A Comic Answer to a PR Problem in Japan

Concerned about safety and the impact on the local fishing industry, residents of Yokosuka, Japan have been protesting the U.S. Navy’s stationing of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in nearby waters. 48,000 residents called for a public referendum on the deployment of the USS George Washington causing PR problems for the Navy and local Japanese officials who support the carrier’s presence. (Although nuclear-powered US ships have made hundreds of visits to Japan over the past 25 years, the ship will be the first piece of nuclear military hardware to be permanently stationed there.)

In a unique PR move, the U.S. Navy hopes to spin public sentiment their way with a comic book.

The plan is to distribute 26,000 copies of a comic book titled Manga CVN73, which is the George Washington’s hull number. The Navy hopes the 200-page book, with its super-positive take on military life will turn Yokosuka residents around on the carrier’s presence.

The comic, drawn by Japanese cartoonists hired by the U.S. Navy, follows Jack Ohara, a third-class petty officer, as he overcomes seasickness and prepares for his first overseas mission — to (wait for it) Japan. In one scene he quickly puts out a fire that has broken out on board the ship. An odd choice considering that just last month, the real George Washington had a fire on board that left “two crew members with minor burns and another 23 needing treatment.” U.S. Real Admiral James Kelly said of the incident, “This is not something for the citizens of Yokosuka to worry about.”

According to Stars & Stripes News, the comic book tactic is working. After word got out that   sailors were giving away advance copies, lines quickly circled the docks in just three hours.

“The format appears to be perfect for tackling points of contention,” said Navy Commander, David Waterman. “The response has been phenomenal. People told me if we passed out a brochure or tri-fold, they wouldn’t read it. But, with Manga CVN73, we’re speaking their language.”

Yokosuka resident Marie Matsuka, 29, said the comic book triggered her interest in the issue. “I decided to learn about the USS George Washington because of this

While one blogger called the Navy comic “propamanga,” Matsuka and others said whether or not they agree with the carrier’s deployment, reading the comic gives them a better understanding of the Navy’s mindset.

“It’s good since I can learn about the U.S. military’s perspective,” said Yoksuka resident Shintaro Yoshida. He went on to say he wanted to show his father the comic book because his dad likes military ships.

As unusual as the tactic is, it does seem to be working so far. I came across Japan Blog, which “covers all things Japanese.” The author, identified only as Maki, described the use of the comic as “a marvelous idea” with one blog comment from “BambooForrest” adding that the strategy is “very interesting and clever.” Likewise, a site called Let’s Japan seems impressed with the comic and the campaign behind it.

Now, I am not an expert in connecting with that market; so I’ll let the campaign’s success or failure speak for itself. In the meantime, it is certainly the most unique strategy I’ve heard in a long time and it will be interesting to see how this plays out – especially with older Japanese residents.

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