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  • Sunday Tangent: “A Growing Love for ‘Cool Japan'” by Gaijin Handler Akira Yamada (of MOFA)

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on July 11th, 2010

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    Hi Blog.  As a Sunday Tangent, here we have an essay from a GOJ gaijin handler doing what I call “turning a frown upside down” (I know — I do it myself enough.)  He makes the case that a waning Japan is not so waning.  It’s emerging as a carrier of “cool”, as in culturally-based “soft power”.  Funny to see this screed appearing before a bunch of academics in an academic network, making all manner of hopeful assertions not grounded in much reliable evidence.  It’s just trying to tell us how much the world in fact still “loves” Japan.  Well, clearly the author does.  Enjoy.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    From: H-Japan Editor
    Date: July 7, 2010 12:44:35 PM MDT
    Subject: H-JAPAN (E): AJISS-Commentary on “Cool Japan” by Akira Yamada
    Reply-To: H-NET/KIAPS List for Japanese History
    Courtesy of Peach

    July 7, 2010

    From: Japan Institute of International Affairs

    Editor: Akio Watanabe
    Editorial Board: Masashi Nishihara, Naoko Saiki, and Taizo Yakushiji
    Online Publisher: Yoshiji Nogami

    AJISS-Commentary No. 95
    “A Growing Love for “Cool Japan”” by Akira Yamada

    [Akira Yamada is Deputy Director General of International Cooperation Bureau & African Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan.The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and should not be attributed to The Association of Japanese Institutes of Strategic Studies.]

    Japan may appear defensive on the economic and political fronts. Has the world lost interest in an aging Japan whose economy will fall to third largest? There is, however, a side of Japan that is the object of ever stronger and deeper affection around the globe: Japanese popular culture, particularly anime (Japanese animation) and manga.

    It will be no exaggeration to say that the world’s interest in and admiration for Japanese pop culture has grown dramatically in the first decade of the 21st century, thanks partly to the global spread of the Internet. This fact, however, is not well known around the world, even in Japan. Not many of the readers of the AJISS-Commentary, either Japanese or non-Japanese, likely have a clear understanding of the whole picture.

    Although the exact number is unknown, there may be well over 100 events annually organized around the world featuring Japanese pop culture, anime and manga in particular, and attracting more than 10,000 participants. If events with several hundred or thousand participants are included, the number would be countless. Events focusing on Japanese pop culture are growing continuously both in numbers and in size. The largest event of this kind, “Japan Expo” held annually in Paris since 2000, brought in a record 164,000 participants in 2009. It is said that Brazil had several events with more than 100,000 participants.

    These events feature not only pop culture such as anime, manga and fashion, but almost all aspects of Japanese culture, including traditional culture. They are basically organized and attended by local people alone with no Japanese involvement. When asked, these young participants will happily tell you about their passion for and keen interest in the excellent manga works and unique fashion produced in Japan. They are devoted Japanophiles who express their wish to visit Japan and their passion to learn and disseminate the Japanese language and culture. Their interest in Japan goes far beyond the scope of pop culture. There is no doubt that the largest factor motivating foreigners to learn the Japanese language today is the appeal of Japanese anime and manga. It should also be added that there is an ever growing interest in Japanese girls’ fashion, which revolves around the keyword kawaii (cute).

    Such keen interest in Japanese pop culture is being exhibited not just in developed or neighboring countries, in which we can assume people have easy access to relevant information. Young people expressing their love for Japanese anime and manga are growing in number in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East as well as in the Mekong region, including Myanmar and Laos.

    Why do Japanese anime and manga attract so many young people around the world? This is a difficult question, but one possible answer is their diversity and universality. Born out of long and fierce competition, the work of Japanese pop culture artists has acquired an appeal not only for children but also for full-grown adults.

