Japan still has a wealth of products that can be sold to the world, and many are still waiting to be discovered, according to Nobuyuki Ota, CEO of the newly founded Cool Japan Fund Inc.
The fund, set up in November under a public-private Cool Japan initiative to promote home-grown products overseas, will closely network with regional governments, municipalities and banks to pursue projects that show promise, Ota said in a recent interview.
If the fund succeeds, some of the nation’s battered regional economies may get an unexpected lift.
“I want to say, ‘Let’s energize local economies together.’ If we can have one or two successful cases in your prefecture, others will follow suit,” said Ota, a former executive at department store chain Matsuya Co.
“This may sound extreme, but if they don’t push themselves, local economies will not find ways to get energized again,” he said.
The Cool Japan strategy is one of the government’s key industrial and economic policies. The government provided ¥30 billion and 15 private firms chipped in a combined ¥7.5 billion for the fund. They include ANA Holdings Inc., Dentsu Inc., Namco Bandai Holdings Inc., Dai Nippon Printing Co. and Mizuho Bank.
The fund’s main role is to source marketable products and help promote them overseas so Cool Japan can create opportunities for Japan’s firms while promoting its goods and culture on a larger, global scale.
The Cool Japan Fund also plans to build Japanese shopping centers in major cities and get foreign TV stations to broadcast more Japan-related content.
As an example of a successful model, Ota mentioned Dassai, a sake brewed in Yamaguchi Prefecture. By actively marketing the tipple abroad, Asahishuzo Co. has turned Dassai into one of the most popular brands sold today, in Japan or abroad.
“We hope to strategically copy such cases,” Ota said.
When promoting products overseas, it is important they be presented in a package, he said.
For instance, when trying to sell rice, at the same time you can promote Japan’s rice-eating culture by cooking it in the traditional way. This gives you a way to sell not only rice, but the earthen pots it is cooked in and Japanese culture.
Ota mentioned a number of short-term goals for the fund, such as trying to explain what Cool Japan means.
“People have different images of Cool Japan, so we have to provide our image of Cool Japan in a way that people can easily understand,” Ota said.
Many Japanese will probably think of manga or anime — elements of so-called otaku (geek) culture. But Cool Japan includes a whole range of things, like fashion, food and even culture or customs, said Ota, who was also a former president of fashion design company Issey Miyake Inc. and spent most of his career in fashion-related jobs.
Ota said many industries associated with Cool Japan have been given the cold shoulder by the government compared with automobiles and electronics.
The government admits that even though manga, anime, fashion and food might be popular overseas, they are not having much success making money, which is why the Cool Japan Fund is now trying to take a more strategic approach.
“The state has realized that these industries will play important roles in creating future growth opportunities for Japan,” Ota said.