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  • Asahi: South Korea, China overtaking Japan in ‘cool’ culture battle, whatever that means

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on July 30th, 2010

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    Hi Blog.  Here are two articles about an economic phenom I’ve never quite gotten the hang of:  the “coolness” of a country.  The Asahi frets that Japan is losing out to other Asian countries in “coolness”, whatever that means.  There is an actual department within METI dealing with “cool”, BTW, and an article below talks about “Japan’s Gross National Cool”, again, whatever that means.  Sounds like a means for former PMs like Aso to create manga museums and bureaucrats to get a line-item budget for officially studying “soft power”.  Ka-ching.

    But in all fairness, it’s not only Japan.  Brazil is doing something similar with its quest for  “soft power” (but more as an understated tangent to its economic growth, according to The Economist London).  And of course, PM Blair had “Cool Brittania”.  So this may be just an extension of trying to measure the value of services as well as hard material goods, or a hybrid thereof.  It’s just that with “soft power” comes the potential for some equally soft-focus science — how can you be “losing” to other countries in something so hard to measure?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    South Korea, China overtaking Japan in ‘cool’ culture battle
    THE ASAHI SHIMBUN 2010/07/26

    In industry as well as sports, Japan has found itself trailing in the footsteps of China and South Korea.

    Those two neighbors are now threatening Japan’s place in the cultural realm as well.

    Between July 1 and 4, the Japan Expo in Paris attracted manga and anime fans from around Europe. In recent years, about 150,000 people have taken part.

    In one section of the event, however, signs were displayed for manhwa, the Korean term for manga.

    For the first time in the 11-year history of the expo, the manhwa sign was displayed through the efforts of the Korea Creative Content Agency, a South Korean government agency.

    Tetsuya Watanabe, the official in charge of the Cool Japan section at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, could not hide his shock at the strides being made by South Korea.

    “There may come the day when this event is overwhelmed by manhwa,” Watanabe said.

    South Korea has been stressing the fostering of its cultural industry from the 1990s and the Korea Creative Content Agency plays an important role in that effort.

    The agency operates mainly through about 180 billion won (about 13.3 billion yen or $152.1 million) in government subsidies. Among its main roles are drawing up a strategy to move into foreign markets as well as to develop individuals in the cultural industry.

    Agency President Lee Jae-woong said, “In the 21st century, the cultural industry will lead all industries. That is the recognition of the South Korean government.”

    In addition to manga, South Korea is also making major efforts in film, even as Japanese directors such as Hayao Miyazaki and Takeshi Kitano have received international acclaim.

    A new base for South Korean cinema is now under construction at the Haeundae seaside resort area in Busan.

    A roof measuring about 1.5 times the size of a soccer pitch is supported by what looks like tree limbs.

    The site will eventually become the main venue for the Pusan International Film Festival.

    The film center is scheduled for completion in September 2011 and the South Korean and Busan city governments have invested a total of 162.4 billion won.

    An area of about 60,000 square meters, including the film center, will also eventually house facilities to train animators. Two years from now, government agencies in charge of the film industry will move to Busan from Seoul.

    South Korean government officials want to turn the area into an Asian film hub.

    In the background lies the success of the Pusan International Film Festival which began in 1996.

    The scale of the festival expanded with the aggressive backing provided by the national and local governments.

    From 1998, a new project was begun to bring together movie producers and investors from various Asian nations.

    From 2005, a program was begun to have movie directors and others give lectures to individuals aspiring to careers in the movie industry.

    Such efforts rapidly improved international recognition of the film festival.

    One result is that the number of world premieres offered at the Pusan International Film Festival reached 98 last year, far outpacing the 26 presented at the Tokyo International Film Festival, which has an older history, having begun in 1985.

    This year’s Pusan International Film Festival, to be held in October, will have a budget of about 10 billion won (700 million yen), about 4.5 times the budget of the first festival. Three-quarters of the budget is being covered by the central and city governments.

    The Korea Creative Content Agency’s Lee said, “When moving into global economic markets, efforts should also be made to improve the level of cultural industry. Improving culture will improve the image of a nation and heighten the product value of manufactured goods. The South Korean government is well aware of that connection.”

    China is also making efforts to improve its cultural industry. In 2007, the Communist Party convention placed cultural soft power as a major national policy.

    In addition to movies and publishing, China has in recent years emphasized anime. Anime industrial bases have been constructed in about 20 locations in China, including Dalian, Tianjin and Changsha.

    A number of anime companies with more than 1,000 employees have since emerged.

