By KAYOKO SEKIGUCHI/ Staff Writer
November 12, 2019 at 07:30 JST
The Japanese Red Cross Society was criticized for using a large-breasted manga character to encourage young people to donate blood, although others said it was an effective way to promote a good cause.
The campaign poster, shown at the entrance to a blood donation room near Shinjuku Station in central Tokyo, has stirred debate over sexism and freedom of expression.
The poster features the well-endowed college student character from the online manga work “Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!” published by Kadokawa Corp.
The “slapstick romantic comedy” centers on her attempts to socialize with a “senpai” senior student.
In the poster, the character wears a tight shirt and says: “Senpai, you have never donated your blood, right? Ha, you must fear the needle.”
According to the Japanese Red Cross Society, a transparent plastic file with the same design as the poster was presented to donors at blood stations in the capital and six prefectures in the Kanto region.
The campaign continued through the end of October.
On Oct. 14, a Twitter post in English expressed “disappointed” that the Japanese Red Cross Society was running “a campaign using the over-sexualized Uzaki-chan.”
The same Twitter user also insisted: “There’s a time and a place for this stuff. This isn’t it.”
The tweets drew many supportive replies, saying the poster was guilty of “extremely emphasizing the breasts” and “environmental sexual harassment.”
However, others argued that the campaign poster was acceptable because it was simply designed to urge “more people to be donors.” Defenders of the poster also cited freedom of expression.
TARGETING YOUNG MANGA FANS
Jiro Tsukahara, head of the publicity division of the Japanese Red Cross Society, said the poster and plastic file were developed to cater to “young manga fans” because fewer young people are blood donors.
The organization said Japan had around 1 million blood donors aged between 16 and 29 in fiscal 2017, less than 40 percent of the figure for fiscal 1997.
The downward trend prompted the Japanese Red Cross Society to strengthen efforts to appeal to manga lovers, many of whom belong to younger generations.
In 2011, it started sending blood donation buses to the venue of the Comic Market, the largest self-published work fair in Japan. Anime posters and other goods were given to donors.
The service has proven so popular that donors must wait up to several hours to contribute blood, according to society representatives.
Although the latest campaign was devised following the success of the program, Tsukahara admitted that organizers “did not have a sufficient level of imagination on how the campaign would be seen by viewers.”
“The Japanese Red Cross Society is a highly public organization, so we will develop ways that make no one uncomfortable,” Tsukahara said.
He added that the society will review the content of a similar campaign scheduled for February next year.
DUE CONSIDERATION REQUIRED
Many other highly public advertisements in Japan have been criticized as being sexually explicit.
Shima, Mie Prefecture, in 2015 canceled approval of its mascot that was based on the “ama” traditional female diver and was blasted for being “extremely sexual.”
In a similar case, the Minokamo municipal tourism association in Gifu Prefecture had to give up a poster featuring a character from the anime work “No-Rin” in 2015.
And in Kumamoto, a promotional banner for the Women’s Handball World Championship stated: “For those who love hard plays.” The organizer, comprising the Kumamoto prefectural government and other parties, removed it in spring.
Kaku Sechiyama, a gender studies professor at the University of Tokyo, said significant efforts are required to produce advertisements that are satisfactory to most citizens.
“Various opinions should be reflected to seek an acceptable compromise over what type of sexual expressions should be allowed to be displayed and where advertisements should be shown,” Sechiyama said.
Although Sechiyama described the Japanese Red Cross Society poster as being “potentially allowable to win over a certain group of people from a strategic viewpoint,” he noted that it is “better to accept views of those who do not want to see such a material when it is on display at highly public places.”
Toko Tanaka, a professor of media culture studies at Otsuma Women’s University, said it is “difficult to present ads only to a specific group of people, so they should be developed on the assumption that they could be viewed by all kinds of individuals.”
When asked how to prevent a recurrence of the problem, Tanaka said: “Simply removing the criticized materials is not enough. The processes that created the ads in question should also be revealed to check if any woman was involved in the decision-making process, for example.”
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