Japan Spends Millions in Order to Be Cool

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The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Participants pose for photographs during the World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya, Japan, on Aug. 5, 2012

Just as Washington shuts its stimulus chest, and with the economies of Europe tightening their purse strings in times of austerity, Tokyo’s wallet is suddenly very fat and visible. The object of its lavish spending this time is culture.

Japan’s upper house gave final approval on June 12 for a $500 million, 20-year fund to promote Japanese culture overseas. Called Cool Japan, the multidisciplinary campaign is designed to plug everything from anime and manga to Japanese movies, design, fashion, food and tourism. Overseen by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the campaign will woo private investors later this year to hit an eventual target of $600 million. It’s unfortunate that the name of a campaign to showcase creative originality strongly echoes Cool Britannia, the pop-cultural flowering that took place in the U.K. in the 1990s, but it’s early days for Tokyo’s own soft-power push.

Naturally, there’s a bottom line. Creative content, says Mika Takagi of METI’s international-economic-affairs division, will “help sell goods.” One inspiration, she suggests, is South Korea. In 1998, according to METI, the South Korean government invested $500 million into a cultural-promotion fund. Fifteen years later, its artists dominate the pop-music charts in Asia, its television and movie titles are top sellers throughout the region, and the whole world knows a South Korean rapper named Psy. Even better, South Korean goods — think of Samsung phones or Hyundai cars — have become global successes, with an image that’s modern, young and fun.

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“South Korea is keenly aware of the global reach of its entertainment content,” says Seiji Horibuchi, a pioneer in the business of marketing Japanese culture abroad who, in 1986, founded North America’s Viz Media, one of the first overseas distributors of Japanese manga, anime and popular culture. “They have created a successful model that Japan could emulate.”

Horibuchi’s latest venture is a bricks-and-mortar retail outlet: he is the CEO of New People, a Japanese pop-culture shopping mall located in San Francisco’s Japantown. “I hope [the METI fund] will bring a new Japanese star or hit property to the global market,” he adds, “but it takes time. It took us over 20 years to finally see anime and manga culture take root in the United States.”

Of course, many will ask why Tokyo should follow Seoul’s lead, given that Japanese design is internationally synonymous with chic, and such things as sushi, the films of Hayao Miyazaki and “cosplay” are already global phenomena. The answer, according to the Japan Times, is that Japan’s cultural exports have been of a random and piecemeal nature, and there has been no sustained attempt to exploit merchandising opportunities. This is because creative companies, in the main, tend to be small or medium-size and lack the resources to establish a global presence. Anime producers — responsible for one of the country’s best-known cultural exports — are struggling because of plummeting DVD sales, while the Asian regional market in content and electronics is dominated by South Korea and China.

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Politically too, Japan is in an unenviable position. Its American ally won’t be the world’s only superpower for much longer. At the same time, Japan is both alien to and suspicious of its rising Asian neighbors. In this respect, the timing of Cool Japan makes sense. But the idea isn’t new. Since 2002, when a short essay by American journalist Douglas McGray titled “Japan’s Gross National Cool” was translated into Japanese and disseminated among politicians in Tokyo, the Japanese government has been hankering to promote its contemporary pop culture abroad, and there has been lot of chatter about Japan’s international “soft power” — the phrase coined in the late ’70s by former Harvard Professor Joseph S. Nye to denote the appeal of a culture’s sensibility and products, and the geopolitical influence that can accrue.

For years, however, official attempts to promote Japanese culture have been cringingly awkward. In 2008, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs chose an “anime ambassador,” a blue cartoon cat named Doraemon, whose domestically beloved television series has never aired in most English-speaking countries. One year later, it dubbed three young girl models in maid frills and short skirts the kawaii (supercute) ambassadors, sending them around the world as emissaries of Japanese fashion. Taro Aso, one of Japan’s many fly-by-night former PMs, announced with great fanfare in 2009 plans for the first national manga museum — which was abandoned shortly after he was.

