Posted by: Kenji Hall on December 16, 2008
What’s the point of toiling away for months on a report that nobody will read? That is the sad fate of most policy papers published by Japan’s Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry. But a few months ago, ministry officials tried something different. After posting a blueprint for farm policy on the ministry’s Web site in May, officials hired Tokyo-based design studio Groovisions to turn the 62-page policy report into an animated info-mercial.
The 4-minute video, titled “Ensuring the Future of Food,” has become a minor hit online. It explains Japan’s heavy dependence on food imports and details the craving for Western fare that has led to a drop in the country’s food self-sufficiency ratio to 40%, from 73% four decades ago. In the video, a couple feasts on hamburgers instead of rice and fish, ships unload crates of food at ports, and aging farmers abandon their land—while people and livestock alike jig to the beat of a catchy electronic soundtrack.
The ministry spent 4 million yen ($450,000) to make 80,000 DVD copies—but didn’t just leave it at that. A few months ago Google staffers in Tokyo persuaded the ministry to start uploading videos to YouTube; the animated short was among the first to be posted in October. Since then, the two versions of the video—one with English subtitles—have drawn nearly 100,000 viewers. That’s a fraction of the viewership of other YouTube videos, but it’s more than 10 times the numbers of the ministry’s three dozen other videos, mostly shot at news conferences, on the site. (Yahoo Japan’s video site has gotten just 1,000 hits.) “Our goal was to raise awareness about Japan’s low food self-sufficiency ratio here and overseas,” says ministry official Takaya Komine. “The results have exceeded our expectations.” The Japanese version initially got more online traffic. But the English-subtitled video is now twice as popular. Says Komine: “Our biggest audience outside Japan is in China, the U.S. and Canada.”