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Cool Japan (クールジャパン, Kūru Japan) refers to the aspects of Japanese culture that non-Japanese people perceive as "cool". The Cool Japan strategy is part of Japan's overall brand strategy, aiming to disseminate Japan's attractiveness and allure to the world. The target of Cool Japan "encompasses everything from games, manga, anime, and other forms of content, fashion, commercial products, Japanese cuisine, and traditional culture to robots, eco-friendly technologies, and other high-tech industrial products".
Starting in 1980, following the emergence of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Japan began to increase its nation branding efforts through the release of a television series titled Oshin, a Japanese soap opera. Oshin was distributed at no cost outside of Japan, and was well-received in 46 countries. Through the success of Oshin and multiple other television shows, Japan successfully established the idea of "Cool Japan" as a method of establishing and improving the country's cultural perception.
In a 2002 article in Foreign Policy titled "Japan's Gross National Cool", Douglas McGray wrote of Japan "reinventing superpower" as its cultural influence expanded internationally, despite the economic and political problems of the "lost decade". Surveying youth culture and the role of J-pop, manga, anime, video games, fashion, film, consumer electronics, architecture, cuisine, and phenomena of kawaii ("cuteness") such as Hello Kitty, McGray highlighted Japan's considerable cultural soft power, posing the question of what message the country might project. He also argued that Japan's recession may even have boosted its national cool, due to the partial discrediting of erstwhile rigid social hierarchies and big-business career paths.
Taken up in the international media, with The New York Times running a retrospect "Year in Ideas: Pokémon Hegemon", an increasing number of more reform-minded government officials and business leaders in Japan began to refer to the country's "gross national cool" and to adopt the unofficial slogan "Cool Japan". In a 2005 press conference, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs linked the idea to Bhutan's concept of Gross National Happiness.
The phrase gained greater exposure in the mid-noughties as NHK began a series entitled Cool Japan Hakkutsu: Kakkoii Nippon!, which by the end of 2009 had reached over 100 episodes. Academic initiatives include the establishment of a "Cool Japan" research project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while some western universities have reported an increase in the number of applicants for Japanese Studies courses due to the "cool" effect.
The adoption of Cool Japan has also spurred changes in culture studies. As a result of the fascination of Cool Japan with Japanese youth culture and schoolgirls, a new wave of studies called 'girl studies' focuses specifically on the experience of girls and the girls-at-heart. Previously a subject of adolescent psychology or feminism, girl studies emerged from Cool Japan to include an interdisciplinary analysis of girl culture.
Creative Industries Promotion Office
The Japanese government has identified the culture industry as one of five potential areas of growth. In June 2010, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry established a new Creative Industries Promotion Office to promote cultural and creative industries as a strategic sector "under the single, long term concept of "Cool Japan", to coordinate different government functions, and to cooperate with the private sector". The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced that Japanese pop culture is one of the key elements for Cool Japan and that pop culture includes idol, anime, and B class gourmet (B級グルメ).
The deputy director described its mission as to "brand Japanese products with the uniqueness of Japanese culture", with a budget of ¥19 billion for 2011 alone. In the fiscal year 2008, public spending on cultural activities was ¥116.9 billion in South Korea, ¥477.5 billion in China, and ¥101.8 billion in Japan, forming 0.79%, 0.51%, and 0.12% of total government spending respectively. The fund was launched in 2013, and the Japanese government committed to the Cool Japan Fund ¥50 billion ($500 million) over 20 years, with a target of ¥60 billion ($600 million) via private investor partnerships. However, Nikkei Asian Review reported that within five years the fund "suffered pretax losses totaling 10 billion yen ($88.9 million)", and that many projects failed to deliver earnings. Since June 2018, the management has been led by former Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) CEO Naoki Kitagawa.
Timeline of notable endeavors
- Establishment of Cool Japan Fund Inc. under the Law of Cool Japan Fund Inc. (Act No.51 of 2013).
- Traditional Japanese crafts showcased at Maison & Objet, the world's largest trade fair for interior goods and designs, to promote Japan's monodzukuri (manufacturing) culture.
- WakuWaku Japan, Japanese satellite television channel that broadcasts Japanese programs to overseas viewers in Asia. It was a joint venture with broadcaster Sky Perfect JSAT who contributed ¥6.6 billion out of ¥11 billion, but failed to expand in multiple markets and generate viewership, with nearly ¥4 billion losses until 2017.
- METI starts Nippon Quest, a website to showcase and disseminate unknown Japanese regional specialties to the world.
- US cafes focused on Japanese tea, on which was spent ¥250 million for nearly 50% stake.
