Cool Japan

Cool Japan (クールジャパン, Kūru Japan), along with "Gross National Cool" is a concept as an expression of Japan's emergent status as a cultural superpower. Gaining broad exposure in the media and academia, the brand of "Cool Japan" has been adopted by the government of Japan as well as trade bodies seeking to exploit the commercial capital of the country's culture industry. It has been described as a form of soft power, "the ability to indirectly influence behaviour or interests through cultural or ideological means".[1][2]


Following the destruction of World War II after American bombings, Japan hoped they could improve their economy and national image by distributing their pop culture throughout the world, specifically through Eastern Asia in order to increase their reputation and alliances with the neighboring countries. As opposed to their history of being a fierce military power, they were taking the route of establishing themselves as being a soft power, which they believed would change the perception of their nation. Starting in 1980, after the emergence of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Japan started ramping up their nation branding efforts through releasing a new television series titled Oshin, which was a Japanese soap opera. The show was well perceived, and this sent an immediate boost in the image Japan was trying to improve. Through the success of Oshin and multiple other television shows, the country introduced the idea of “Cool Japan”, which attempted to harness the success of their pop culture and distribute that pleasure toward the country’s cultural perception.[3]

In a 2002 article in Foreign Policy titled "Japan's Gross National Cool", Douglas McGray wrote of Japan "reinventing superpower" as its cultural influence expanded internationally despite the economic and political problems of the "lost decade". Surveying youth culture and the role of J-pop, manga, anime, video games, fashion, film, consumer electronics, architecture, cuisine, and phenomena of cuteness such as Hello Kitty, McGray highlighted Japan's considerable soft power, posing the question of what message the country might project. He also argued that Japan's recession may even have boosted its national cool, due to the partial discrediting of erstwhile rigid social hierarchies and big-business career paths.[4][5][6]


Taken up in the international media, with The New York Times running a retrospect "Year in Ideas: Pokémon Hegemon",[7] an increasing number of more reform-minded government officials and business leaders in Japan began to refer to the country's "gross national cool" and to adopt the unofficial slogan "Cool Japan".[8][9][10] In a 2005 press conference, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs linked the idea to Bhutan's concept of Gross National Happiness.[11]

The phrase gained greater exposure in the mid-noughties as NHK began a series Cool Japan Hakkutsu: Kakkoii Nippon! which by the end of 2009 had reached over a hundred episodes.[12] Academic initiatives include the establishment of a "Cool Japan" research project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,[13] while some western universities have reported an increase in the number of applicants for Japanese Studies courses due to the "cool" effect.[14]

The adoption of Cool Japan has also spurred changes in culture studies. As a result of the fascination of Cool Japan with Japanese youth culture and schoolgirls, a new wave of studies called 'girl studies' focuses specifically on the experience of girls and the girls-at-heart. Previously a subject of adolescent psychology or feminism, girl studies emerged from Cool Japan to include an interdisciplinary analysis of girl culture.[15]

Creative Industries Promotion Office

The Japanese government has identified the culture industry as one of five potential areas of growth.[16] In June 2010, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry established a new Creative Industries Promotion Office to promote cultural and creative industries as a strategic sector "under the single, long term concept of "Cool Japan", to coordinate different government functions, and to cooperate with the private sector".[17] The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced that Japanese pop culture is one of the key elements for Cool Japan and that pop culture includes idol, anime, and B class gourmet (B級グルメ).[18]

The deputy director described its mission as to "brand Japanese products with the uniqueness of Japanese culture".[19][20] For 2011, it has a budget of ¥19 billion.[20] In fiscal 2008, public spending on cultural activities was ¥116.9 billion in South Korea, ¥477.5 billion in China, and ¥101.8 billion in Japan, respectively 0.79%, 0.51%, and 0.12% of total government spending.[19] The fund was launched in 2013,[21] and the Japanese government committed to the Cool Japan Fund ¥50 billion ($500 million) over 20 years, with a target of ¥60 billion ($600 million) via private investor partnerships.[22] However, Nikkei Asian Review reported that within five years the fund "suffered pretax losses totaling 10 billion yen ($88.9 million)" and many projects failed to deliver earnings, and since June 2018 the management is led by former Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) CEO Naoki Kitagawa.[23][24]

