Doraemon As Cultural Diplomat

Photo of Stephanie Chang
16 December 2016

How did Doraemon, the famous robotic cat created by Fujiko Fujio, bring people together while spreading Japanese culture throughout Asia?

Doraemon | © kemo5719/DeviantArt

The Fujiko Fujio museum, dedicated to Doraemon’s maker, opened in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture on 3 September 2011. Visitors can see over 50,000 drawings of the popular Japanese robotic cat at the museum and even eat some of Doraemon’s favorite snacks, including dorayaki.

In Chinese-speaking countries, children grew up with stories of Doraemon, known as 小叮当 (Little Ding Dong) or 机器猫 (Robotic Cat). He and his friends went to the zoo, celebrated the Lantern Festival and learned about the natural world. From his bottomless watermelon-shaped pocket, all sorts of magical possibilities emerged. A door that opened to anywhere you wanted to go, helicopter hats that enabled you to fly and a magic carpet that carried you through time. But Doraemon as a cultural diplomat? That hardly ever crossed our minds.

Since being created by Fujiko F. Fujio (Hiroshi Fujimoto) in 1969, Doraemon has been one of Japan’s most successful tools of soft power. ‘Soft power’, according to the eminent neo-liberal theorist Joseph S. Nye, is ‘the ability to persuade through culture, values and ideas. This opposes persuasion through ‘hard power’, which conquers or coerces through military might.’ Doraemon’s status as cultural diplomat was officially confirmed in 2008 when he became the first ‘anime ambassador’ for the Japanese government.

In a region where growing economic competition builds on a history of rivalry and deep animosity stemming from World War II, soft power can generate shared values among those under 30. Doraemon entered Hong Kong in 1981; his first anime appeared on CCTV in China in 1991. School children from Petaling Jaya to Heilongjiang are linked by their childhood experiences of the animated blue robotic cat.

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