Now, however, there is both political and economic impetus for getting it right. “This is more like a venture-capital fund,” says Chizuru Suga, deputy director of METI’s media-and-content-industry division and the current leader of the 50-employee Cool Japan fund. “In the past, support for Japanese content was relegated to old industrial divisions, manufacturers who didn’t really understand the meaning and value of intellectual property. Now we have a young staff, and we have vision and economic support, and we need to be responsible. We started researching this fund in 2010, and we think we have it right: use Japanese content to sell Japanese products.”

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One veteran Japanese movie producer, who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity, has a more cynical take. “The government money will be funneled into big Japanese corporations [and] advertising agencies like Dentsu and Hakuhodo,” he says, “and they will filter it away into their own accounts through paperwork. No real domestic artists will receive the money — and they are the ones who truly need it.”

Need is an understatement. As the author of a book about Japanese popular culture, I have been tracking the government’s actual commitment to it very closely. And while this new fund is unprecedented in size and hoopla, it does nothing to support Japanese artists domestically, many of whom labor in sweatshop conditions with unsustainable pay. Anime artists in their 20s, for example, make roughly $11,000 annually — living in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

“Those artists work for private companies,” counters Takagi. “If their companies are not successful, that’s not our fault.”

Maybe. But without domestic support, the content METI is counting on to drive its campaign may not be particularly inspired or forthcoming, and Cool Japan may meet with little more than a cool reception.

Kelts is the author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. He divides his time between New York City and Tokyo.

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51 comments
David123
David123

Korea is way more exciting and real, the people are lively and energetic which is why K-Pop is so popular. Japan can be fun what with their anime and colorful culture but that's a thin wall people are starting to see through, those are things, not PEOPLE. You draw people to Japan with superficial allure but once they get there its like they're all alone in a desert. The people are boring and introverted and if you get to the underbelly you have some unbelievably racist people with a superiority complex. They can spend billions and it wont make a difference, If they want to be "Cool" they need to just be cooler people instead of looking for shortcuts because as it stands they're deceptive and have very poor social skills, to start with they need to stop bringing up Korea every 5 minutes because its starting to make me wonder.


mish
mish

Korean government spent money in korean wave ?  No way !!  The dumn Korean government  had never thought of Korean cultural wave, or 'Hallyu', which absolutley is attributable to a few Korean pop enterprises such as SM and YG, but  never to Korean government which is so ignornat of pop music whatsoever.  Is there any country ever that succeeded in creating cultural waves by government-initiated campaign ?  If there were any ever, let me know which country did that.  Japan slanders and distorts Korean waves which were naturally generated in all fields of Korean cultural sectors such as drama, k-pop, sports, movies by saying that the waves have been done by Korean government's pouring money in the culture industries.  If this were true, then the government must be more genius in doing art and music than private artists and musicians and movie stars. 

BusanBenzino
BusanBenzino

Crusty old politicians are not "cool" and never will be. Korea did not make Psy. Thats why he is successful. He did his own thing and youtube put him out there!

suri71
suri71

Absolutely..

Your knowledge about the history & background about Korean wave is not enough to write it as a journalist..

First of all..You need to more listen and study..

Most of Korean cultural contents, which were most popular in Asia, were created for only domestic Korean...

in USA...who are the biggest customer of Hollywood?...as the same...

Your biased opinion just depends on the superficial analysis of Japanese media..

Japanese Cool Project is also wrong policy after the wrong belief..

Their impatient conclusion to invoke Japanese decreasing influence in Asia is artificial handling in cultural sect ..

And for the purpose of that, they are using the myth which Korean wave is just made by Korean Government..

Actually Cool Project is almost of no effect in Asia, in spite of their effort....

That the essence of Cultural power is never made by government handling...is a truth...


Jason0830
Jason0830

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword - Japan's duplicity

p56741944
p56741944

S Korea has been spending enormous money to manipulate music charts and youtube hit counts, but K-pop is not popular in the US except for the smash hit of Psy's Gangnam Style.

