Promoting ‘Cool Japan’

Eight years have passed since American journalist Douglas McGray first coined the phrase, but now the Japanese government is getting behind “Cool Japan” in a big way. A new Creative Industries Promotion Office was established in June within the Manufacturing Industries Bureau of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to coordinate the promotion of “cultural industries” by various arms of government such as the Agency for Cultural Affairs, METI, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

According to the METI press release, “the government’s ‘New Growth Strategy’ and ‘Industrial Vision 2010′ expect that Japan’s cultural industries, such as design, animation, fashion and movies, will become a strategic sector that drives the nation’s future economic growth.”

Such a policy has paid off for South Korea, which has raised its national image through investing heavily in the Pusan International Film Festival, the Gwangju Biennale, their accompanying infrastructure and the fostering of creative talent. In 2007, China also adopted a national policy of promoting its soft power internationally.

According to figures from the Agency for Cultural Affairs, in fiscal 2008 South Korea spent ¥116.9 billion (0.79 percent of total governmental spending) on cultural activities, China ¥477.5 billion (0.51 percent), and Japan ¥101.8 billion (0.12 percent).

The new head of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, former ambassador to Denmark Mr. Seiichi Kondo, doesn’t favor the phrase “Cool Japan,” but does feel that Japan can play a role in this area. Speaking to the Asahi Shimbun, he recalls his experience serving at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (1999 to 2003), whose economists felt it was their mission to spread free markets worldwide.

Mr. Kondo believes that the free market was originally a tool for increased prosperity and a richer nonmaterial life, but that it somehow became an end in itself. A task for the 21st century is to move toward a richer spiritual life, and he thinks Japan is in a unique position for that as a non-Western economic power.

While a bureaucratic-led push for creativity has its problems, any soft power contribution Japan can make to the world will surely be welcomed, especially if it can also stimulate renewed self-confidence and vitality within Japan itself.