While visiting friends who were a part of the recent "Naruto" stage production, Japanese film and music star Gackt was left with a bad feeling. Having watched one of the overseas "Naruto" performances, the singer couldn’t help but notice the lack of people in the audience.
Gackt doesn’t rule out possible flaws with the play such as too much material crammed into a short time. However, as he wrote in a recent impassioned blog post, he thinks the real culprit may be the Japanese government and their Cool Japan promotional program, which he feels is anything but.
■ “I wonder if anyone in Japan actually understands what Cool Japan does?”
Cool Japan was an initiative set forward by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). Its purpose was to promote Japan’s “creative industries” to foreign countries. To many, including Gackt, this would mean products such as music, film, manga, and anime to name a few. Yet the performer feels that the Cool Japan budget is being sent somewhere else.
“The Japanese government made a new attempt at this in the name of Cool Japan, but while they have set up a huge budget for it, they have no idea where that money should go. It’s no exaggeration to say it has fallen into a downward spiral of wasted tax money flowing into little known companies.
"Let’s assume that it is the right move for the money to go into these obscure companies. There still have been almost no tangible results of Japanese culture being exported into foreign countries. I can’t help but accuse METI of having no idea how to use this huge budget properly.”
Strong words, but is Gackt simply making Cool Japan a scapegoat for the low turnout for "Naruto," or is he on to something?
Mentioning how South Korean artists and projects get strong backing by their government, Gackt turned his sights on Japan’s own efforts to support its creative works.
“With Byung-hun Lee cast as the villain in the new 'Terminator' movie, we can see how the South Korean government is continuing to firmly push their culture.
"Meanwhile, what actors are representing Japan around the world? Ken Watanabe has been active overseas after the hit 'Last Samurai,' but the sad fact is that it was a private production without any support from the government whatsoever. And since Ken, no world-class Japanese actor has appeared.”
Earlier in the blog post as well, Gackt accuses the Japanese government’s lack of support of causing the country to fall behind its Asian neighbors in terms of cultural exports. He later begins to wind up the post on a somber note.
“But the Cool Japan budget is still floating in the air. Who the hell is this budget for? I wonder if anyone living in Japan actually understands what Cool Japan does. I wonder what Cool Japan does. How many people can clearly answer that question? It’s sad.
"Desolate feelings well up when I think about how my country is not keeping pace with the government/private sector cooperation of other developed nations. Can anyone fix this? Our next generation will not grow in this way.”
As for the question of what Cool Japan actually does, we thought we could answer that at one time. Back in 2013, we ran a few articles trumpeting Cool Japan’s pop-culture subcommittee which was going to light the world on fire with its 84 billion yen.
Since then, we kind of lost touch with Cool Japan. Back in 2014 we reported on a website they had set up called 100 Tokyo featuring places for tourists to visit while in Japan’s capital city. It was nice, but not 84-billion-yen nice.
And…that’s about it. Maybe it’s time to check in on them again.
So, to look into Gackt’s accusations, we decided to visit the Cool Japan Facebook page where surely, we thought, they would have put their sexier accomplishments. Upon opening the page, the top banner image advertised a website which opened over a year ago which was a little disheartening.
However, they have been making regular posts up to June of this year. Here’s one from April 20, 2015, so we can see what Cool Japan is up to these days.
▼ “[Information] We’ve posted the public schedule of individual projects for the Japan Brand Awareness Support Services. This is a project which teams up with small and medium-sized enterprises that have products utilizing the life and culture of Japan. We also provide continuous support towards overseas demand creation via market research, PR, commodity improvement, and distribution.”
After reading that, the word “cool” doesn’t immediately spring to mind.
Since it’s a government project, we can easily look deeper into what the Brand Awareness Support Services are up to via the Cool Japan website. Some companies that they provide support to include KCmitF, a company intending to sell “miscellaneous lifestyle products” such multi-layered cotton gauze and hand-blown glass to Singapore. There’s also Trunk Design who are looking to sell their handcrafted abacuses (abaci?) to Middle Eastern countries.
While supporting small businesses in this way is certainly a good thing, many are still left confused about what Cool Japan’s prime directive is these days. Back in 2013 it seemed gung-ho on promoting Japan’s pop culture of anime, manga, J-pop, and films. Now as noble an endeavor as promoting Japanese abacus and gauze makers is, the country doesn’t seem to be really putting its best foot forward on the international stage.
■ Just a catchy name?
So, as far as we could tell, Cool Japan appears to be more of a small business assistance program rather than the champion of vocaloids, idol groups, and Naruto musicals. We would assume that Cool Japan sees these entities as large enough to thrive on their own without government support. Instead they focus their efforts on what might become the next big thing.
That isn’t crazy logic at all, but as Gackt and many others before him have pointed out, South Korea has taken the opposite route by backing up its prime pop culture phenoms and as a result has reaped the benefits of fame in recent years.
Perhaps somewhere along the way Cool Japan had decided to change direction, or maybe we were all just misled by its name to be something cooler than it actually ever intended to be.
Sources: Gackt Blog, METI
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