I don't wnat Japan to do such a thing.

holidayforlife0
holidayforlife0

The term  "Korean Wave" was first used by Chinese medias in China because of the immense popularity of Korean t,v dramas which was not funded by the Korean government. Then the influence spread to other cultural areas such as music and food, not only in China but throughout Asia as well. 

I have no idea why the Japanese keep bringing up this myth about Korean government's hand in this. Good or bad aside, it's simply not the truth that the South Korean govenment created this success.  SM Ent. created H.O.T, TVXQ, SNSD.  YG created 2NE1, Big Bang...... Korean dramas were created for the domestic market.  I never heard of those entertainment companies getting government funds.   Did Korean government help promote Psy overseas as well?

Use your common sense Japan and teach your children historical facts, not make-believe stories.  Your lies are sickening your neighbors.

g2
g2

SK government invested $500 million to develop Korea's cultural Infrastructure not to promote their culture overseas. JP government got the wrong idea.

m2088
m2088

Japan is a boring and silly little island country.  Korean culture is far superior and people like Korean Culture on their own. Japanese women look like dogs and the world will never adore them as much as beautiful Korean Idols. Japan is overrated and only weird anime fans enjoy their sad little culture. I see Japanese tourists here in Seoul and they understand that Korea had a much richer culture than Japan.

Juelz
Juelz

@time U.S. Spends Billions to be cooler

Adolf2004
Adolf2004

Here in Indonesia, there is already JKT48 formed by Dentsu as a sister group of the famous AKB48 and a local adaption of Kamen Rider (Masked Rider) called Bima Satria Garuda (can't translate it to english cause it will be weird) licensed by Bandai . Both of them part of the Cool Japan campaign.

Teenagers and young adults of Indonesia are very accepting of other cultures especially that they considered cool and trendy,  for long the Japanese overlooked these people even though lots of them buy mangas, love animes and japanese food. But now after Korean pop "invade" Indonesia, the Japanese suddenly opened their eyes about our shopping  potential and how consumptive we are  , thankfully they are no too late because there are still japanese minded people here.

CluedIn
CluedIn

Something interesting in this article that will probably pass most people by: The Korean government spent a lot of money promoting its culture, the article says. "Fifteen years later..." Note that you don't get instant return from something like this, and this is why the U.S. will never be so far-sighted. If the U.S. tried something like this and arts revenues did not double in one quarter, they would immediately conclude it didn't work and pull the plug. Many other countries have a vision of their country that extends past a stock offering, quarterly report or election cycle.

P.S.: Those countries are kicking our ass.


ilovenacky
ilovenacky

Japanese government and bureaucracy have the ability to make Cool Japan (lol) into Cruel Japan. What they want is budget from MoF.

MichaelSvihel
MichaelSvihel

Now Japan has to update the technology they use everyday in their lives.  They are behind the times.

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

And by "japanese culture", do they mean 1950's gender stereotypes and a severe lolita complex? Institutionalized racism and inability to admit that Japan did anything wrong in WW2? Pantsu vending machines and bizarre candy?

sammy99999
sammy99999

One thing that's not cool is that in Japenese porn the women all have giant black hairy muffs.

obdoqbopqo
obdoqbopqo

Japanese culture is already wildly popular all over the world.  Just don't watch any of it at work or near your girlfriend.

cantabilemusic
cantabilemusic

ummm... shouldn't they be working on getting their economy out of a black hole?


Komotion
Komotion

Time to start researching Japanese companies and markets. Whoop. -_-

psyrenzero
psyrenzero

Bring more games over the U.S.

Look up Operation Rainfall.


Costs too damn much to localize games.

nonlinearmind
nonlinearmind

All Japan needed to do before to be cool was have Sony make decent products.  Guess that ship has sailed.

Jonsinny
Jonsinny

Christ those Japanese cosplay girls are cute.  All the more reason to go back there again someday.

