Manga and the World of Corporate PR

A look at the manga initiative seeking to support the industries of Kagoshima

JA Group Kagoshima, "Supporters of Japanese Agriculture: Sustainable Agriculture and the Future of Livelihoods Connected through Cooperation" (2018)Original Source: ©NPO法人マンガプロジェクト鹿児島

Manga, the highly stylized Japanese comics read for entertainment, and the world of corporate PR. If there was a place that these two seemingly disparate elements were to be combined, it would of course be in Japan, the home of manga. ‘Manga Project Kagoshima’ is an initiative that seeks to support the Kagoshima region and the industries that call it home by using the medium of manga for corporate public relations.

World Heritage Yakushima Island's Shiratani-UnsuikyoOriginal Source: ©公益社団法人 鹿児島県観光連盟

Kagoshima: land of stunning natural beauty where many cultures intersect

Situated at the southern tip of Kyushu, Kagoshima is a prefecture that sprawls over 600km from north to south, incorporating over 600 islands within its boundaries. These include the islands of Sakurajima, the active volcano that lies across the waters from Kagoshima City, World Heritage site Yakushima, and Amami Oshima, home to a unique culture unlike any other in Japan. There are many places that symbolize not only Japan’s natural world, but also science; the island of Tanegashima is home to the Tanegashima Space Center, at the forefront of Japan’s space development activities. To these can be added perhaps another claim to fame: Kagoshima could be considered as Japan’s ‘corporate manga kingdom’!

Ms. Shigemi Shimoto of the "Nonprofit Organization Manga Project Kagoshima"Original Source: ©NPO法人マンガプロジェクト鹿児島

A desire to revitalize industry in Kagoshima

The NPO Manga Project Kagoshima is the driving force behind the creation of this ‘kingdom’. CEO Shigemi Yotsumoto looks back at the initial idea for the non-profit’s creation in 2010.

“From my work previously in an ad agency, I knew that manga could be an effective form of advertising. Around 90% of all companies in Kagoshima Prefecture are SMEs. I felt that unless there was some sort of coming together of all those companies to boost industry across the board through advertising, it would be hard to rejuvenate the prefecture’s economy.”

Sakura and SakurajimaOriginal Source: ©公益社団法人 鹿児島県観光連盟

Overcoming a certain ineloquence

Yotsumoto, born and raised in Kagoshima, laments that the prefecture he hails from isn’t great at selling itself. “For instance, Kagoshima is Japan’s leading producer of beef and farm-raised eels. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a high degree of name recognition in these areas. I suspect part of the reason is down to the number of archetypical ‘Kyushu danji’ (Kyushu lads) — the slightly conservative, reticent type of person Kagoshima is known for. There is a strong technical-mindedness, you could say — ‘If you do a good job, people will naturally notice!’ That’s the sort of mindset. It’s a shame, because I really feel the importance of the need to communicate the positives and think about the means by which this is done.”

Illustration introducing the appeal of Corporate MangaOriginal Source: ©NPO法人マンガプロジェクト鹿児島

Corporate manga’s appeal #1: It stands out!

What are the benefits of choosing corporate manga as an advertising method? Yotsumoto says there are three main points that makes it an attractive choice.

“Firstly, it stands out. Corporate manga is still in its infancy, so the rarity of it catches the eye more easily. Furthermore, most Japanese have grown up with manga and it is a very familiar format for them. This familiarity means that it is more likely they will pick it up and read it.”

Illustration introducing the appeal of Corporate MangaOriginal Source: ©NPO法人マンガプロジェクト鹿児島

Corporate manga’s appeal #2: It’s easy to understand!

The second benefit corporate manga possesses, according to Yotsumoto, is that it can convey ‘two-way communication’.

“What I mean is, by creating a conversation within the manga, you can have the reader put themselves in the position of a character unfamiliar with the subject matter. For instance, a character in the story asks a question that an actual customer may have about a certain service, then that question is answered in the manga’s storyline. Creating the kind of ‘rhythm’ you would find in a natural conversation is also one of the merits of using manga.”

Illustration introducing the appeal of Corporate MangaOriginal Source: ©NPO法人マンガプロジェクト鹿児島

Corporate manga’s appeal #3: It’s entertaining!

Finally, there is the ability for manga to tell a story. “It’s natural that people will not bother to read unless the drama portrayed is not interesting. You have the combination of the manga artist and great scriptwriters so they can convey the maximum amount of information while making a story that is actually fun to read.”

