By Sayaka Watanabe / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterSABAE, Fukui — Kamen Joshi, which means “masked girls,” is a pop group composed of 17 women who perform more than 1,000 concerts annually at their theaters in Akihabara, Tokyo, and Osaka’s Minami area. They have won popularity for their peculiar style — they sing and dance wearing hockey goalie masks.
Now the group is looking beyond their big city power bases, taking up the role of tourism ambassadors for Sabae, Fukui Prefecture, a city famous for its eyewear industry.
As part of Kamen Joshi’s promotional activities, several members have been appointed “chiefs” of fictitious departments for the municipal government.
In addition to eyewear, Sabae is known for its lacquerware and Ishidajima textile industries. Nishiyama Zoo, the smallest zoo in Japan, and its local schools’ brass bands are other points of attraction. The fictitious departments are intended to promote such local specialities, with eight members of the group serving as “department heads.” For example, Kamen Joshi leader Yuki Sakura, a graduate of the University of Tokyo, serves as “head of the eyeglass department.”
The group became Sabae’s tourism ambassadors as a result of a convergence of interests: The group wanted to help revitalize a regional city while Sabae was seeking a unique promotional strategy not yet embraced by other local governments.
Kamen Joshi’s role differs from that of ambassadors for other municipalities in that they pitch their own ideas, for example “creating new eyewear designs” or “singing Sabae’s theme song.” City officials work with the group to plan and implement the proposals.
The group members, none of whom are from Fukui Prefecture, are also tasked with writing commentary on blogs and social media about Sabae from an outsider’s perspective.
In June, selected members visited the city for the first time after assuming their ambassadorial duties in April. When the women paraded through the freshly paved Megane (eyeglass) Street, they were greeted by fans, who took photos of them as they posed in front of an eyeglass-shaped object.
“If Kamen Joshi hadn’t come [to Sabae], I wouldn’t have visited,” said a female company worker in her early 30s from Hadano, Kanagawa Prefecture, who said she had never visited Fukui Prefecture before. “Since I came all the way down here, I’ll visit the famous Tojinbo cliffs before going home.”
A restaurant worker in his 20s from Hiroshima also came to see the group.
“When I see my favorite member working hard for Sabae, I also feel like supporting the city,” he said.
The visiting Kamen Joshi members also went to tourist attractions, including a lacquerware center, another eyeglasses location and the Nishiyama Zoo. They immediately posted photos on social media sites along with messages like “I got a nice pair of glasses” and “This city makes you feel like living here.”
“We can let our fans know more about the city by posting about what’s fun and delicious in Sabae,” Sakura, 24, said. “We also have many fans overseas, so I hope foreigners will come visit.”
“As the head of the eyewear department, I’ll do my best to promote the amazing quality of eyeglasses here,” she added.
The city government hopes the members’ message will inspire fans to make “pilgrimages” to Sabae, while also encouraging more people to move to the city.
“Regional towns can’t survive unless you try something unique that no other local government will do,” said Sabae Mayor Hyakuo Makino. “I’m looking forward to the chemistry between Kamen Joshi and Sabae.”Speech