TommyLobotomy
TommyLobotomy

The nice thing about Japan is that it's definitely not cool.  As long-term resident, I hope it stays that way. Japan has kept its "idols" to itself, which is where they belong.  Yes,  great pity that Japanese government is wasting money on this sort of thing.   

thevisionmachine.com
thevisionmachine.com

THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT MISSED THE BOAT. THERE IS NOTHING HIP ABOUT COOL JAPAN ANYMORE. THAT WAS SOMETHING WHICH ORIGINATED 20 YEARS AGO AND IS NOW FINISHED. COOL JAPAN FOR POLITICIANS MEANS 15 YEAR OLD GIRLS PRANCING AROUND LIKE LOLITA IN SHORT SKIRTS AND SKIMPY TOPS. UTTERLY DEPRESSING WHEN 60 YEAR OLD MEN TRY TO WARP A DEAD SUBCULTURE FOR THEIR OWN MYOPIC AND SLEAZY AGENDA.

anti_VANK
anti_VANK

Ah , you are probably VANK member,  that your musician are independent, why would then they   fly to the country they so much hate, and there sing in Japan language ?  Thats the proof of Korean  government pushing them there , so that they can prove the world and to Japs that their artist are better ( for those who are interested why all K-pop singers sing in Japanese language there, its simple, so that their singles can  get onto Oricon chart a.k.a chart of Japan domestic singles  ) . And  now you using Anime fair to promote your K-pop band under J-pop flag, with that , for those who still dont know who is K-pop, they would get in, and for those who know, to show the strength of K-pop, as dominating force in J-pop . Even companies that are called "asian" but I believe that they are Korean companies, are selling K-pop jap version as J-pop.

mish
mish

In fact, Korean government has been always behind Korean people's individual efforts. For example, the ice figure skater Kim, Yuna has won gold medals from many international competitions including olympic games, without having adequate ice links in Korea. This is quite different from Asada Mao, which Japanese industires had long patroned and planned to make her world figure skating star.  Kim, Yuna have never got help from Korean government, even nowadays, Kim, Yuna expresses her need to have ice skating link for exercising. But no Korean government whether it be central or local, has responded to her request positively.  So, she still has difficulty finding an adequate place to exercise.  Sometimes, Korean government hinders Korean cultural activities. For example, Psy became a phenomenal musician.  He sang a song named "Right Now" which many fans worldwide regard as good or better than Gangnam Style. But, the government restricted the song as R grade,so that the song failed to attracted as many fans as Gangnam Style.   There are many examples that shows the Korean government have hindered Korean waves, because of their incompetence of understanding cultrual values.

p56741944
p56741944

When Youtube changed the counting method to prevent fake views, Psy's Gangnam Style suddenly disappeared from the ranking. 

What does it mean?

anti_VANK
anti_VANK

@suri71 Another lie, why then top K-pop musicians release more singles in Japan market then in Korea ?  And often they first release in Japan , and then later on in Korea  !

AgnielAngel
AgnielAngel

Nobody else does, either.  Who wants the likes of AKB48 to spread outside of their loli-hentai hothouse?

michael66
michael66

@hkong7711  

Your kidding! Way worse. Nazi has been criticized by the Germans,  but Japanese war criminals in Yasukuni shrine have been worshiped by Japanese who are still waving the war crime flag all over the world. Japanese Nazi has no match. 

anti_VANK
anti_VANK

@m2088 There , another example of hate that Korean have toward Japan, first, you like to use Plastic surgery , you dont know anymore how you truly look like , same as your idols, Plastic surgery, and for animes, funny to mention that, when, your country animators are involved in that, why dont you protest to them and say, stop it !

