“Government-approved” “Cool” “Japan”

I was thinking a little about the concept of “Cool Japan,” and why the idea has lost traction among various levels of fans and critics. One argument I hear occasionally is how, at the end of the day, people cosplaying and running around at conventions doesn’t give an image of “cool” or “cutting edge” but an image of regression or perhaps even immaturity. Essentially, people overestimated how “cool” Japan actually is. I don’t know how much this is really the case.

Another side is the way that Cool Japan was essentially government-backed. The idea of it was to use the media/fashion/image of Japan as “soft power” to influence the world. The problem, as far as I see it (and I think I’ve read similar arguments elsewhere), is that one of manga’s oft-touted strengths is its variety in terms of genres, ideas, philosophies, demographics, and even art styles. However, when it is being used by the Japanese government as one of its public faces, the manga and anime pushed out by the government becomes tacitly “government-approved.” If something is government-approved to be an image of the nation, then there is little chance that any government would willingly let their country’s image be tarnished by specific titles.

Essentially, what I’m thinking is that Cool Japan as a government-backed endeavor to some extent has to necessarily work against manga and anime as mediums of variety. I think the difference is between having something “government-approved” and “government-allowed.”

But I’m sure this topic has been talked to death. Probably at Neojaponisme.

5 thoughts on ““Government-approved” “Cool” “Japan”

  1. This segregation between private and public is even more pronounced in Japan than it is in the U.S., which is what made the campaign so perplexing in the first place. How can you endorse a general concept of “cool” when it’s generally considered inappropriate for public organizations to single out private things they like?


  2. This reminds me of Kinsella’s discussions of the development of “business manga” and related genres in Adult Manga.She talks about the shift from manga as associated with counter-culture (experimental stuff like Garo plus the relationship between political activists–particularly Marxists–and manga both via creators like Sanpei Shirato and adoption of commercial works like Ashita no Joe) to propping up and celebrating capitalism and government power.

    Lately I’ve been interested in the way critical discourses tie in with these sorts of efforts, to make manga “respectable” or use them to further government goals. For instance, the effort to link manga with traditionally Japanese and historically valued art forms like ukiyo-e seems to have been consciously motivated by this sort of desire for legitimacy.


  3. I like to look for the simple answers, and it doesn’t get much simpler than “it was a bait and switch.” The elements of Japanese animation and popular culture played up as “cool” were all of the things which the then-current crop of anime titles lacked.

    The message of “Cool Japan” boiled down to something like “Japanese pop culture is cutting edge, thought-provoking spectacle whose elements are being adopted by the pop cultures of other nations! Behold our live-action films and dramas being adapted! See how well the world has received Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion, [insert well-animated, slickly designed action/sci-fi title here]! As Hollywood adapts our ideas and imports our stars, as our street fashions influence America, Japan is the trendsetter!”

    Okay, fair enough. But to then follow all that up with a push of TV-budgeted self-referential comedies and visual novel adaptations? Things that didn’t embody the “cool” aspects that people were so inclined at the time to incorporate into their own creations? That was the wrong move. Combine that with the separate but parallel issue of low-quality manga over-saturation/impersonation in the US, and suddenly the response is “wait, this isn’t cool at all!”

    You know how it’s kind of hard to come up with a significant list of similar, contemporary titles for the people who saw FLCL and Cowboy Bebop on Cartoon Network and want “more like that”? The fact that it’s not really easy to do that is why people stopped believing in the idea of “Cool Japan.”


  4. When a country (or, really, any entity) finds a need to promote itself as being cool, it is, almost by definition, not actually cool.

    Japan became cool in the 80’s, when its economic power demanded worldwide attention and there was plenty of money to invest in risky, experimental, and, well, cool cultural projects. The past two decades of economic stagnation, on the other hand, have made Japan’s cultural industry progressively more risk-averse, while the world’s attention shifted to China as the next big thing.


  5. Pingback: The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Otaku Culture, and the Specter of Censorship | OGIUE MANIAX

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