    Those efforts were evident at the Tokyo International Anime Fair held in March in the Ariake district of Tokyo.

    Of the 59 companies from abroad, 38 were from China, while only 16 were from South Korea.

    The Chinese city of Chongqing held meetings at a Tokyo hotel during the fair that brought together anime companies based in Chongqing with Japanese companies.

    Wu Jiangbo, deputy director of the Cultural Market Department of China’s Culture Ministry, said, “The anime fair is an important platform to publicize China’s works and companies.”

    The central government has a heavy hand in developing China’s anime industry.

    A high-ranking Culture Ministry official said, “The market has grown to 100 billion yuan (1.3 trillion yen), about six times the Japanese market.”

    However, Chinese officials are not satisfied with the current situation.

    Wu said, “Although there are now about 5,000 anime companies in China, there is no company recognized around the world. We want to foster a first-class company on a global scale.”

    In the past, Chinese companies were nothing more than subcontractors for the Japanese anime industry.

    Now, there is more equality in the relationships.

    In June, a news conference was held in Shanghai to announce the start of production of a Chinese-language anime movie based on a Japanese TV anime, “Ikkyu-san,” that was popular during the 1980s in China.

    The movie version will be jointly produced by Toei Animation Co. of Tokyo and the Shanghai Media Group.

    Hidenori Oyama, senior director at Toei Animation, said of the project, “It will be a first step to move into the Asian market.”

    However, those on the Chinese side have bigger plans in mind.

    They are targeting the generation that grew up watching Ikkyu-san, an anime about a Buddhist monk, as well as their children.

    Wang Lei, a vice president with the Shanghai Media Group, said, “If this succeeds in China, we want to sell it in Southeast Asia.”

    Chinese Cultural Minister Cai Wu said, “We have learned a lot about cultural policy from Japan and South Korea. In particular, the policy of South Korea has been wise because even though it is a small nation it has achieved economic development and has exported many aspects of South Korean culture.”

    Trying to keep up, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry established the section for Cool Japan in June.

    One official said, “We want to heighten Japan’s brand image through a strategic overseas marketing move in such areas as anime, design and fashion, and tie that into economic growth.”





    日本の文化産業は強い競争力を持つ。米政治アナリスト、ダグラス・マグレイ(Douglas McGray)氏が米外交専門誌「外交(Foreign Policy)」に「日本の国民総クール度(Japan’s Gross National Cool)」と題する小論を発表し、日本のアニメや音楽、テレビゲーム、家電製品、ファッション、グルメなど日本のポップカルチャーが持つ国際的影響力を高く評価した。その後「クール・ジャパン」が魅力溢れる日本のポップカルチャーを指す代名詞として使われるようになった。見方を変えれば、「クール・ジャパン」は日本のソフトパワーを象徴するものと言える。





    17 Responses to “Asahi: South Korea, China overtaking Japan in ‘cool’ culture battle, whatever that means”

    1. Allen Says:

      I’d rather that the “coolness” (anime/manga) die down instead of increase. This way, people can see and appreciate the side of japan that one would never see in such media. Lessen the amount of anime/manga influence, let people discover Japan for other cultural reasons, and let more educated people immigrate into the country because of their appreciation of the non-pop culture of Japan. People immigrating into the nation because of the rest of the culture is much better then a large mass of people visiting Tokyo for the anime/manga. Perhaps I am being rude, but I don’t want people(japanese or not) thinking “Oh, you just came to Japan because you like anime”.

    2. Mark Hunter Says:

      Anime is cool and all, but serioulsy, as a driver of economic salvation or even as soft power? The whole thing is quite pathetic. Anime appeals to a very narrow range of people, often young and short on funds, who may help fill the pockets of a few publishers, but that’s about all. There is some money to be made in cultural things, espcially by appealing to upper middle class westerners (judging by the tour groups I see in Kyoto) who have retired and have the bucks to fly here and see things for themselves, but I sometimes see these attempts at pushing soft power as a kind of veiled nationalism. The Cool Brittania push was a much broader drive to increase all kinds of business activities with Britain. Korea and Japan could learn from that, much like the final official quoted seems to have done: “We want to heighten Japan’s brand image through a strategic overseas marketing move in such areas as anime, design and fashion, and tie that into economic growth.”

