Last August, Fukuoka City’s local government established a virtual eighth ward for the city, named “Kawaii-ku”. Using Fukuoka’s “abundance of healthy foods, compact scale, cultural relations with Asia, history and location”, the website explains, Kawaii-ku is an innovative use of technology to connect Fukuoka’s vibrant youth with the city’s cultural capital centred on all things “kawaii”. Anyone can register as a citizen online, and since August last year Kawaii-ku’s population has quadrupled its original target of 10,000; on January 1, Kawaii-ku’s population was 41,425!
Kawaii-ku is an online community that sends out twice-monthly mailings detailing current events and locations in Fukuoka that members may be interested in. Successful events thus far have included a wine-tasting and a fashion show at Solaria Plaza. It’s important to stress that Kawaii-ku is not predicated on gender or looks; the aim is to celebrate both Fukuoka’s natural and cultivated assets. Although Fukuoka is apparently home to Japan’s cutest females, its compact scale, mild weather, plus a range of leisure, shopping, dining, and entertainment activities result in a diverse range of “kawaii” opportunities and goods. Additionally, there are numerous advantages to living in Fukuoka that contribute to its cuteness – from the availability of delicious fish, lower food costs, a high concentration of beauty salons, high spending on fashion and beauty, as well as a vote from 2009* that claims that Fukuoka has the most cute women.
Registration is open to anyone – an analysis of the 10,000-strong facebook group indicates that the slight majority are men, and that there is a broad range of ages and nationalities – 1% from China, as well as a smaller number from further afield such as Singapore and Thailand. There are plans in the pipeline to organise short tours to showcase “kawaii” spots in Fukuoka to other Japanese and foreign visitors. Initially these tours will target young women in Tokyo. Scheduled for later in the year is a collaboration with FACO for residents to polish their “cuteness”.
Fukuoka’s youthful mayor officially appointed Mariko Shinoda, AKB48 member and Fukuoka native, as the figurehead of this virtual district. Although she has no governmental experience, she writes on the website that she feels her own interests in style, movies and music prepare her for the role. She is undoubtedly a major hook for drawing Fukuoka’s youth to their new venture.
So what might appear at first to many as a whimsical and possibly exploitive waste of taxpayers’ yen turns out to be a clever strategy to involve the younger generation into further developing Fukuoka’s rich cultural assets along with the potential to generate significant economic benefit. Kawaii means business!
Join Kawaii-ku now!
It’s free! Just sign up online (Japanese language only)!
You can also register at the Now Lounge Valentine’s Party on Feb. 8th, (Fri.).
*Statistics from “カワイイ区_最終（東京リリース資料）- Fukuoka City Hall”
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn170, Feb. 2013)