Sushi, anime, ninjas, dorama, J-pop, ramen, lolita, Nintendo, manga… the list of Japanese cultural contributions to the world at large could go on and on. For a relatively small country with a history of isolationism, there is a certain irony to the magnitude of their international influence. And while the Japanese economy has relied heavily on material exports in its post-war economy, it is now turning toward its more ephemeral products to spark itself out of stagnation.
The government’s “Cool Japan” strategy aims to capitalize on its thriving creative sector to grow the flagging economy. With the hope of more-than-doubling the the economic impact, this plan has several facets. One recently reported aspect is the creation of Japantowns in foreign cities. It’s an ambitious plan which hopes to create hubs of Japanese culture by pairing property developers with boutique businesses. A small enclave in Singapore called Harajuku Street Style has already been launched.
Creating an ethno-centric economic enclave without the support of a concentrated expatriot community is an innovative and risky proposition. The government is betting that Cool Japan’s ability to be both uniquely Japanese and broadly appealing enough to create a new economic paradigm.
If these new Japantowns can thrive, it could bring new life to their traditional counterparts. The first Japantowns grew out of the heavy emigration of the Meiji era in places like Sao Paulo, Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Francisco. While all of these communities still exist in some form, many have suffered from dwindling populations, gentrification, and assimilation. An injection of Cool Japan might be just what these communities need.
What do you think of this idea? Would you want to visit one of these new Japantowns?