    3. jjobseeker Says:

      The “cool culture” movement within governments is important because it serves as cultural “branding”, that is to say promotion of one’s culture abroad which then creates interest in either tourism to that country or goods, services, expertise, etc. from or by said country. Just as certain foreign words can make it into the lexicon of a society half a world away, “cool culture” is a soft way to penetrate a market, first mostly through subculture, but eventually with an aim to wider acceptance. For me, the part that caught my attention was:

      “The agency operates mainly through about 180 billion won (about 13.3 billion yen or $152.1 million) in government subsidies. Among its main roles are drawing up a strategy to move into foreign markets as well as to develop individuals in the cultural industry.”

      Notice that part about developing individuals? From my experience in the creative field, I do sense that Korea and China are as focused on developing and assisting talent as they are in moving their creations into foreign markets. Korean film directors, stars, etc. are becoming more recognized by name abroad recently than Japanese creators due to the efforts of the Korean government. This “branding” of talent is the key difference in the strategies between Korea (maybe China) vs. Japan. And I for one am seeing it slowly succeeding.

    4. icarus Says:

      Jjobseeker is right on the mark. This kind of soft power or ‘coolness’ is really just a way of marketing your country overseas. More mindshare means more tourists, i.e. more dollars, coming into your country. Japan has been at the top of this list of cool countries for over a decade thanks almost entirely to anime and video games, and you can see the influences of Japanese pop culture all over the place.

      The problem here is that anime and game production companies have been seeing decreased sales as of late, and in order to cut costs they are outsourcing work and eliminating the really creative projects that made them famous. A lot of Japanese animation is now animated in Korea, and even game companies have been using overseas development units to finish projects. These are not bad things, but they generally serve only to direct attention to other locations.

      And debito, you mentioned the Manga museum, but that was probably one of the only really ingenious ideas that Aso had (maybe the only one). If done right, a museum like that could have really served as a central point of attention for younger tourists visiting the country, and it would have brought some of the spotlight back to where the anime culture all began. It was criticized for being a waste of tax dollars (and realistically it would have probably become a pork project), but a lot of that criticism was coming from people too short sighted to see how beneficial soft power can be to your country. Consider it a big PR project, if you will, and in the end the government missed out on an opportunity to advertise their country around the world.

      One last point to consider: The people who originally enjoyed animation and games from Japan are mostly in their 30s right now. These are the people who grew up on Star Blazers, Macross (Robotech), Lupin III, Super Mario Brothers, etc. These 30-somethings are a large source of dispensable income, and it is in Japan’s best interest to market tour packages to this demographic. Unfortunately, as the above two articles point out, as Japan loses its soft power, the appeal of flying half-way around the world at considerable cost doesn’t seem as worthwhile as it once did.

    5. BK Says:

      When will the politicians realize that Japan’s population is aging? There’s nothing cool about walking frames and adult diapers.

    6. Ken Says:

      There’s got to be a way to calculate soft power points. Something like:

      ((average age of citizenry)/(number of words in the Encyclopedia Dramatica entry on that country)^2 (number of Twitter accounts with over 1 million followers) * (operating profit at soft power firms generated overseas)) / (Number of Google searches for that country’s soft power products)

    7. Ryan V Says:

      There’s more to soft power / branding current pop culture as cool. Coming to a country because you like their history and culture in the past does not mean that you will like the country as it stands today.

      I’m still residing in Canada learning Japanese for a move sometime in the next year. I’m getting guide books, reading wikipedia, wikipedia’s sources and anything I can get my hands on for learning about the culture of Japan.

      Suppose all I find is information on the Warring States Period. I decide cool and come over. That has some bearing on what my life would be like day to day, but it wouldn’t be the biggest influence of what my life will be like in Japan.

      I agree anime and pop culture isn’t the only deciding factor either. But if you can’t stand a country’s current culture and arts why would you go to see the country, let alone live there?

    8. jim Says:

      i wonder who in japan coined the word cool in this case? because it just doesnt fit at all. whats cool about a 50 year old reading a kids manga on a packed train?

    9. level3 Says:

      It’s pretty simple. Government sponsorship of official “coolness” surveys and activities just serves as a way for bureaucrats to get paid while having fun reading comics, meeting their favorite artists, mingle with celebrities, get free signed copies for their kids, indulge in entertainment “investigations” at taxpayer expense, and in the end, try to justify wasting billions of yen by overstating the real benefits (if any) of “soft power” to the common man.
      Pretty much any government activity, especially in “democratic” bureaucracies like Japan, can be explained by this principle. Every act of political power is done to enrich the bureaucrats’ lives and pocketbooks. Other results mean nothing. It’s just that simple.

