When asked to think about Japanese traditional and pop culture, many stereotypically Japanese images comes to mind. Cuisine, anime, art, J-pop and even cute icons like Hello Kitty are directly tied into the movement known as “Cool Japan”. Simply put, Cool Japan is a government adopted movement that promotes the “coolness” of Japan and its unique culture. There is easily amusement, and criticism, found in a country promoting its own culture to gain interest (especially through media), but this self-promotion has led to a widespread following of this cultural superpower. I will explore what it means to take part in this intrinsic promotion, and what it means to have your very own “Cool Japan”.
A good place to start is the official NHK show “Cool Japan” that documents qualities of the country that “make it cool”, touching on fashion, anime, games, food and significant traditions as self-promotion to people– foreigners in particular. “Cool Japan” is the culmination of everything pop culture is imagined to be, providing a concrete and viewable window to join in on every Sunday night on NHK.
Foreigners from around the world are featured in themed episodes, interviewed on their areas of interest and what, for them, is their “Cool Japan”. One episode in particular focuses on Shoujo manga (romance manga usually geared towards younger girls), showing a glimpse into the lives of avid fans, as well as shoujo manga from a foreign perspective. The show itself is geared primarily towards Japanese viewers, in a way providing an easy and relaxed tour of the progressing pop-culture from inside the comfort of their homes.
What’s impossible to miss though is the generalization of what it means to be a part of “Cool Japan”. By the standards of the NHK show, anything that resembles Japanese aesthetics is pulled into the steadily growing soft-power. The country is essentially a trend, categorizing esteemed Japanese religious traditions alongside modern anime and manga. This may generalize the aesthetic elements of the culture, but it also creates a diverse smorgousboard that culminates its entirety. Self-aware of this cultural quality, the Cool Japan Fund was founded as a public-private fund to promote the development of overseas demand for Japanese products and services. In other words, the fund acts as an official marketing tactic for Japanese culture. Their mission is “to become a central organization that assembles and amplifies information and resources associated with “Cool Japan””, thereby seeking recognition nationally and internationally.
Due to the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, “Cool Japan” is being amplified more than ever. At this point it may be worth asking if there is anything coming out of Japan that is not considered “cool”? It is interesting to see that even the previously embarrassing and stigmatized world of otaku is now seen as an integral part of the culture in many ways.
Ultimately, “Cool Japan” comes across as exactly what it is– a marketing strategy– but also prompts both Japanese and foreigners interested in Japan to find something about the country that means a lot to them. For some, their “Cool Japan” may be anime, for others, it may be the snacks that can only be found in Japanese convenience stores. It may even be a traditional Shinto temple far from the trendy streets of Tokyo. “Cool Japan”, despite its branded nature, encourages individuals to find their passions and selves within the context of the country-wide culture.