she is hardly mainstream. That she is a representative indicates that the Japanese government is interested in capitalizing on anime and manga’s popularity. We can expect to see this trend continue, particularly given the coming Tokyo Olympics.
Featured image courtesy of JNTO