      Besdies, if soft power worked, America should be the most loved country on the planet thanks to all the entertainment output. But being Number One is so last century… gawd. 😉

    10. Troy Says:

      I knew what GNC was before the article on it was written back in 2002, but didn’t have a name for it.

      Back in the 80s Japan really had some mojo — Studio Nue, Ghibli, Namco, Koei, Nintendo, and on the hardware side, Sony, Sharp, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda.

      Japan had a monopoly on pumping out products with a “je ne sais quoi” coolness that can’t be explained if you don’t see it.

      This stuff can be copied but not re-created from scratch.

      As for the origin of GNC, here it is:

      it’s kinda a thumbsucker but its takeaway is that Japan has been very good and repackaging international norms, smoothing off their rough edges and productizing them into compelling content.

      Miyazaki’s stuff is a good example of this — his artistic vision is strongly influenced by a love for the mechanical age European steam-era technology. The best Japanese cars have been European-designed. Macross was cool for its remixing of a 20th century F-14 with Lucas’ X-Wing fighter into a more recognizable space fighter.

      China, a nation 10X the size of Japan, has done just about zero compared to the above Japanese companies I have listed. This will change, but GNC takes a refractory period — of intake, digestion, understanding — before original contribution to the “state of the art” can occur.

      — Haven’t heard the words “refractory period” used since the hedonistic days of college. Love it.

    11. Rachel Says:

      I very much agree with Allen. The anime/manga/VG culture is ‘cool’ as far as many youth know or care, but these youth come to idolize Japan solely for it and can even suffer deceptions when they come over (as eikaiwa teachers, trainees or scholarship receivers) and see the not-so-‘cool’ side of things firsthand. Not to mention the surprise and shock they receive when they find out that ‘otaku’ (which is much toted abroad as a mark of pride) has all sorts of negative connotations in Japan.

      By the way, did anyone notice the rather interesting choice of wording for some parts of the article? Such as “Japan has found itself trailing in the footsteps of China and South Korea. Those two neighbors are now threatening Japan’s place…” That’s a little overkill, wouldn’t you say? Regardless of what the rest of the article is about, the mood is already set, and there’s a prevalent (if unnecessary) sense of ‘danger’. Not to mention the completely unrealistic concern that, “There may come the day when this event is overwhelmed by manhwa.”

      In my humble view, anime and manga were ‘cool’ for a while due to their novelty factor and the fact that they were so different from Western animation. (Seriously. When was the last time you saw somebody get gruesomely disemboweled and bleeding for 20 episodes in a mainstream Western cartoon?) Now, this novelty is beginning to die out. It’s the natural order of cultural phenomena. I wonder if the ‘cool Japan’ brigade will be able to breathe some new life into the industry. (Doubt it, though.)

    12. adam Says:

      I think that anime and manga ARE important, for many reasons. I personally was drawn into studying Japanese through anime. This led to me not only learning the language but also learning about Japanese literature and reading great writers such as Akutagawa Ryuunosuke (who I consider to be a master of the short story in the same league as Chekhov), as well as more modern writers like Yoshimoto Banana and Murakami Haruki. Japan’s “cool” factor happened to be what brought me to learning about Japan as a whole. My experience is not unusual. A large percentage of the people who become Japanese majors and end up spending time learning classical Japanese had their interest sparked by anime and manga.

      Perhaps is reading Kawabata and Yoshimoto Banana was as hip as reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez, then anime and manga wouldn’t have to carry the entire weight of Japanese culture overseas.

      On another level, anime and manga are a very special, important creation of Japanese culture. Just consider manga. There are comics cultures in many countries, but I think Japan has reached a level that is amazing and nearly unmatched. Just the comparison with America is instructive; in America, comics are marginal and mainstream comics are restricted entirely to superhero comics. Serious comics exist, but Will Eisner is less important to American comics as a whole than Stan Lee. In Japan, in contrast, there is a huge variety of comics, covering nearly every aspect of the human condition. Not only that, but there are a lot of very, very good comics, from Tezuka’s canon to Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou to Chibi Maruko-chan. A world without these things is a poorer world, and a Japan without manga is a much poorer Japan.

      It’s easy to dismiss the importance of culture, but a world with engineering and science but no art is unthinkable – Italy is Galileo and Vivaldi, and richer for having produced both. Keep in mind that Ukiyo-e were mass produced prints, but now are considered high art. I wouldn’t look to culture for economic salvation, and I certainly wouldn’t look to anime and manga to do more than bring a thin flow of tourists, but I wouldn’t dismiss it either. Keep it in context.