BusanBenzino
BusanBenzino

You're both boring because of your depressing workaholic culture. Hopefully your young people will break free and enjoy what these beautiful countries have to offer.

p56741944
p56741944

I can only understand that you are S Korean.

matt5696
matt5696

@m2088 Funny, I always thought of Korea as the Japan nobody really knows anything about. Sure, they have grown their reputation in the automotive and electronics industries but that only came after Japan had already set the tone for international Asian imports. Korea has been piggybacking on Japan’s prior success and I would guess that a lot of uninformed people back in the day thought they were buying Japanese products when Korean brands were first making a name for themselves.

But this is beside the point that I am really trying to make. You see people around the world have a degree of familiarity with Japanese culture. Sushi, Ninjas, Samurai, Karate, Geisha, Kimono, Sake, Godzilla, Anime, Mount Fuji, Teriyaki, Zen Buddhism, ect… these are random things most people are at least vaguely familiar with. What can be said for Korean culture? Psy… maybe Kimchi?

Which culture is truly greater than the other cannot be proven either way. But without a doubt, Japanese culture has had greater reach internationally. 

Personally, I wouldn’t brag about the emerging cultural trends coming out of Korea. Does the world really need more plastic surgery, men wearing makeup, and the talentless pop stars that promote such extreme vanity? I know it’s a problem across all modern societies, Japan included, but it really does seem that Korea is leading the world in mirror loving d-bagery. 

So before you go insulting another country, I suggest you look past the makeup and double eyelid surgery and take a long hard look at yourself.

junkwarhead
junkwarhead

@m2088I hope there is a unlike button. People who are just proud of their own culture will not go so far as to say something like "look like dogs".

TallusRip
TallusRip

@m2088 Cool story, bro.  I bet everyone thinks their own culture is better than everyone else's.  And most tourists will always agree that 'somewhere else' is better than where they come from when they're just visiting and the only thing they see is the best side of a country.  China's pretty cool too till you get to the part where they eat dogs and stuff.

glennra3
glennra3

@Juelz @time 

The Irish don't have to spend anything. They are just naturally cool.

pmantello
pmantello

@CluedIn  

You missed the boat Clued Out. The Korean government spent money promoting Government related culture contracts and the main stream Korean film industry - it spent 0 won on promoting independent and young artists. Cool Japan originated in the streets of Japan springing forth from Anime, Manga and Otaku fan culture. Politicians are as disconnected from Japan's contemporary street culture from want to appropriate some outdated mainstream idea that fits snugly into their Lolita complex.

Parading 15 year old girls around in short dresses as the Kawai (foreign) ambassadors of modern Japanese culture is simply ass N nine and sexists at best. 

oahumizu
oahumizu

@WilfTarquin I know of no combatant in any conflict would would say they did anything wrong.  Mai Lai???

auronlu
auronlu

@obdoqbopqo Evidently you don't know much about women.

-- Shojo Kakumi Utena
-- Studio Ghibli
-- other anime
-- video games (JRPGs)
-- Takarazuka
-- cosplay
-- manga
-- and, yes, some like doujinshi

...all enjoyed by myself and/or most of the women I know. Most of us in the age 30-40 range, but we see the next generation of fans coming up as well.

killerdrgn
killerdrgn

@cantabilemusic Like most businesses, they realize that it takes money to make money. There are no 0 dollar investments that will have any kind of sizable returns.

Komotion
Komotion

@TommyLobotomy - Oh this is very far from a bad idea. Really, with all the anime/manga/games/who-knows-what-else they should have done this to promote their culture years ago. This will provide an up surge in their markets for a short period-like or similar to our own stimulus package-which will provide a short (but sharp) rise in their currency and stocks-like what has been happening over here.

mish
mish

Only recently from a few years ago, Korean government have realized the value of Korean waves.   But still their help is minimal.   The main figures of Korean waves have been and will always be creative and talented Korean individuals, but never ever the bureaucratic government !!  Korean individuals only wish that the government, through their ignorance and incompetence, will not hinder them !! 

AgnielAngel
AgnielAngel

Why are you leaving out the part where Gangnam Style came back stronger than ever a couple of days later, WITH THE NEW RANKING SYSTEM? 

What does that mean?