Analysis: As Japan tries to regain its late 20th century prowess in cultural exports, it should look next door to the steamrolling Chinese economy: both as a market and an industrial resource. A soft-power plan to conquer the world.
BEIJING – Culture and entertainment can sneak onto center stage in both global economics and diplomacy. Take the recent opening of the Japan Anime Festival 2011 in Beijing, where Japanese Foreign Minister Genba Koizumi and Chinese Cultural Minister Cai Wu shared their own childhood memories of watching manga films.
From the Astro Boy science fiction series of the 1960s to the latest Crayon Shin-chan, Japan's animation industry – not to mention related phenomena such as Hello Kitty or Nintendo electronic games – still exerts global influence.
Faced with a prolonged economic slump, the new government of Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has drawn up a new three-pronged national campaign to boost industry, labeled Life, Clean and Cool. "Life" covers the health and well-being fields, particularly associated with an aging population; "Clean" is for renewable energy; and "Cool" is for the creative industries like animation, television series, music, films, architecture, computer games, fashion and design.
On the "Cool" front, Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry opened in October the Creative Industries Promotion Office with a staff of 60. "Cool Japan" is its slogan for promoting the diffusion of Japanese culture in other countries.
The Cool Japan approach
Back in the second half of the 20th century, Japan adopted a "convoy" approach to marketing its products abroad. The Japanese government took the initiative to form a team of enterprises and promoted them as a whole package to the West. This was once the driving force of Japan's rapid post-war economic development. But over the past two decades, this force slowed down and eventually collapsed, under the weight of American resistance, the diversification of the market, as well as the rise of a more independent enterprise spirit.
Of late, the world has instead watched China's "troika" industrial and export policy. Driven by the Chinese government, its state-owned banks and state-owned enterprises marched proudly into the world market. Tokyo's response now appears to be Cool Japan, seeing this "soft power" strategy as the most effective way of spreading and maintaining its influence in the 21st century.
Under the government's guidance, Japan is unveiling its Cool Japan program in nine countries and 13 regions around the world. Currently, Japanese animation, comics, games and films are very well accepted overseas, but its export ratio is a very low 5%. The output simply does not meet the needs of the increasing Asian audience. For instance, integrating Japan's anime industry with Hollywood, so as to establish a Japan-America-Asia transmission model for Japanese culture would be critical. The trade and industry ministry has set a goal of more than tripling the present 0.7 trillion yen ($8.9 billion) worth of Japan's cultural products sold overseas.
I have my personal view as how to promote Japan's soft power. China and Japan should work jointly to seize the world market. There's already an example of such a joint venture. This year, "The Tibetan Dog", an animated film co-produced by Madhouse and the China Film Group Corporation has set a precedent.
When I saw the Chinese and Japanese ministers singing the Astro boy theme song together at the Japan Anime Festival, I was convinced that the two countries harvest from the same cultural soil.
Japan has the most advanced technology while China has the most talent. If they work together, like they did on Tibetan Dog, they'd be able to develop joint cultural products. This would be an invincible blend, first occupying the vast and growing Chinese market before exporting to the entire world.
Next year will be the 40th anniversary of China and Japan's normalization of diplomatic relations. Together Cool Japan and Hot China can join forces to advance a Sino-Japan cultural strategy.
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Photo - utpala