Timeline of notable endeavors

  • 2013
  • 2014
    • Traditional Japanese crafts showcased at Maison & Objet, the world's largest trade fair for interior goods and designs, to promote Japan's monodzukuri (manufacturing) culture.[25]
    • WakuWaku Japan, Japanese satellite television channel that broadcasts Japanese programs to overseas viewers in Asia.[21] It was a joint venture with broadcaster Sky Perfect JSAT who contributed ¥6.6 billion out of ¥11 billion, but it failed to expand in multiple markets and generate viewership, with nearly ¥4 billion losses until 2017.[24]
  • 2015
    • METI starts Nippon Quest, a website to showcase and disseminate unknown Japanese regional specialties to the world.[26]
    • U.S. cafes focused on Japanese tea, on which was spent ¥250 million for nearly 50% stake.[24]
    • Funding of the development of content creators for anime and manga outside Japan by KADOKAWA Contents Academy Co., Ltd..[27]
  • 2016
  • 2018
    • The first investment with new management was $12.5 million in Tastemade, becoming a minority shareholder, to support making of content promoting Japanese food and destinations.[23]
  • 2019
    • Cool Japan Fund invests US$30 million in American anime licensing company Sentai Holdings, aiming to provide support at the copyright level, and increasing the presence of anime in North America.[29]


A 2010 editorial in the Yomiuri Shimbun argued that the government was not doing enough to advance the country's business interests in this sphere, allowing South Korea to emerge as a competitor. The editorial highlighted structural inefficiencies, with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry promoting "Cool Japan", the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responsible for cultural exchange, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in charge of Japanese foods.[30][31][32] Lecturer Roland Kelts has also suggested that a failure to fully distinguish, brand and engage the overseas audience and market may mean that "Cool Japan" is "over".[33][34] In 2011, Laura Miller has critiqued Cool Japan campaign as exploiting and misrepresenting youth subcultural fashion and language.[35] In 2013, Nancy Snow referred to Cool Japan as a form of state-sponsored cultural retreading she calls Gross National Propaganda.[36] Japanese singer-songwriter Gackt criticized the government in 2015 for having set up a huge budget, yet "have no idea where that money should go. It’s no exaggeration to say it has fallen into a downward spiral of wasted tax money flowing into little known companies", and that such lack of support is causing Japan to "fall behind its Asian neighbors in terms of cultural exports".[37][21] In 2016, Benjamin Boas pointed out that Cool Japan-branded efforts are often promoted without participation of foreigners, leaving out the perspectives of the very foreigners that they are trying to target.[38]

In 2017, a senior executive and several other senior male employees of Cool Japan Fund Inc. were accused of sexual harassment targeting female employees of the fund.[39] The employees formed a labor union in order to fight against sexual harassment.[39] In the same year, Nikkei Asian Review journalist Yuta Saito criticized fund's ambitions because their "lack of strategy, discipline gives rise to unprofitable projects", and there's possible conflict of interest by the executives.[24] In 2018, Japan Today reported too soon to consider it "grossly incompetent or corrupt", but it's at least "under-performing" for now.[21]

