German diplomat Mario Krebs (44) looks intently at a computer screen together with his Japanese colleagues in a room in the German Embassy in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. They chat and exchange ideas on how to deliver up-to-date information on Germany to Japanese audiences. That is the daily routine of Krebs, who is responsible for public affairs and press engagements.
In July, Krebs coined a pun by writing “Maas de gozaimaasu” in a Twitter post announcing the first visit to Tokyo by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who just assumed the post in March. The tweet became the talk of the town. Though the foreign minister was only in Japan for a day, Krebs successfully attracted readers to his subsequent Twitter posts introducing the foreign minister’s activities, such as a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and a speech at a university.
Krebs says: “We seriously examined how best we could draw attention from a wide range of Japanese people. Then we came up with the pun.”
Krebs was born in Tokyo when his father was working here as a scholar. He frequently traveled between Japan and Germany and spent a total of 13 years in Japan until he graduated from high school. He joined the German foreign ministry in 2004 and was assigned to Tokyo in 2015.
As a counsellor, a senior diplomatic post, Krebs supervises several staff members and serves as the director of the public affairs division. In addition to German, he has a good command of Japanese, English, Chinese, and French. “I get asked various questions about Germany as I work at the Embassy. I feel as though I’m a representative of my country no matter what I do,” he says.
Posting messages on Twitter might not seem like a very serious task, but it’s an important part of his job. Recently, “national branding” is becoming increasingly important in the diplomatic arena, based on the idea that a country’s image affects its influence on international politics. The spread of Twitter and Facebook has allowed national branding to target not only politicians but also ordinary citizens.
Japan is one of the most friendly countries in the world to Germany, says Krebs. But he worries that Japanese people’s interest in his country tends to be predominantly related to beer, cars, and soccer. Krebs says: “Japanese people tend to imagine ‘older men’ when they think of Germany. I want to change that little by little.”
His active tweeting has produced results and the German Embassy’s Twitter account now has about 88,000 followers, a big jump from the less than 20,000 reached when Krebs assumed his current post. He says the Twitter account of the German Embassy in Tokyo has more followers than any other German embassy in the world.
But the Twitter account of the French Embassy in Tokyo has more than 95,000 followers. “The French Embassy has a popular feature called “today’s dish” in which they introduce French cuisine and desserts. We can’t compete with that.”
The results of image improvement can take a while to appear. If, for example, more Japanese people study German in addition to English at university and learn to speak the language, that will allow more German companies to enter the Japanese market. “I believe that the accumulation of small efforts will bring the two countries closer to each other,” Krebs says.