Japan is cool, for what? : The straying promotion policy for Japanese culture and industries
Just shortly after millennium, one article written by American journalist was published on Foreign Policy magazine. Douglas McGray, the author of an essay Japan’s gross national cool paid attention to the Japanese pop culture as growing national power under “widely reported political and economic misfortunes.” This new marketing term attracted interests from some Japanese bureaucrats and politicians. In June 2010, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) found “Cool Japan office” to promote cultural industries such as design and contents to overseas. Since 2013, Cool Japan policy has been directed by a public-private investment organization Cool Japan Fund Inc (CJF). As of 2020, the total amount of investment runs into 1B USD.
(photo by T.F)
On October 23rd, secretariat for promoting intellectual property in Cabinet office organized a ceremony for Cool Japan matching award 2019. This is an annual award for the companies and organizations which have unique endeavors to promote Japanese cultures and products to international market. In this year, All Nippon Airlines (ANA) received the Gran-prix for inflight safety video which features Kabuki. Apart from that, digital tech company in Kyoto, 1-10, Inc. got semi-Gran-prix for CYBER SPORTS, series of projects with digital technology for promoting parasports. In addition, encouragement and special awards were given to travel agency, radio production and outdoor equipment company. Among the award winners, Ita-in (痛印) might be interesting for some anime and manga fans. It is a seal using characters, and the shop, Ita-in-do has released more than 100 kinds of the seals under the authorization of manga publishers and anime studios.
However, while the public authorities such as METI promote the policy, the support for the contents creators and organizations are inefficient and poor. For instance, as I wrote a blog on Oct.12th (https://www.ludimus.co.jp/post/betting-your-health-on-creating-a-fantasy-miscellaneous-thoughts-on-janica-report), the working environment for Japanese anime workers are so hard and they can hardly expect legal support from public institutions. In his book “Cool Japan Money kills Japanese movie industry”, Hiro Masuda, a movie producer and coordinator noted that CJF wasn’t established for the people who are working on the frontline of contents creation. According to the book, on the economy and industry committee in 2013, one of the senior government officials stated clearly that the fund won’t be used for income support for Japanese animators even though the government understood that they are taking a huge part of cool japan policy.
Then, where does the money go? In 2014, CJF invested 2.94B RM (9.3M USD) into a facility in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was a project for establishing a hub to promote Cool Japan policy among south east Asia. The hub named The Japan Store opened in 2016 with 11,000㎡ of store area. Unfortunately, the project never went well. According to the report in 2018, the store had hardly any customers, and the culture floor was filled with Disney and LEGO items. On June 8th, CJF announced that they concluded an agreement for stock transfer with ISETAN OF JAPAN SDN.BHD. As reported by the investigation by Board of Audit of Japan, the total amount of investment of the fund was about 297M USD until March 2017 and they lost 42M USD.
Generally speaking, Cool Japan policy is missing very important point of view, marketing. For instance, how much impact does Ita-in seal have on the global business? This old-fashioned way for authorization on paper work procedure only survives in Japan, Taiwan and Korea. Even if the shop had strong support from the government, the only impact the seal industry can make in the international market would be giving another choice of souvenir for tourists. Incidentally, the former minister of Cool Japan policy was a chief of the ‘Parliamentary Group to protect the system and culture of seals in Japan.’ It would be not unreasonable to guess if some kind of “political power” might affect the selection of the award.
On the speech in 2019, Benjamin Boas, an American consultant and Cool Japan ambassador pointed out that the cool thing which Japanese think could be different from the one international people do. It would be the reason why Cool Japan matching award has judges from overseas. Needless to say, the policy has to be attractive for international markets and customers, not for the Japanese politicians and bureaucrats who are willing to expand their concessions.