Photo/IllutrationThree women selected as the first generation of “Nara City Concierge” to promote the charms of the ancient capital (Provided by the Nara City Tourism Association)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NARA--“Miss Nara,” the job title for official representatives to promote the charms of the ancient capital since 1989, has gone the way of the dodo.

The Nara City Tourism Association recently decided to abandon the monicker in favor of a more gender neutral name that befits the new imperial era.

In April, it announced the first three "Nara City Concierges" to act as the official "face" of the city for events held in and outside the prefecture.

The trio of women are aged between 19 and 22 who live in the prefecture, at least one of whom is a college student.

The Miss Nara project, introduced in fiscal 1989 to select mascots for the city, had a one-year term in principle.

Despite the implied gender restriction in its name, applications from men have been accepted for the position since fiscal 2002.

Several men applied, the association said, but none ever made the cut.

The title had prompted criticism at the city assembly since the tourism association is affiliated with the city government.

In 2002, as calls for gender equality in society were growing, an assembly member pointed out that Miss Nara might not be an appropriate title.

The chief of the city government’s section in charge of the matter at the time replied that it would instruct the tourism association to act on the suggestion.

In 2018, another assembly member called for the name to be changed, saying it gave the impression that only unmarried women were chosen for the job.

“Outside opinions were not the direct cause of the change,” said an official of the association, adding that there was general agreement that “the title ‘Miss’ had restricted gender roles after all.”

The association said it decided to change the name to coincide with the start of the new Reiwa Era, which began with the ascension of Emperor Naruhito in spring.

The association solicited input from the public after the turn of the year and received about 700 names for consideration.

“The new name reflects their role as tourism ambassadors and provides a good fit for the activities they undertake,” the official said. “We also welcome applications from men.”

It's still a different story elsewhere in the prefecture.

Although the stated goal is to promote the charms of their respective cities in a similar vein to the Nara City Tourism Association, the Yamato-Koriyama City Tourism Association only accepts female candidates to fill the role of “Queen Himiko.” Ditto for the Kashihara City Tourism Association's job requirements to play “Princess Sarara.”

Applicants for Princess Sarara must also be single.

“That's because if they were pregnant or raising small children it would be difficult for us to have them attend (at events),” said an official from the Kashihara City Tourism Association.

However, in 2018, the Ikaruga Tourism Association, also in the prefecture hired two male students for the role of “Town Tourism Campaign Ambassador,” after changing the name of the position from “Town Campaign Lady.”

Only women had occupied the role for the past two generations. But the association said it realized the wisdom of accepting both men and women in this age of trying to achieve gender equality.

The two ambassadors each attended 10 or so events after they took up their posts, the association said.

“Both men and women have worked hard to promote the town,” an official said. “Opening the role to men hasn't caused any problems.”