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What's Really Cool About Japan

Author: M. Hanscom Smith, International Affairs Fellow in Japan, Sponsored by Hitachi, Ltd. 2011-2012
January 7, 2012
The Japan Times


Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba's recent visit to Beijing included a stop at the Japan Animation Festival, part of the government's ongoing series of public events designed to showcase Japan's popular culture. Since 2007, the Foreign Ministry has established an International Manga Award and named an Anime Ambassador, among other initiatives designed to capitalize on foreign interest in Japan's vibrant cultural scene. There is certainly nothing wrong with Doraemon, Super Mario, and other "Made in Japan" pop icons.

The use of cultural exchange to improve Sino-Japanese relations, in particular, should be welcomed by everyone in the region. And increasing the exposure of Japanese products is definitely good for their corporate parents' bottom line. A heavy official emphasis on "Cool Japan", however, risks diluting the potency of the "Japan Brand" hip factor — while at the same time distracting attention from the real source of Japan's attraction.

You can't capture "cool" in a bottle. When governments try to identify themselves with trends prevalent among youth, they may inadvertently undermine the counter-culture ethos that so often sparks creativity.

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