executive impact

Cool Japan Ambassador Paul Christie talks about plans to highlight a different side of the country

22 Comments
By Chris Russell for BCCJ ACUMEN

Japan is in the middle of a tourism boom. In 2016, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization, the country welcomed 24 million inbound visitors, a rise of 22% on the previous year. Even so, the country still lags behind the UK, which attracted 37 million visitors between December 2015 and November 2016. The Japanese government, meanwhile, is targeting an annual figure of 40 million visitors by 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

To achieve that number, over the past two years the Cabinet Office has enlisted the help of what it terms Cool Japan Ambassadors —individuals from the world of journalism, fashion, business or culture able to promote various aspects of the country.

The use of the word cool might immediately bring to mind anime, Japanese fashion brands and video games. Yet, since not all visitors can fit into trendy areas, such as Tokyo’s Harajuku district, that are known for them and, indeed, not everyone is interested, tourism-related bodies are working to promote a broader image of the country. It is this that informs the choice of the nation’s 38th Cool Japan Ambassador: Paul Christie, chief executive officer of the tour firm Walk Japan Ltd.

Since 1992, the firm has been leading tours into the Japanese countryside to showcase features of traditional culture and natural beauty to which tourists typically might not have access or that they might not even associate with Japan.

“I believe the people connected with promoting Japan at large are maturing in the way they think about promoting Japan”, he told BCCJ ACUMEN. “Things like anime are distinctly Japanese, but a very modern Japanese. I can understand why they fixated on that sort of thing at first, but I think now the Japanese are being more thoughtful and thinking about Japan’s deeper attractions.

“I will be focusing on what I think are the most salient points of Japan, which are its elegance in particular — it’s a very elegant country”, he said, highlighting Japanese fashion, service, food, people’s demeanour and the general way of doing things in the country as examples of this elegance. “This I suppose, arguably, is cool — it depends how you want to define the adjective cool in this case. But for me, that’s what’s cool about Japan, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on”.

For the time being, Cool Japan Ambassadors aren’t being given specific instructions regarding their role. So Christie and the public relations firms Walk Japan use are plotting their own path.

“We’re still thinking about how best to do this because when I start I want to make sure it’s the sort of format that we want to keep for an extended period”, he explained. Given Christie’s travelling and wide range of experience in the country, that will involve allowing followers to vicariously experience “the elegant Japan that I know and the elegant Japan I’ve yet to come across through photographs and using social media to promote that”.

The government’s hands-off approach extends to the duration of the role, with Christie not having heard about any specific time limit. But that suits Christie, as he sees it as an extension of his existing work, and so it is something that could continue well into the future.

“For me, I just see it as something else that’s part and parcel of what I do — it’s not like I have to do something particularly different. It fits very well with the activities I’ve been doing with Walk Japan for the past 20 years and our community projects, so it’s very simple for me.

“It’s provided me with a slightly wider platform to promote Japan and promote our business than we had before”, he added.

The selection process was somewhat opaque, with little prior indication that Christie was about to have this new role bestowed on him.

“It was very Japanese in the sense that there was only a brief mention of being a Cool Japan Ambassador, and, before I knew it, I’m being told, ‘You’ll be going to a meeting, and at that meeting you’ll be recognised as a Cool Japan Ambassador’. And that was it”.

But that is not to say that the recognition came from out of the blue. The work that Christie and his wife do to promote Japan and Oita — the prefecture where they live — through Walk Japan’s tours and community projects initially attracted the attention of Katsusada Hirose, governor of Oita. That led to Christie’s recognition as a Cool Japan Ambassador.

The opportunity comes at an interesting time, with the Japanese tourism market set to enter the next, more mature phase in its evolution.

“The low-hanging fruit has been largely picked. Now they have to think about how they reach the higher fruit on the tree and promote those areas that haven’t received much inbound tourism, and also promote things which are more subtle, which is what I would call the elegant Japan.

“It’s an exciting time to be in this industry, in this country, definitely”.

Custom Media publishes BCCJ ACUMEN for the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.


22 Comments
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it’s a very elegant country

It would not be the first adjective that came to my mind to describe Japan. In fact, it's hard to reconcile almost anything I see every day with elegant. Still, I guess that is why I am not a Cool Japan Ambassador.