    The popularity of Japanese anime and manga goes far beyond what one might imagine. There was one occasion on which a Japanese expert was set aback when he gave a lecture in Italy. When he asked the audience whether they liked Japanese anime, a student from Rome responded in a matter-of-fact way, “Professor, we have grown up with Japanese anime!” In the world of the Internet, you can sense that people around the world are connected via their love and passion for Japanese pop culture. A country that moves and excites young people around the world with its continuous production of high-quality anime, manga and fashion – that is what Cool Japan is.

    AJISS-Commentary is an occasional op-ed type publication of The Association of Japanese Institutes of Strategic Studies (AJISS) consisting of three leading Japanese think tanks: Institute for International Policy Studies (IIPS), The Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), and Research Institute for Peace and Security (RIPS).


    14 Responses to “Sunday Tangent: “A Growing Love for ‘Cool Japan'” by Gaijin Handler Akira Yamada (of MOFA)”

    1. jjobseeker Says:

      I love how these government types, especially Tokyo mayor Ishihara Shintaro, talk about content and “cool Japan” like it freakin’ grows on trees. They never ever mention the human factor, more importantly, the sad state of affairs for Japan’s creators especially those who are just starting out. If you’re a manga artist, the big publishers run the show. Getting paid well is a function of your status, not your hard work, creativity, originality, etc. You sweat it out for years and maybe, just maybe, you’ll have one of those rare hits that will let you earn a decent living. If you’re in animation, the prognosis is even more bleak:

      Fact of the matter is, these political suits love touting “Cool Japan” but have done nothing to support and develop the PEOPLE who make them. Even something as simple as government assisted English speaking courses so these creators can go and meet their global fans. I am associated with some mid-level manga artists and their lives are tough. Some are ready to quit. A few already have.

      The same is true in the film world. The major studios are controlling more and more of the box office, which the government will tell you is doing gangbusters (for the film companies), but the people making the movies, especially the independent variety, are being pushed further and further into crisis. I know people who have quit from this industry as well.

      In the end, these guys are still talking about “mono tsukuri”; they’re just referring to it as “Cool Japan” now. Plenty of support for major companies who own the rights to the products, but not nearly enough being done to nurture new talent and assure a much more creator-oriented distribution of wealth to encourage and maintain their activity in their chosen fields.

      Case in point. Studio Ghibli which I live near by. Highly respected around the world. Dominates the box office whenever they release a new film. You can fit the entire building containing their studio in the central atrium of Pixar–also a highly respected studio worldwide which consistently delivers box office hits. Where is Studio Ghibli’s money going….??

      — Rent?

    2. Don Kimball Says:

      You really should have checked out Temple University Japan’s academic conference back in June dealing with soft power. There was a really good Q and A session in which David Leheny, Anne Allison and Jake Adelstein had some really insightful comments. One of the reoccurring themes however was that Japan’s soft power is “culturally orderless” and totally devoid of Japanese cultural signifiers.

      Does anyone else find it sad that Japan resorts to doreamon as a means of international relations?

    3. Allen Says:

      While I DO admit that anime was my first exposure to Japan, I am worried about this anime/manga movement. Here in the States, I am seeing people trying to learn japanese from such shows as Lucky Star or Haruhi(which if any of you had seen a second of it, you would see how slangy the japanese is) and insist that is how the culture works.

      Anime and manga is not making people love “Japan”. It is only making people fall in love with Akihabara! Its only when you toss aside the anime and the manga that one gets serious about immigration and learning the language and REAL culture.

      Even worse, is now in the States, one cannot discuss serious immigration to Japan without getting laughed at unless you make it clear that you are not in it for the anime and you have no intentions of living in Tokyo. I can say that from personal experience. What’s worse is that these people do not know about any xenophobia or laws or really anything that will make them function adults in that society.

      I am a avid follower of the Vocaloid(music, not anime/manga) subculture in Japan, but I know that is only one aspect of the culture, but it is worrying seeing these people only seeing anime and manga as the culture of the nation. I want more immigration, yes….but I want educated adults entering the country. Not some 15 year old girl. /rant

      (Although, I am envious of you being near Studio Ghibli. I love his movies)

    4. carl Says:

      “I love how these government types, especially Tokyo mayor Ishihara Shintaro, talk about content and “cool Japan” like it freakin’ grows on trees. They never ever mention the human factor, more importantly, the sad state of affairs for Japan’s creators especially those who are just starting out.”