- Funding of the development of content creators for anime and manga outside Japan by KADOKAWA Contents Academy Co., Ltd.
A 2010 editorial in the Yomiuri Shimbun argued that the government was not doing enough to advance the country's business interests in this sphere, allowing South Korea to emerge as a competitor. The editorial highlighted structural inefficiencies, with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry promoting "Cool Japan", the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responsible for cultural exchange, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in charge of Japanese foods. Lecturer Roland Kelts has also suggested that a failure to fully distinguish, brand and engage the overseas audience and market may mean that "Cool Japan" is "over". In 2011, Laura Miller has critiqued Cool Japan campaign as exploiting and misrepresenting youth subcultural fashion and language. In 2013, Nancy Snow referred to Cool Japan as a form of state-sponsored cultural retreading she calls Gross National Propaganda. Japanese singer-songwriter Gackt criticized the government in 2015 for having set up a huge budget, yet "have no idea where that money should go. It's no exaggeration to say it has fallen into a downward spiral of wasted tax money flowing into little known companies", and that such lack of support is causing Japan to "fall behind its Asian neighbors in terms of cultural exports". In 2016, Benjamin Boas pointed out that Cool Japan-branded efforts are often promoted without participation of foreigners, leaving out the perspectives of the very foreigners that they are trying to target.
In 2017, a senior executive and several other senior male employees of Cool Japan Fund Inc. were accused of sexual harassment targeting female employees of the fund. The employees formed a labor union in order to fight against sexual harassment. In the same year, Nikkei Asian Review journalist Yuta Saito criticized fund's ambitions because their "lack of strategy, discipline gives rise to unprofitable projects", and there's possible conflict of interest by the executives. In 2018, Japan Today reported that it was too soon to consider it "grossly incompetent or corrupt", but was at least "under-performing" for now.
- Taiwan Excellence - a similar campaign from Taiwan
- List of J-pop concerts held outside Asia
- Cool Biz campaign
- Cool Britannia
- Cultural policy
- Japan Expo
- Japanese economic miracle
- Korean Wave
- Taiwanese Wave
- Cool Japan Strategy Public-Private Collaboration Initiative, Cool Japan Strategy Promotion Council, Cabinet Office, 2015, https://www.cao.go.jp/cool_japan/english/pdf/published_document2.pdf
- Cool Japan Initiative, Intellectual Property Headquarters, Cabinet Office, 2020https://www.cao.go.jp/cool_japan/english/pdf/cooljapan_initiative.pdf
- Yano, Christine R. (2009). "Wink on Pink: Interpreting Japanese Cute as It Grabs Global Headlines". The Journal of Asian Studies. 68 (3): 681–688 . doi:10.1017/s0021911809990015. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
- Nagata, Kazuaki, Exporting culture via 'Cool Japan', The Japan Times, 15 May 2012, p. 3
- Iwabuchi, Koichi (8 August 2015). "Pop-culture diplomacy in Japan: soft power, nation branding and the question of 'international cultural exchange'". International Journal of Cultural Policy. 21 (4): 419–432. doi:10.1080/10286632.2015.1042469. ISSN 1028-6632. S2CID 143257452.
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- Talbot, Margaret (15 December 2002). "The Year in Ideas; Pokemon Hegemon". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
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- "Press Conference 27 September 2005 - III". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
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- "Cool Japan Research Project". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
- Corbyn, Zoe (5 October 2007). ""Cool Japan" suffers from cruel cuts". The Times. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
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- "After four years Cool Japan is Y4.4 bil in the hole and continuing to show few results". Japan Today. 4 May 2018. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
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- Yuta Saito (6 November 2017). "Cool Japan Fund's big ambitions mostly fall flat". Nikkei Asian Review. The Nikkei. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
- "Traditional Japanese Crafts will be Showcased to the World as a Result of the Cool Japan Initiative". 経済産業省 Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
- "METI to Start NIPPON QUEST". 経済産業省 Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
- "Cool Japan Fund Invests In Kadokawa's Content Creator Development Projects". Anime News Network. Retrieved 20 February 2019.
- "Cool Japan Fund drops Malaysia store". newsonjapan.com. 12 June 2018. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
- "Cool Japan Fund Invests in North American Anime Group Led by Sentai Holdings". Anime News Network. 2 August 2019. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
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- Yasumoto, Seiko (2006). "Japan and Korea as a Source of Media and Cultural Capital" (PDF). University of Sydney. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
- Kelts, Roland (17 May 2010). "Japanamerica: Why "Cool Japan" is over". 3:AM Magazine. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
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