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Promoting Japanese Culture During the Covid-19 Pandemic

By Nadejda Petrova Gadjeva
Visiting Researcher, Ritsumeikan University
October 13, 2023
The recent COVID-19 crisis has brought many challenges to Japan’s cultural promotion both domestically and internationally. It has not only impacted international tourism and cultural exchange but has also made various cultural heritage sites as well as public and private institutions unable to realize their full potential. According to the Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters (2021, p. 95), tourism in Japan “has suffered a major blow, with the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan in 2020 down 99% compared with the previous year for several months in succession”. It was not until July 2023 that it reached 70% of the number four years earlier. Furthermore, Japanese institutions located both in Japan and overseas have postponed, canceled, or reduced the conduct of many face-to-face cultural activities, lessons, and events. Despite these challenges, what innovative approaches has Japan implemented to present its culture?

During the pandemic, digital technologies have played an important role in providing Japanese public and private actors with creative solutions. Online communication platforms and immersive reality tools (virtual reality, augmented reality, augmented virtuality, and mixed reality) have been increasingly utilized for the development of diverse projects for remote online experiences of Japanese culture beyond the restraints of space and time.
A woman enjoying a virtual travel experience
One such innovative project has been the “Japan Cultural Expo VIRTUAL PLATFORM”. It was launched in 2021 by the Japan Arts Council – a public agency engaged in the preservation and promotion of traditional performing arts, in cooperation with the Agency for Cultural Affairs. It enables anyone in Japan and worldwide to enjoy the Japan Cultural Expo event, by combining “’real’ experiences at physical venues and ‘virtual’ experiences through online digital content” (Japan Arts Council, n.d.). The platform’s content is presented through video, text, virtual reality, and images, introducing performing arts, nature, art exhibitions, and art festivals of Japan in English and Japanese. It consists of exhibitions of cultural assets from the Jōmon period (14,000 – 300 BC), as well as Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, kōgei (Japanese art crafts), Buddhist statues and other forms of sculpture, kimono, fashion, manga, contemporary art, and anime. There are also performances of Noh, Kabuki, Kyogen, and Bunraku theaters, as well as hands-on projects for cultural properties. The platform can be enjoyed both through the website of the Japan Cultural Expo and a smartphone application.

The use of digital technologies in the tourism realm has also greatly increased in the pandemic. Virtual reality tours have become an alternative of the restricted face-to-face travel to Japan and many such experiences have been offered by public and private institutions. One such example is the “Japan: Where Tradition Meets the Future” 360-degree virtual reality tour, set up by the Japan National Tourism Organization in 2021. It enables the audience to explore Japanese popular tourist attractions, such as the Arashiyama bamboo forest in Kyoto and the Nara Deer Park. The Japanese Weather News site has also provided a 360-degree virtual reality tours of popular cherry blossom locations like the Ueno Park in Tokyo and Osaka Castle Park. Furthermore, 3D virtual reality tours of various Japanese temples have been launched, including the Ninna-ji Temple in Kyoto and the Tōdai-ji Temple in Nara.

Japanese museums offering virtual reality tours have also played an important role in the promotion of Japanese culture in the pandemic. The Tokyo National Museum is a case in point. It has provided a virtual reality tour of more than 100,000 pieces of art. Other Japanese museums offering such experiences have been the Kyoto National Museum, exhibiting pre-modern Japanese art, the Adachi Museum of Art, introducing modern Japanese art, the Kyoto Prefectural Insho-Domoto Museum of Fine Arts, presenting collections of the Japanese artist Dōmoto Inshō, and others.
A guide giving a virtual tour of different locations in Japan
With the advent of the pandemic, the conduct of real-time online initiatives and events has become a vital instrument for many public and private actors promoting Japanese culture. The Japan Foundation is a case in point. In 2020, it launched the JF Digital Collection page on its website, where simultaneous online projects have been regularly held in multiple languages. The projects include streaming online lectures, webinars, demonstrations, podcasts, discussions, international symposiums, academic seminars, conferences, and live performances. For example, there have been live performances of Noh theater, demonstrations of ikebana flower arrangement, as well as online lecture series on the history, performing arts (Noh, Kyōgen, and Kabuki theaters), fine arts (tea ceremony gardens, Ukiyo-e woodblock prints), gardening techniques and Bonsai tree, thought and religion (Shinto, Zen culture, temple meals), and cuisine of Japan. The Japan Foundation has also established the STAGE BEYOND BORDERS platform, introducing traditional and contemporary stage performances online with multilingual subtitles.

Thanks to the use of digital technologies, many public and private actors have managed to continue their activities in the pandemic, communicating Japanese culture in new dimensions. The established innovative initiatives have also offered new cultural experience opportunities for the elderly and those with disabilities and financial or other constraints, incapable of visiting Japan or attending regular face-to-face events. Furthermore, they have provided a wide range of personal benefits, such as no lines at heritage sites, no transportation, health or weather issues, lower costs, and more detailed observations of cultural assets. On the other hand, these online initiatives have not been able to offer the same authentic experiences of Japanese culture as the face-to face ones. For the provision of a more enriched opportunities for exploring Japan, the construct of hybrid cultural projects that can be attended both online and face-to-face would be important. As the Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters (2021, pp. 109-110) emphasizes, “rather than using online approaches as a substitute for initiatives in the physical world, it is vital to enhance overall profitability and participant satisfaction by appropriately combining real-world experiences with digital technology and online approaches”.
Different aspects of metaverse


Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters. (2021). Intellectual Property Strategic Program 2021 – A strategy for strengthening the protection of intangible assets to ensure success in digital and green competition in the post-COVID-19 age. Retrieved from https://www.kantei.go.jp/jp/singi/titeki2/kettei/chizaikeikaku20210713_e.pdf

Japan Arts Council. (n.d.). Japan Cultural Expo VIRTUAL PLATFORM – INTO THE METAVERSE. Japan Cultural Expo. Retrieved June 14, 2022, from https://japanculturalexpo.bunka.go.jp/en/vp/
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