      Well, of course they wouldn’t mention that, they’re politicians! It’s a politician’s job (or, rather, one of his many jobs) to put a positive spin on his country by pointing out its good points and downplaying, or even ignoring, its bad points. This is just common sense.

    5. jjobseeker Says:

      If Ghibli’s money is going on rent on the type of building out where I am, they’re being ripped off….

      It is the anti-thesis of common sense to use “cool Japan” to put a spin on the health of Japan’s economy and export power while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the degradation of the source of this “soft power.” Salesmanship is certainly just one of the jobs of a politician, but it’s also his/her job to make sure they deliver a product otherwise their salesmanship is so much hot air. Yes, I know that’s pretty much the description of a politician.

      I am just too close to the people affected by this, which is why I am unable to let these guys off just because “spinning” is their “job.”

      — Hey, the spinners are living on the taxes of those spun… /garden-variety-cynicism.

    6. Colin Says:

      Oh Oh! It`s reached the “saved by anime and pop culture” point. Look out!

    7. carl Says:

      “Salesmanship is certainly just one of the jobs of a politician, but it’s also his/her job to make sure they deliver a product otherwise their salesmanship is so much hot air.”

      :::SHRUG::: They’re politicians, don’t look for logic.

    8. Kevin Says:

      If you ever read the credits of any major anime film you would notice a lot of out souring to Korea for CGI, animation, and special effects. Maybe we should include ゙Cool Korea゙ next to ゙Cool Japan゙ when it comes to anime. 😛

    9. Karl Says:

      “Although the exact number is unknown…” it doesn’t stop the writer from wildly speculating anyway.

    10. James Says:

      sorry, did I miss something? what exactly is cool about Japan? did the meaning of the word change somewhat???

    11. Rik Says:

      I totally believe this is academic as the information is way out of date. The role of anime and manga in popular culture (at least in the US) has been in a steady decline for the past six years or so. I know a lot of people in the American side of the industry and, quite frankly, it’s barely surviving at this point. Many companies have collapsed due to following a NOVA-like model and overextending themselves, whereas others have either packed up shop due to difficulties or have diversified what they sell to other media as well.

      If foreign interest in this stuff is what Japan is banking on to rebound from the current mess its in, then Japan is screwed.

      — Source for the claim of decline?

    12. TJJ Says:

      @ James

      The airconditioning in our office is presently quite cool. I wonder if that’s what they’re all talking about?

      — Under that logic, Texas must be cold! :)

      (People who have suffered Texas air-conditioning will know what I mean…)

    13. Troy Says:

      Douglas McGray of Foreign Policy mag covered Japan’s “Gross National Cool” back in 2002:

      Back in 1989 somebody asked me why I was studying Japanese and wanted to go to Japan. I couldn’t say exactly, other than their “culture of machines” or somesuch. But it was their Gross National Cool.

    14. Paul Says:

      First I’ve heard of this story since Aso-kun was ousted. I remember his big spool about how Australian Sydneysiders who loved anime/manga would visit his pet-project Manga Hall of Fame and solve the economy.

      Of course, if you’ve met anime/manga fanatics in the West, the truth is that a great deal of them are dead broke students. I’d almost wager that the meteoric rise in popularity came in no small part from the fact that pirate recordings and fan-translations were and still are the norm in place of licenses; so anime/manga carried hefty price-appeal to young media junkies.

      Those who are hating on this being passed off as “Gross National Cool”, consider this: One of the neatest parts of Japanese culture is that it is acceptable to truly go ALL OUT on a hobby in one’s (perhaps limited) spare time; be it a sport, music, cars, electronics, robotics, trainspotting or anime/manga. Perhaps this is merely a function of population density, who knows, but anime/manga remain a (single) outward facet of this whole so it cannot be entirely discounted.

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