    13. Mattimus Says:

      I live in San Diego and frequent the independent movie theaters quite often, and I can say for sure that Korean films are eclipsing Japanese films in popularity here. I’ve seen the Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance trilogy, The Host, The Good the Bad and the Weird, and many other awesome movies released to an ever growing crowd while Japan makes virtually no films that make it on to the international circuit any more. From what I’ve seen with my own eyes, Korean films are absolutely more popular than Japanese films at the moment, and rightfully so.

      On that note, if you haven’t seen “The Good, the Bad, and the Weird” I absolutely recommend it. I hope “kimchi-westerns” become a popular genre.

      As for anime and manga, outside of children it only seems to be popular with a particular crowd of, um, ‘particular’ individuals. Recently, I would say that the associations are more negative than positive, so I’m not sure that producing more of it is the right way to go about increasing the national “cool” factor. Films and music would certainly be a better bet, but that requires inspired individuals, and you let me know when a government figures out how to produce those.


    14. Marcus Says:

      RE:”whats cool about a 50 year old reading a kids manga on a packed train?”

      I think it’s cool to not bother with what other people decide as cool but instead enjoy what you enjoy without being ashamed of it. If a 50-year-old is reading a kids manga on a packed train, kudos to him. Not to you for being judgmental

    15. Valentina Says:

      I started studying Japanese this year at university in Milan, and while I’m not particularly interested in manga and anime and was not led to study the language because of them, many (if not most) of my classmates are. When we began this year we were about 170 in my faculty (there are other faculties in which Asian languages are studied), and if my Japanese language and history teachers are to be believed, there has been a steady increase in the number of students in the last few years (unfortunately I couldn’t find any official data), even though only a few of us will get the degree, as many Italian university students drop out during the first or second year. Most of us were born between 1985 and 1990, so we grew up watching anime on tv, though often heavily censored to cater an audience of children – because of the “myth” that cartoons are only for children. This “myth” has been challenged solely by Mtv, which since 1999 airs anime aiming at a more mature audience with little to no censorship in prime time: although in Italy cartoons are still largely considered children’s stuff, many teenagers changed their mind after watching just a few episodes of Nana or Neon Genesis Evangelion on Mtv (I personally know many whose passion for Japanese cartoons was started by some anime aired by Mtv). And often after you watch the anime you want to read the manga – the two things are usually correlated. Also, reading manga and generally comics, despite not being very common, has no negative connotation, and actually comics are often considered a form of art, at least the best-made, highest-quality ones.
      Besides tv, in recent years the Internet played a very important role in spreading the manga and anime culture: on the Internet you can find lots of subbed anime and dramas and translated manga which in many cases are not aired or sold outside Japan. Despite this being illegal, it clearly has increased the diffusion of anime and manga. The Internet was fundamental for the diffusion of Japanese music abroad, too – both pop and rock, and visual kei in particular. I listen to various Japanese rock bands that I couldn’t know and whose cds I couldn’t buy if I didn’t have the Internet. To give you a concrete example: last year Miyavi, one of my favourite musicians, had a world tour and through Myspace I found out that in October he would have played in Milan. The concert was in a small venue, which by the way was full. We were about 1300 people, mostly teenagers (I wasn’t even 19 and I was one of the oldest), from almost every part of Italy. 1300 people are not many in absolute terms, but if you consider that Miyavi’s songs have never been aired by tv or radio channels and that his concert and tour were not advertised in any way by the classical media, it’s a great result, and it couldn’t have happened without the Internet, the social media in particular.
      Japanese literature and videogames are also appreciated here. Asian movies are largely ignored in Italy, and it’s very difficult to find cinemas that show them, even in the major cities.
      Of course not all the people who watch anime or read manga or novels or listen to Japanese music decide to study the language or to move to Japan etc, and they certainly can’t save Japan’s economy, but still all these things help create a good image of Japan abroad. I personally would like many people, especially among my peers, to go beyond Japanese pop culture because Japan is obviously much more than that, but I can see its value: without it, for many people Japan would probably be nothing more than a far away country inhabited by a strange Chinese-like population.
      Sorry for the lenghth :-)

    16. Allen Says:

      An update on “Cool Japan”. The Japan Time’s Mark Jarnes published a Views From The Street asking “Can Selling ‘cool Japan’ save the ailing economy and help avert a demographic disaster?”

      Article linked here:

    17. Loverilakkuma Says:

      Here’s a criticism of Cool Japan from an expected guy who complained his experience of discrimination in France.

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