Japan’s “Instafamous” Ambassador Aims to Regain Weight in Jakarta

JAKARTA – From claypot to curry and mie ayam, the 155,000 Instagram followers of the Japanese Embassy in Indonesia usually know what local dish Ambassador Kenji Kanasugi ate for lunch.

The former head of North Korean affairs in Tokyo has been involved in promoting Japan since arriving in Jakarta in January. Choosing Kanasugi to serve as Ambassador to Indonesia was a strategic decision by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to send the best and brightest of Japan’s diplomatic corps across the crucial Indo-Pacific region.

The choices of ambassadors in Australia, Cambodia and the Philippines followed a similar pattern.

On June 14, Kanasugi was seen at the Jakarta headquarters of MNC Group, the country’s largest media conglomerate with four television channels, giving interviews with two websites it operates.

The themes were the Tokyo Olympics, diplomatic and defense cooperation between Japan and Indonesia as well as local cuisine. The interviews were published that day. The two websites, respectably the # 1 and # 6 most-viewed portal sites in Indonesia, offered the 61-year-old emissary a not-to-miss look.

While most embassies in Jakarta each have various social media accounts, Japan stands out for the frequency with which the ambassador appears. With the envoy dressed in Indonesian attire or a Japanese yukata robe, the Japanese Embassy Instagram feed is a slideshow by Kenji Kanasugi.

But such social media exposure, on the other hand, reflects Kanasugi’s deep concern that Japan is slipping off the board.

In April, a statistic sent shockwaves through the Japanese business community in the country. Japan fell to 7th place in foreign direct investment in Indonesia for the January-March period, far behind China and South Korea. While these two countries have visibly increased their investments, Japan has also decreased theirs.

Kanasugi, when he was managing director of the Asian and Pacific Islands affairs office, is surrounded by reporters at Changi Airport in Singapore in 2018. (Photo by Saki Hayashi)

Japan is no longer Indonesia’s most important economic partner. For Jakarta’s recent push to develop a local electric car battery industry, the Chinese and South Koreans are seen as potential partners.

During his first round of meetings with local players, Kanasugi was constantly asked “where has Japan been?”

It was through this painful, yet revealing experience that Kanasugi decided he needed to be active on social media, putting Japan on the Indonesian mind map.

Indonesians spend an hour longer on the Internet than the global average, according to polls. President Joko Widodo has 40 million Instagram followers, double that of US President Joe Biden. On the local political scene, we count the number of “likes” that you collect on average.

When a case of COVID-19 was first confirmed in Indonesia last March, there was speculation that a Japanese was the original source. The then ambassador, Masafumi Ishii, contacted members of the Indonesian cabinet to express his concerns about the dangers of the rumors.

Ministers helped quell such rumors within days. It is said that the number of “likes” the Japanese Embassy has had on Instagram has given weight to Ishii.

The more followers and “likes,” the more respect politicians and business leaders can expect. With concern over China’s growth in Indonesia, Kanasugi and his team have the opportunity to convey to the local audience that “Japan is back”.

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