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Warming up to Cool Japan2012.10.23

    Cool Japan is a term that was coined in 2002 by Douglas McGray in an article published in Foreign Policy entitled Japan's Gross National Cool. The term has taken hold overseas in the pursuit of everything from Japanese manga, anime and J-Pop, to cuisine, fashion, film, martial arts and a revival of interest in traditional Japanese culture.


    Inside Japan it is used to refer to the cultural industry, and the largely untapped business opportunities that could be exploited in tourism, technology, and trade, taking advantage of the passionate interest overseas in many aspects of Japanese culture. In June 2010 the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) established a Creative Industries Promotion Office to form strategies and assist the private sector in promoting cultural and creative industries highlighting the uniqueness of Japanese culture.


    One of the key players in this process is Kennichi Watanabe, a Government Relationship Consultant and Social Producer, who specializes in connecting government, industry, academic, and private organizations in the cause of promoting Cool Japan strategy and business opportunities. He is also the Executive Director of Genki Japan ( Mr. Watanabe liaisons with government and private groups, and is active in helping Japanese gain a presence in popular overseas festivals and exhibitions such as the annual Japan Expo held in Paris.


    The Japan Expo began in 2002 attracting 3,200 visitors, and by 2012 had grown to attract 224,000 visitors over its four days, an increase in attendance by 70 times in just 13 years. It now covers a wide range of Japanese cultural phenomena from Manga, Anime, toys and merchandizing, to sports and martial arts, cinema, music, video games, fashion, food, lifestyle, culture, high-tech, tourism, and technology.


    While the visitors are mostly from France and various parts of Europe, ironically of the more than 600 exhibitors at the Japan Expo, the majority are from China and South Korea. Only a small portion of the people representing Japanese culture are actually from Japan. Other Festivals held in Europe reflect the same sparse representation from Japan on its own behalf. Of some 30,000 Japanese restaurants outside of Japan, 90% are operated by non-Japanese.


    METI is aware of this phenomenon, and through its Cool Japan Strategy initiative is attempting to promote Cool Japan Made in Japan. Business opportunities abound in areas such as fashion, cosmetics, food, sake, sushi, and technology, not only in Europe and America, but in regions ranging from Russia to the Middle East, as well as throughout Asia.


    The Cool Japan phenomenon is marked by strange imbalances, as well as the lack of active Japanese participation. Japanese language learning abroad is booming, with the number of people learning Japanese overseas at about 3.7 million people in 133 countries and regions, increasing in the last three years by 700,000. According to the Japan Foundation, there are approximately 15,000 educational institutions teaching Japanese overseas, and 50,000 teachers. Much of this interest is fueled by the Cool Japan phenomenon.


    And yet despite the fact that tourists who do come to Japan are generally quite satisfied, as a country Japan ranks 30th in the world (about the same rank as Syria), and number 8 in Asia. Turkey attracts 3 times as many tourists as Japan. This is due in part to ineffective efforts to attract foreign tourists, particularly in light of the worldwide interest in Japanese culture.


    The goal of METI’s Cool Japan Strategy is to take advantage of this passion for Japanese culture through more active participation and market acquisition. The worldwide market for Japanese culture is estimated to reach 500 trillion yen by 2020, and METI is hoping to help Japanese obtain a portion of that market ranging from 8 trillion yen to 11 trillion yen by 2020. The Japanese government commissioned 15 projects in 2011 in countries around the world. These range from promoting Japanese food culture in France, to Tokyo fashion in Singapore, Japanese retailing, environmental technology, and of course Anime and video games. There are opportunities in fashion, food, content, design and handcrafted products from Japan, which appeal to people in India, Southeast Asia, and Brazil, as well as Europe and Russia.


    But it will take more than government strategy and support to make a business success of Cool Japan Made in Japan. Foreign competition is already taking the lion’s share of this market, and often with imitations that could make you laugh or cry, if you know the real thing. The biggest barrier to market entry for Japanese is a combination of the language barrier, and a reluctance to enter unfamiliar territory. There is also a widespread lack of awareness of opportunities, which may change as the domestic market shrinks. Japan has successfully exported products to the world on a massive scale. The new challenge will be how to export its own culture.



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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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