2 ( +9 / -7 )

It would not be the first adjective that came to my mind to describe Japan

Oh, but there are pockets of exquisite elegance.

Between the eyesores.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

Oh, but there are pockets of exquisite elegance.

Between the eyesores.

Forget which book it was, but Alex Kerr wrote about the painstaking efforts photographers have to make to crop out reality: tangled power lines, ghastly looking buildings, garish signage, etc. That said, this guy is on the right track if he's leading tours into the countryside. Countless villages are still gorgeous (albeit often dying). You can find a lot of harmony with nature that is almost completely lacking in urban Japan.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

agree with all 3 above posters

To achieve that number, over the past two years the Cabinet Office has enlisted the help of what it terms Cool Japan Ambassadors —individuals from the world of journalism, fashion, business or culture able to promote various aspects of the country

personally, I don't think that's what's going to do it. The easing of visa restrictions is going to do a lot more than cool japan reinvention. My 2 cents.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

What would be 'cool' is if they came up with another name for 'cool Japan'. There is so much beauty in Japan, surely someone can come up with a better description than 'cool'.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The government’s hands-off approach extends to the duration of the role, with Christie not having heard about any specific time limit. But that suits Christie, as he sees it as an extension of his existing work, and so it is something that could continue well into the future.

The government is hands-off, and, probably not offering/providing finances either.

At first, I was going to say this guy is a complete buffon for taking up this farce of Japanese 'coolness,' but then I read:

“It’s provided me with a slightly wider platform to promote Japan and promote our business than we had before”, he added.

It's a win-win. The government gets the white face it wants to portray its 'coolness' to the world with, and this guy and his wife makes money.

Cool!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Comparisons with tourist numbers with UK and other European countries are not fair. You can drive to UK from the continent, and go around Europe from country to country with ease. Japan is a long flight or much longer boat ride from everywhere (except maybe S. Korea and China).

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Exactly gokai, silly to compare Japan with euro tourism. Actually think 24M is pretty good considering J's geographical location and the fact competition from neighbouring China, Thailand, Malaysia etc is fierce ($ speaking).

Besides, I honestly don't think being 'more' cool, less cool, differently cool etc matters that much. Imo it's more about logistics and making Japan more accessible to more ppl. Whether we agree or not (I don't) Japan is still a daunting place for many travellers as it is still perceived, and rightly so, as one of the few countries where even speaking 'some' English doesn't make much of a difference. Not much of an issue for Chinese groups perhaps, but different story for Euro/US/Oz etc families or independent travellers. Again, I think it's very feasible to travel in Japan without speaking J but many ppl (especially older generation) think otherwise and won't even try (plus they have other options).

So yes, making Japan more 'non-J speaking friendly' (or the perception that it is) is probably more important than being cool, especially if you want to attract well-off/cashed up tourists who demand value for money.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Weak yen and greater affluence in neighbor countries are what are driving increases in tourism. not sure the "cool Japan" campaign is that much part of this. nevertheless I guess its worth trying and nothing like a few clichés to maker a news story.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Cool Japan. Yuck. Don't you feel stupid just repeating the phrase? It is hard to be clever in copy. I hope there wasn't any karoshi involved in coming up with that one. Actually, it seems pretty lazy. I'm tired of it. How many more years do we have to hear it?

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Each decade could have it's own word. Starting in 2020: Hep Japan, with a yurukyara named Captain Ee-yo wearing a beret, leather jacket with the long fringes, and clutching a long cigarette holder. Damn, I need to copyright this now!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What would be 'cool' is if they came up with another name for 'cool Japan'. There is so much beauty in Japan, surely someone can come up with a better description than 'cool'.

I agree. Also, the word "cool" has such a narrow meaning, but why do they even need a name like that at all, in the first place? It's kind of embarrassing. Is anime really "cool?" Are maid cafes "cool?" There's nothing inherently laid back, clever, excellent or socially adept about them. I guess I'm not the target.

I prefer, "quality Japan," "beautiful countryside Japan," "dang good food Japan," or even "easy going Japan." But I guess these don't translate well.

