June 16, 2009

Background Information

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Partnership Name: The Landmarks of New York in Tokyo

Partnership Type: Enhanced US Reputation/Visibility (i.e., Enhanced Mutual Understanding between Japan and the United States)

PPP Life Cycle Phase for Learning: Partner Identification

Bureau or Post: Public Affairs Section (PAS) Tokyo

State Department Strategic Goal: Promoting Mutual Understanding: Nurture Common Interests and Values

Major Partners: Morgan Stanley Japan, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Asahi Shimbun newspaper, TBS-TV, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Google Earth Japan

Resource Contributions: Morgan Stanley contributed $140,000 in cash plus in-kind such as an opening night gala; Tokyo Metropolitan Government provided the observation deck of Tokyo City Hall; Tokyo Museum of Photography helped organize and advertise the exhibition and organized a follow-on Kids’ Photo Contest; Asahi Shimbun and TBS-TV provided free coverage and PR; Google Earth Japan provided interactive touchscreens for the exhibit

Dates of Partnership: The exhibit ran from June 9-July 12, 2006, but the partnership lasted one to two years including planning and follow-on activities.

Problem/Challenge Statement: According to the DoS Office of Research, favorable opinions of the U.S. in Japan dropped 14 points from 2000 to 2006. The Iraq War was particularly damaging to the longstanding empathy that many Japanese felt for the United States. A key public diplomacy challenge for the U.S. Embassy in Japan was finding ways to transcend the tangible intellectual and emotional estrangement by promoting shared values and cultural linkages.

After 9/11, the longstanding empathy felt in Japan for the United States was severely compromised due to widespread negative views towards American policies, particularly the war in Iraq, and a concomitant sense of estrangement from American “values”.

Cultural Affairs Officer Mark Davidson saw an opportunity to engage both Japanese elite and popular audiences with persuasive positive messages about shared values and engender continuing relationships and exchanges focusing on the unorthodox field of architectural preservation. Davidson calculated that a modest ECA Bureau traveling exhibit on New York City landmarks represented the kernel of a major project that would meet the Mission’s strategic public diplomacy goals.

Building on carefully honed pre-existing and new connections with business and local institutions, Davidson put together a broad partnership that transformed the project into a high-impact, multi-modal, long-term initiative. This type of partnership specifically builds on the standard connections made by public diplomacy foreign service officers . PD officers have always relied upon partnering with host country entities to carry out projects.

Davidson and his staff first approached Morgan Stanley Japan – with which they had worked on several previous occasions to co-sponsor cultural events – to suggest that this project offered the chance for the company to present their corporate image as a “Landmark of New York” -- a unique branding opportunity in a very crowded marketplace. Once this major co-sponsor was enlisted, finding others to sign on was relatively much easier.

The Embassy then persuaded the Governor of Tokyo to provide the 45th floor observation deck of City Hall as the venue for the exhibit, in the context of the impending 40th anniversary of Tokyo-New York sister city ties. Google Earth Japan signed on to provide interactive kiosks within the exhibit pinpointing the New York sites displayed and Tokyo equivalents, recognizing a unique opportunity to showcase their software.

One of the country’s most important newspapers and its sister television channel officially joined the partnership and provided valuable media coverage (which eventually led to a favorable article in the International Herald Tribune, giving the project international impact). Finally, the most prestigious photography museum in Japan partnered in organizing a follow-on children’s photo contest inviting students to take their own photos of “Landmarks of Tokyo,” and exhibiting the winning photos along with essays on the importance of preservation for maintaining Japanese culture.

PAS Tokyo also worked with the International Information Programs (IIP) Bureau to bring to Japan the exhibit curator, who PAS then paired with Japanese historical preservation experts as speakers, for a seminar on the issue at Tokyo University and a nationwide speaking tour at the six American Centers throughout the country. This brought in students and local live audiences and generated additional local press coverage, giving the project increased nationwide visibility. Several months later, the post organized a Voluntary Visitor program sending urban planners from port cities throughout the country to the U.S. to look at how American cities have encouraged urban redevelopment and attracted tourists through adaptive reuse of historic waterfront buildings and neighborhoods, and to establish enduring links with American counterparts.

Davidson also took advantage of an initially unanticipated target of opportunity to bring mass attention to the initiative by involving First Lady Barbara Bush during an official trip to Japan two months before the exhibit opening. Davidson orchestrated a media event for the First Lady at an old Kyoto house where she admired traditional Japanese architecture (on nationwide TV) and learned from a calligraphy master to write the traditional character meaning “Eternity” (an ”auspicious” character representing the value of preserving good things.) This precedent-breaking “cultural experience” on the part of the First Lady started conversations about preservation and American appreciation for Japanese culture, and later allowed the exhibit organizers and the speakers to invoke it as validation during the actual events.

The Embassy was careful to promote the exhibit as a true partnership and not just as a US government event with corporate sponsorship.


The local partners were essential to the initiative’s success. The partners lent legitimacy and impact to the initiative that would not have been possible through Embassy involvement alone. The exhibit per se proved to be a tremendous success with over 60,000 visitors. Moreover, the partnership enabled the numerous concurrent and follow-on activities mentioned above. Preservation efforts have begun in Japan, including a port revival project in Yokohama. But the most important outcome was that large and influential segments of Japanese society were engaged, informed, and persuaded about American values, and induced to transcend recent socio-political alienation from the United States.

Key Takeaways:

  • Public Diplomacy is about the last three feet. The most effective partnerships reflect and respond to local conditions and are conceived and built in the field, not in DC.
  • Small partnerships can grow, and have profound goals.
  • PD officers and LES staff alike must continually and personally cultivate influential host society contacts and institutions – even when there is no immediate joint project – so as to lay the groundwork for partnering in the future.
  • PD officers must learn to understand the strategic goals of other stakeholders so as to discern and emphasize the common good that can come from a proposed partnership. By understanding the institutional or business interests that a project or initiative can have for potential partners, partnerships can be built more strategically.
  • Partners for a single initiative can come from many different sectors including large business, local government, academia, and multi-national corporations.
  • In many if not most environments overseas, the “value” of the Embassy or Consulate, if pitched properly, can be perceived by potential partners as equal to a large financial or logistical contribution from others. Officers should always avoid arrogance but should not be shy in negotiations from invoking this and using such “bargaining chips” as turning out the Ambassador to give a speech or cut the ribbon, or calling on Washington for support such as a related exchange or speaker program, to leverage the greatest possible contributions from partners.