See also


  1. Yano, Christine R. (2009). "Wink on Pink: Interpreting Japanese Cute as It Grabs Global Headlines". The Journal of Asian Studies. 68 (3): 681–688 [683]. doi:10.1017/s0021911809990015. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  2. Nagata, Kazuaki, "Exporting culture via 'Cool Japan'", The Japan Times, 15 May 2012, p. 3
  3. Iwabuchi, Koichi (8 August 2015). "Pop-culture diplomacy in Japan: soft power, nation branding and the question of 'international cultural exchange'". International Journal of Cultural Policy. 21 (4): 419–432. doi:10.1080/10286632.2015.1042469. ISSN 1028-6632.
  4. McGray, Douglas (1 May 2002). "Japan's Gross National Cool". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on 16 December 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
  5. McGray, Douglas (1 May 2002). "Japan's Gross National Cool (subscription required)". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  6. Allison, Anne (5 October 2007). "J-brand: What image of youth is getting sold in Japan's "gross national cool"?" (PDF). University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  7. Talbot, Margaret (15 December 2002). "The Year in Ideas; Pokemon Hegemon". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  8. "Japan counts on cool culture". BBC. 13 December 2004. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  9. Faiola, Anthony (27 December 2003). "Japan's Empire of Cool". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  10. Frederick, Jim (4 August 2003). "Forget about salarymen, gridlocked politics and zombie corporations". Time. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  11. "Press Conference 27 September 2005 - III". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  12. ""Cool Japan" Goes Global" (PDF). Government of Japan. November 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 March 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  13. "Cool Japan Research Project". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  14. Corbyn, Zoe (5 October 2007). ""Cool Japan" suffers from cruel cuts". The Times. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  15. Miller, Laura (2011). "Taking girls seriously in 'Cool Japan' ideology" (PDF). Japan Studies Review. 31:1: 18–29.
  16. Amano, Tomomichi (14 June 2010). "How to Promote "Cool Japan"". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  17. "Establishment of the Creative Industries Promotion Office". Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  18. "クール・ジャパン/クリエイティブ産業政策". Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (in Japanese). Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  19. "Promoting "Cool Japan"". The Japan Times. 15 August 2010. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  20. Mackay, Mairi (19 November 2010). "Can Japan profit from its national "cool"?". CNN. Archived from the original on 8 April 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  21. "After four years Cool Japan is Y4.4 bil in the hole and continuing to show few results". Japan Today. 4 May 2018. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  22. Kelts, Roland (9 July 2013). "Can METI's ¥50 billion fund unfreeze 'Cool Japan'?". The Japan Times. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  23. Yuji Nitta (24 October 2018). "Cool Japan Fund invests $12.5m in Tastemade food video service". Nikkei Asian Review. The Nikkei. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  24. Yuta Saito (6 November 2017). "Cool Japan Fund's big ambitions mostly fall flat". Nikkei Asian Review. The Nikkei. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  25. "Traditional Japanese Crafts will be Showcased to the World as a Result of the Cool Japan Initiative". 経済産業省 Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  26. "METI to Start NIPPON QUEST". 経済産業省 Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  27. "Cool Japan Fund Invests In Kadokawa's Content Creator Development Projects". Anime News Network. Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  28. "Cool Japan Fund drops Malaysia store". 12 June 2018. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  29. "Cool Japan Fund Invests in North American Anime Group Led by Sentai Holdings". Anime News Network. 2 August 2019. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  30. "Time to capitalise on "Cool Japan" boom". Yomiuri Shimbun. 30 August 2010. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  31. "South Korea, China overtaking Japan in "cool" culture battle". Asahi Shimbun. 26 July 2010. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  32. Yasumoto, Seiko (2006). "Japan and Korea as a Source of Media and Cultural Capital" (PDF). University of Sydney. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  33. Kelts, Roland (17 May 2010). "Japanamerica: Why "Cool Japan" is over". 3:AM Magazine. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  34. Kelts, Roland (5 June 2010). "The Politics of Popular Culture - Panel 2" (PDF). Temple University. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  35. Miller, Laura. “Cute masquerade and the pimping of Japan.” International Journal of Japanese Sociology. Vol. 20, Issue. 1, pp. 18–29, 2011.
  36. Snow, Nancy. "Uncool Japan: Japan's Gross National Propaganda." Metropolis, Issue 1024, 7 November 2013
  37. "Gackt lashes out at Cool Japan: 'Almost no results of Japanese culture exported overseas'". Japan Today. 6 July 2015. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  38. Boas, Benjamin (24 April 2016). "'Cool Japan' needs to listen to its target market". The Japan Times. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  39. Yuji Nakamura; Takako Taniguchi (11 July 2017). "Government-Backed 'Cool Japan' Fund Hit by Harassment Claims". Bloomberg. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
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