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Tokyo Named Soft-Power Ace

Attracting and retaining creative class is key to civic development

Tokyo is the soft power hub of the Asia–Pacific region, according to a study conducted by Weber Shandwick, coming out top in 10 of the 16 categories used to identify the most influential metropolis in the most dynamic and fast-paced region of the world.

Titled Engaging Cities: The Growing Relevance of Soft Power to City Reputations in Asia-Pacific<, the report examines how eight key cities in the region leverage soft power, defined as those attributes of a city’s “branding” beyond politics, economics, and military might.

By understanding their soft power attributes, cities can attract the innovation that comes with recruiting top talent, to tackle issues associated with rapid urbanization.

Other cities in the region—and globally—are making a play for Tokyo’s existing talent pool, exerting pressure on Tokyo to retain its human resources as well as attract more creative thinkers.

Tokyo was up against Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, and Sydney in the survey. The 16 attributes analyzed include social media and digital technology; tourism; food, culinary and dining experiences; architecture and design; sustainability and the environment; and standard of living.

“People have studied and debated soft power previously, but that has tended to be rather academic and not necessarily based on reputational factors linked to soft power and how that impacts our perception of a place,” Ian Rumsby, Weber Shandwick’s chief strategy officer for the Asia–Pacific region, told the ACCJ Journal.

The findings of the study are significant, Sydney-based Rumsby said, as increased urbanization means that 60 percent of Asia–Pacific populations will inhabit the region’s metropolises by 2030, and they will exert “a profound influence on cities and how brands operate in those environments.”

By understanding a city’s soft power attributes, civic leaders can be armed with the tools to create and communicate inspiring, talent-rich environments that attract the most creative people, businesses, and investment, Rumsby added.

“The ability to articulate, connect, and promote unique, soft power attributes is now at the center of success for governments and cities,” he said.

The Weber Shandwick report—carried out in partnership with KRC Research and based on more than 4,100 online interviews as well as input from 20 experts across a wide range of disciplines—reveals five primary observations that inform public-, private-, and social-sector leaders about the drivers of Asian cities’ reputations and perceived influence.


Five driving factors
The first is a city’s identity, over and beyond that of the rest of the nation. A metropolis needs to cultivate awareness of its core attributes to elevate its reputation as a destination of choice.

The second requirement is neighborhoods, which the report describes as culture clusters that showcase a city’s diverse attributes to residents and outsiders alike.

These areas reveal a city’s personality, and allow people to witness and engage in the distinctive aspects of a location that match their own interests. “Cities that elevate the interest and relevance of neighborhoods to people’s lives advance their reputations,” the report states.

Citizen advocacy is a third consideration, with residents of the eight locations in the study consistently rating their own city higher than non-residents in each of the selected soft power attributes.

The report points out that enormous branding potential lies in stimulating residents’ endorsements as ambassadors of their city.

Further, the “creative classes” are a potent force behind innovation, devising idea-led economies.

“Civic leaders need to think deeply and strategically about how to foster a diverse and inclusive environment that attracts creative talent needed to future-proof cities,” the report concludes.

The final observation revolves around people power, affirming that big investment in city infrastructure can be undermined by failure to deliver an engaging experience.

Whether the project is an airport or a sporting venue, the experience of a place is dependent on the people who define it. Cities that invest in a people-based service culture can enhance experiences and ensure a “warm and welcoming” atmosphere.

“The challenge for some cities is to identify their soft power attributes and then how to tell a better story about them,” Rumsby said.

Surprises and revelations
The report contained some surprises, Rumsby admitted, including the ranking of Sydney as last on the list for cuisine and dining-out opportunities. Rumsby said that “reflects the absence of understanding of the diversity and accessibility of what is available in the city.”

Less of a surprise was Tokyo performing so impressively, Rumsby reflected.

The Japanese capital ranked first or second in all but one of the soft power categories; it only fell down on its perceived views on gender tolerance.

In terms of food, culinary and dining experiences, the city has “a profound impact on the taste buds and expectations of residents and visitors alike,” the report notes.

Innovations in retail stores and neighborhoods are a showcase for combining the old with the new in tight, urban centers, while the capital city’s “rich history in literature and the arts remains unrivalled in the region.”

Tokyo’s position as a center for academic research and tertiary education is “significantly higher” than that of any other city included in the survey, along with its perceived influence on social media and digital technology.

Similarly, its news media is considered to be the most influential in the Asia–Pacific region.

Tokyo’s reputation for contemporary architecture and design wins high marks, despite nine million people being squeezed into a relatively small area, while its approach to sustainability and an impressive sport and leisure infrastructure are also recognized.

“But what is most impressive about Tokyo’s soft-power status is the fact that its attributes combined make it a place that people don’t just want to visit, but to emulate too,” the report states.

“Tokyo’s position as a regional creative hub has been recognized by many reports before,” said Rumsby. “But it is very significant that here it has taken the top ranking in 10 of the 16 categories.

“What Tokyo does, it does extremely well,” he added. “For many people, even from Asia, Tokyo is a completely different world. It forces you to lean in. It is a city that can create an urban space that provokes interest and surprise.”


Cities that elevate the interest and relevance of neighborhoods to people’s lives advance their reputations.