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A full year and a half has passed since the Japanese government gave its final approval for the Cool Japan Fund — a 20-year, public-private entity aimed at spreading Japan’s cultural appeal overseas — the official soft-power push that some bureaucrats and academics had been advocating for at least a decade. A few months after it was inked, Tokyo won the 2020 Olympics bid, and the timing seemed auspicious.

But even ardent proponents admit the fund’s mission remains vague, and its manifestations mysterious. What, exactly, is the core of Japan’s cool?

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