November 13, 2015
Let there be a great plan and much talk about Cool Japan Strategy
Graduate School of Media and Governance, Keio University
Guest Professor Takeshi Natsuno
Has it been around two or three years since the term “Cool Japan” has started to sound mundane and no longer cool? This is not at all meant to imply anything negative. It just means that the term has popularized so much so that the general public can recognize it. Everything that hails from Japan that becomes popular overseas now can be tied to the concept of Cool Japan.
Meanwhile, we do not hear much about Cool Japan as a policy making major headway. Indeed, the Japan Pavilion at the Expo Milan garnered praise, and Japan’s international presence has improved substantially, thanks to the country getting considerably better in sports, such as rugby. Japan will continue to be unflagging in presenting items out to the international community ahead of the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020.
However, these did not result from policies. In a manner of speaking, the Expo and sports just turned out to be alright. Excluding the invitation to host the Olympics, they did not result because Japan strategically came up with a plan and worked its policies to take on challenges to achieve the outcome.
Looking back, the significance of the Cool Japan strategy of the past 10 years is that it was broad in scope. It supported all sorts of things that were Japan-like, from food to culture to creative content to traditional arts and crafts. A portfolio was created by ensuring that unfairness or bias does not exist. By doing so, support was secured from all industries, fields and the Japanese people. Subsequently, awareness was raised among all government ministries and agencies, local governing bodies, corporations and Japanese citizens, and in turn, motivated the private sector. This type of process was necessary in order to evoke awareness among Japanese people and corporations that tend to hole up at home.
That said, now that Cool Japan has this level of recognition, it is about time that work starts on creating a strategic and effective plan.
The word “strategy” in Japanese can be abbreviated into the word war (battle). In other words, this means winning by minimizing costs and sacrifice. In management, this refers to taking action in an efficient and effective manner. The effect of the Cool Japan strategy is to spread goods, services and creative content that make 7.0 billion people comprising the global population become conscious of Japan as broadly as possibly with depth. And as a result, this would facilitate Japanese industries to fight on the world stage; in other words, it means that this will give Japan competitive power. Of course, based on this type of perspective, support has been extended to date in a broad manner to items that was thought to take off overseas. That said, a closer look reveals that the way content takes off and the way food gets popular are different, and to start with, the size of the market for these various items is respectively different.
For example, take Japanese anime. It was said to be the symbol of Cool Japan for a long time, and there are works that are well-known, but I cannot see its popularity taking root with the mass public overseas. This is because it was made in a haphazard way to start with. A great number of manga and anime is created in the Japanese language on the backdrop of Japanese culture and society. This makes these items exotic (sense of a different culture, country). It would be fine to read them every once in a while, but it would not be all the time. Even if a hit emerges here and there, the frequency at which people come into contact with them or how deeply people get into them will likely be limited, except for passionate fans. Hollywood films happen to be created in a base market that is diverse and they aim to please tens of thousands of people, so they are easy to be accepted by a diverse global market, but it cannot be helped if there is no great affinity between the world and content that originates in Japan where the base market is unique. The same goes for music. The number of songs that are written in a language other than in English making it to the hit charts in the United States is not zero, but it happens once every several decades.
On the other hand, Japanese cuisine, especially sushi, tempura and in recent years, ramen, that use Japanese-style cooking methods are well known around the world. Chefs and owners are not necessarily Japanese, and people around the world are interested in Japanese cuisine.
Thus, if I were to categorize it very roughly, it means that there are items that are well liked by 1% of the world's population who are Japanophiles and there are items that are liked in a less profound way by 100% of the people. Of course, there is content that ends up somewhere in the middle between the two, but looking at it from a policy point of view, it may be better to engage in Cool Japan that caters to the masses and Cool Japan that is aimed at a core group of passionate followers, thereby implementing measures that are necessary for each group.
As such, how would it turn out if the phase two portion of the Cool Japan strategy is implemented in the following manner?
First, the items selected for Cool Japan are separated into two areas: those that can gain popularity in a broad but superficial way and those that are limited in range, but catch on intensively with a select group. Subsequently, after a certain period of time, 80% of resources is poured into the items from the broad and superficial group that have a high rate of spillover effect. Food, fashion, cosmetics and hospitality services would fall under this category. For this category, resources are focused on large platforms that generate a spillover effect and the strategy is to no longer use a method of pushing specific companies or products. Out of all the examples, the one that is closest to this concept is the project aimed at creating a cold chain distribution network in Vietnam. This means that focus will be placed on developing overseas a platform-like function of a field in which Japan excels in, such as companies that regularly host fashion trade shows around the world (mechanism), building a medical care human resources education center that also accepts foreign people and creating a function for a market that sells Japanese food ingredients around the world. If it is done this way, those other than Japanese corporations and people would be able to operate a business utilizing Japanese food ingredients or expertise, which would lead to more people than ever before from the population coming into contact with Japan. The impact from this policy would be great as a major spillover effect could be anticipated, compared with supporting an individual restaurant chain or creating a Japanese mall in one location.
It would be fine to make a wide-ranging investment, as per the past, on the remaining 20% of resources on items such as manga, anime, music, drama, films, traditional culture, show business and regional development. Even if these fields do not catch on with the general public, the important thing here is to have them get popularized in an intense way with a portion of the population, so it would work if support were extended to individual corporations or projects. If interest for some of these starts to broaden, these items can be upgraded to subsequently becoming a major area of investment.
If the Cool Japan strategy to date were to be the initial phase, it would be necessary to develop this in a full-fledged manner going forward. If this were the case, a major plan would be necessary. Boasting about setting up a market for Japanese food ingredients in every major city around the world and shipping containers from the Tsukiji market every day would not be possible to realize with the private sector alone and an investment of just several hundred million yen. It is crystal clear that if this were realized, genuine Japanese cuisine can be served all around the world, the quality of Japanese cuisine will improve globally and there will be greater interest in Japan.
I hope that Cool Japan Fund Inc. would take action and talk big over and over again in implementing the Cool Japan strategy during this full-fledged phase.
Graduate School of Media and Governance, Keio University Guest Professor
Takeshi Natsuno is a Guest Professor at Keio University SFC’s Graduate School of Media and Governance. He founded the i-mode mobile Internet service in 1999, earning him widespread recognition as a global pioneer and expert on the Internet and mobile multimedia. He was named one of the world’s 25 most influential e-business leaders by Business Week in 2001. Previously the Senior Vice President of NTT DoCoMo, he developed a range of services for email messaging, ringtone downloading, JAVA-based mobile application downloading, e-money payment, and mobile credit.
He graduated from Waseda University in Japan with a BA in Economics in 1988 and received his MBA from the Wharton School in 1995.