JA Group Kagoshima, "Supporters of Japanese Agriculture: Sustainable Agriculture and the Future of Livelihoods Connected through Cooperation" page 10 (2018)Original Source: ©NPO法人マンガプロジェクト鹿児島

A Kagoshima corporate manga example

The appeal of this kind of manga can be seen in a campaign undertaken with JA (Japan Agricultural Cooperative) Kagoshima. The manga was used to introduce a system by which people could support local agriculture, even if they were not farmers themselves. The characters in the story tell of how the cooperative supports small-scale farmers and the ways in which regular people supporting the cooperative in turn helps those farmers.

JA Group Kagoshima, "Supporters of Japanese Agriculture: Sustainable Agriculture and the Future of Livelihoods Connected through Cooperation" page 11 (2018)Original Source: ©NPO法人マンガプロジェクト鹿児島

Communicating a message in a familiar way

All the key facts and data are presented within the manga. Reading the same amount of information presented in a text-only format can be tiring; by presenting this information in diagrams or through the conversation between characters, manga can convey the message in a more economical, more digestible way.

JA Group Kagoshima, "Supporters of Japanese Agriculture: Sustainable Agriculture and the Future of Livelihoods Connected through Cooperation" page 12 (2018)Original Source: ©NPO法人マンガプロジェクト鹿児島

Involuntary empathy with the characters

One element that makes this particular work for JA Kagoshima interesting is the relationship between the three classmates that appear in the story. The dramatic element — including an unfolding love story — is cleverly inserted into the narrative. The best part about the works being produced by the Kagoshima Manga Project is that while they are ultimately corporate manga, they are interesting to read in their own right for the storyline.

Ms. Shigemi Shimoto and her clients.Original Source: ©NPO法人マンガプロジェクト鹿児島

In-depth research leads to high satisfaction levels

Yotsumoto says that he receives feedback from clients who say that the manga has captured their feelings exactly. “The research conducted by the scriptwriter during the meetings with the client is key. They try and get an in-depth idea of the client’s characteristics and what their business is currently focussed on. In addition, they need to look into the latest developments regarding the cooperatives or councils and so forth the client may belong to.”

Kagoshima Prefecture Community Contribution Activity Support Project "I'll be fine! is dangerous The Latest Phone Scams", page 2 (2017)Original Source: ©NPO法人マンガプロジェクト鹿児島

A fun, educational way to learn a disappearing dialect

One manga has been used to combat complacency about falling victim to phone scams, a form of fraud recently plaguing Japan. This work depicts an actual scam to be aware of, but what makes it unique is that it does so with a short lesson on Kagoshima-ben, the local dialect. The versatile nature of manga allows it to be enjoyed from any number of perspectives, whether it be preventing crime or learning more about the local language.

Reef of Aon, Kagoshima Prefecture Amami-Oshima IslandOriginal Source: ©公益社団法人 鹿児島県観光連盟

‘Kagoshima Manga Kurodemy Awards’ — A manga competition reflecting Kagoshima’s culture

A manga competition called the Kagoshima Manga Kurodemy Awards has also taken root in the region in recent years. To understand its name, we first need to note that the color black (kuro) is highly representative of Kagoshima; specialty products from the prefecture include kuroushi wagyu (wagyu beef from black cattle), kurobuta (pork from black pigs), kuromaguro (‘black tuna’ — the Japanese name for bluefin tuna), kurosu (black vinegar), and kurozato shochu (the alcoholic beverage shochu made with black sugar). The manga competition, presided over by Yotsumoto, is another idea intended to rejuvenate the prefecture. While other parts of the world may have their ‘Academy Awards’ (aka in Japanese means ‘red’), the Kurodemy Awards solicits works from the general public, and since 2013 has also been accepting a succession of masterful works from outside Kagoshima.

View of the 7th Kagoshima Manga Kurodemy Awards CeremonyOriginal Source: ©NPO法人マンガプロジェクト鹿児島

Tell us how you really feel…with manga

“It’s actually more important to convey feeling than draw a good picture. Manga really is a wonderful means of communication!” Yotsumoto smiles. Manga’s power lies in the fact it can convey a message through pictures and dialog when that message perhaps cannot be stated directly in words only. That power is now being used to bring a smile to Kagoshima. For the somewhat reserved people of the prefecture, manga seems like it may be an indispensable way of enabling them to express themselves.

Credits: Story

This article was produced in July 2020, based on the interview conducted at the time.

Cooperation with:

Manga Project Kagoshima

Text & Edit: Makiko Oji
Edit: Saori Hayashida

Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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