How about "pop-cult Japan?" At least "cult" gives it some sense of cache...

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The only group that buys this idea of "cool Japan" is the Japanese. I'll give Japan "anime"..but pop cultural staples such as Japanese "dramas", Idol singers, Maid cafes, uniform fetishes aren't exactly "cool"..and only disturbed foreigners would think so. Just saying.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Reminder that "Cool Japan" only resonates to those with "otaku" interests. Foreign otaku who go to Comiket at Tokyo Big Sight (which is basically a indie manga mecca for doujinshi collectors) or spend the whole day shopping at Akihabara can only attest.

Anything outside of this is just outsider mainstream biz/corp and government attempting at cashing in.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

A couple comments...

I also cringe at the term 'Cool Japan' but at the time it had its purpose. The country was trying to expand its appeal beyond the old traditional, i.e. Kyoto etc, that maybe felt a little staid. Things have evolved since then and in my view the term should be put to pasture.

In contrast to some of the early posters, I fully agree with Paul Christie that Japan is elegant and it's a selling point. I lived in Japan for 10 years and recently moved to the US. Compared to the crassness that often exists in America, there is refinement, graciousness and elegance that is uniquely Japanese.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Bunch of oyajis in bad suits trying to promote cool Japan... Grant more visas and just let the viva voce work its magic. You can use the money to open more kindergartens.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Oh, but there are pockets of exquisite elegance. Between the eyesores.

Someone once expressed it to me as "an exquisite sense of beauty, but no sense of ugliness."

2 ( +2 / -0 )

there is refinement, graciousness and elegance that is uniquely Japanese

Agreed!

But it isn't prevalent, you have to often search it out, and view with a telephoto lens or have your eyes somehow not see the mess & clutter(which Japanese seem to do very well), decay that is becoming more & more prevalent.

Its not needle in the haystack but its kind of like where's wally.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@JCJapan - Dogs and Demons is the book you are referring to. It is a great book written by a man that loves (or at least loved) Japan. I remember when it came out and if one does not know Kerr or his background you would think he is attacking Japan (although he states several time in the book he loves the country.)

I am also like Kerr and there, and while he chose to leave Japan there is a good chance I will expire here. I love this country, in spite of its faults (my country also has many faults). Like the subject of this article (Christie) I do recognize the elegance. I also see the people (individual people) running small sushi shops, yakitori shops, making sake, artists, etc. who strive for excellence and near perfection in what they do.

GW - I do see your point but I do not think a telephoto lens is required - I think a filter is needed. I think elegance is all around us, however what I think one needs to do is tune/filter out the other aspects (ugliness of power lines, ridiculous zoning, over-use of concrete, etc.). For example, I had lunch a an amazing Italian restaurant yesterday. The interior was gorgeous and the owner's passion for what he is doing was quite obvious. However the exterior was downright ugly (due to zoning or lack thereof mentioned above).

In the end, I really do not like the saying "Cool Japan" as it is not an accurate reflection of what Japan really is (as many pointed out above). It is actually a "cheap" slogan which should be done away with in my opinion.

There are great things and bad things about Japan, as there all with every other country in the world. In the end people should living outside of their home country should try to choose to settle and reside in a place that suits them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Once again I would like to remind everyone that 'Cool Japan' is the result of stealing from 'Cool Britannia', which was a period of national pride in British culture that emerged in the 1990s before being co-opted by the government for a PR campaign.

Someone in Japan clearly latched on to this, unaware that 'Cool Britannia' only works as a phrase - if it works at all - due to the pun on Rule Britannia. The pun is the whole raison d'être of the phrase. Even with the pun, it's a little lame. Without the pun, it's totally limp.

Again symptomatic of the total lack of input non-Japanese people have in Japanese decision-making even when the target audience lies outside Japan.

Mind you, I see that Australians love to ignore anything East Asians have to say, so maybe fair's fair.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Coming home on a delayed train the other day, filled to 200% capacity with aching legs, face pressed against the window glass I was anything but cool....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well, at least they're off to good start by 'welcoming inbound visitors", thus avoiding the simple error of welcoming random folk bound for New Zealand or Estonia....

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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