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Japan bets on overseas 'Japantowns' to boost economy

73 Comments
By Kyoko Hasegawa

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© 2012 AFP

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No criticism but it's like japan exported few units of watermelon to UAE and few tons of rice to China few years ago. Didn't generate foreign revenue.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Well, if the mountain won't go to Mohamed... Still, I'm not sure what to think of the idea of building an area of the type that usually springs up naturally around an emigrant community, over the course of years.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

It may have decent potential in Asia: Singapore, Taipei, Jakarta, KL...but I doubt much beyond that. Of course, if you base it too much on youth-orientated fashion, which is so ephemeral, you may only have a flash in the pan. As far as food goes, I've often thought that more izakaya-type places should spread around the world, when done right, they are a great night out.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

If they build Little Harajuku in a foreign city and shelve the stores with Cool Japan products, won't the money flow not to Japan but to the manufacturers in China?

12 ( +15 / -3 )

Actually, this may just work, here in Japan most of us are all jaded and not impressed by anything so called Cool Japan, but folk who only know about Japan from manga etc..are all crazy about Japan and they may just have enough $$$ to help out those at Uniqlo etc..

-7 ( +5 / -11 )

Japan should stop selling itself to the world, instead should do what it did best during the 80s when it gave the world what it wanted, new ideas/medias such as mangas/animes, new electronic gadgets, superior products, etc. So, instead of saying, "we're cool, please like us", it should be "we make cool stuffs you cannot not like".

15 ( +16 / -2 )

(Japanese are) raised in an environment where everything is high-quality—manga, anime, games and other toys. The Japanese in general are known for craftsmanship,

For certain products, yes. But the other side is the disposable plasticky kitsch "quality" of many products (e.g. AKB48, Hello Kitty, maid cafes, subculture fashion, household gadgets). Is it really wise for Japan's economic planners to pin their hopes on branding Japaneseness in such a way? Does Japan want to become the cultural dime store of the world?

4 ( +6 / -3 )

Seems like Cool Japan wants to bring it's immoral lolita culture to countries overseas.

Bad move. We don't want it. Touching underage girls just isn't our idea.

Izakaya(s) might do well in New York but no where else. We drive and we can't mix alcohol and vehicles.

We don't need maid cafes either. It just doesn't fit.

2 ( +9 / -7 )

quirky areas like shopping district Harajuku pop up in cities around the world, boosting Japan’s brand overseas and helping to reverse the nation’s flagging fortunes

haha good luck with that one!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

won't work, Japan hasn't been "cool" for years. Korean culture is "in" right now, and Japan is quickly being forgotten. Lately there has been a "galapagosization" of Japanese products, in which things made here don't appeal to anyone else in the world. AKB is a good example. Also lolita anime and manga.

-6 ( +5 / -11 )

Maybe if this was started 25+yrs ago, as usual too little way too late...........

And as others have said out of some fashions by small designers most of this stuff WOULDNT be MIJ anyway!

I love izakaya & I think if done right cud do well in cities abroad, in fact more are popping up over time.

As for trying make J-towns............... I wud bet that ship has long sailed, even in Asia, just find the RIGHT location for the product & might work.

BUT this WILL NOT be any boom for Japan proper in the big scheme of things

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I think they misunderstand the Chinatown phenomenon. Most Chinatowns were not set up as a ploy to sell products. They are living, working communities of people who established themselves abroad a long time ago.

19 ( +20 / -2 )

The area and its fashion has inspired pop diva Lady Gaga.

Wait what?! Harajuku came after Lady Gaga?

The anime, manga part might work, but Akihabara would be more successful. Izakayas also could work. Maid cafés and others might not.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

...oh, my bad, it's the other way around. That makes sense.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

how on earth is opening a "Maid Cafe" in New York City going to boost the japanese economy???

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Not a bad idea, actually. Japanese culture minus salarymen and bureaucrats, very attractive. Ones own culture is always purified when tested inside another culture.

But it hinges on language-capable Japanese moving overseas for extended period, and I don't see it happening on the whim of what is practically an interim government.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@ultradork I agree with the appeal of izakaya. Good food in a casual atmosphere ( add a few different beers to the menu - no choice of beer being one of my few grumbles ). I see no reason why the sickly kitsch of Kitty can't be sold alongside the high quality goods of manufacturing. AKB is a different matter - quirky is fine and high quality is always great but AKB is just creepy.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

It is one thing for a home grown China Town, or Little Italy to spring up because quite a few people from those countries moved into one area... but to have the Japanese Government back or spend any money on this idea... I think it would be a mistake. It is one thing to run commercials in foreign countries to try to push tourism and such, but building Little Chic Harajuku's is a mistake. The minute you try to sell cool like that... it becomes uncool. People want to think they've discovered something home grown on their own, not some carfully manicured commercial little town.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Not going to work. The only thing that might work is flogging maid cafes and mange/anime to the losers of the world. I doubt these companies could agree to anything and then add in the rent for good locations, let alone size needed. Let's be honest, the only people that think Japan is cool these days are foreign otaku with their creepy managa and celebrities like Lady Gaga who just uses Japan for sales. I doubt she thinks it is cool, more like a place she can hawk her wares.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

i want a japanese town hell yea

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

"cool Japan" is nothing more than empty ad copy.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I'm not otaku nor do i care much about manga and i think the japanese culture is cool. It obviously has its ups and downs and downright weirds, but generally it seems interesting. Wouldn't mind having a mini electric city here.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Government need to have a strategy for this?.. This has been a natural phenomena in whatever city there is immigrant population - Koreans especially have been good at setting up recent "trendy" shops selling "cool fashion, cutesy products in Hello Kitty style, K-pop CD etc.. This idea might have some merit for big companies such as Uniqlo but small time operators like cafes and bars?... Can,t see this work on a scale that would boost" Japan,s flagging fortunes"

0 ( +1 / -1 )

While thinks and thinks about how to reinvent themselves the CHINESE are taking over the world economy! From Spain to Africa, from even here in Japan to you name XXXXXX country, the Chinese are setting up shop whether we like it or not, and the Indians are not far behind either, maybe something for Japan INC. to think about??

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This idea isn't about selling Japanese culture. It is about marketing and sales. Most people can't afford tradition Japanese culture and don't have an interest in it. This is nothing more than companies seeing consumerism at its best.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

There's nothing more uncool than government-sponsored "cool"...

10 ( +11 / -1 )

great idea - why have foreign tourists visit Japan?? uummmmm (not sure about that one)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What exactly is the vision here? Surely most of that stuff was spawned of the bubble era with its decadent levels of conspicuous consumption. It doesn't seem the most likely way of helping an ailing economy - just an opportunity to line the pockets of a few fringe operators while sullying the image of beautiful Japan with tat.

Thank goodness for mountains, shrines, cool breezes, traditional cuisine and the contemplation of the 'thumbs down'.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The area and its fashion has inspired pop diva Lady Gaga.

Where did that info come from? Lada Gaga has nothing to do with Harajuku. it's like a band going to every town and saying "no one rocks like "

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I agree Elbuda Mexicano, if the proposed Japantown makes its way to towns in America besides NY and LA, then a bunch of anime crazy otakus will glady jump on board and the money will flow from them. They will hang around those places all day just like they do at the local bookstores reading manga on the floor anyways.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

/me clears her throat and points at her map of Los Angeles, at Little Tokyo.

California has many J-Towns...Japantown in San Francisco and in San Jose, Little Tokyo, the Sawtelle District in West LA which some of the shopkeepers want to call "Little Osaka," and the South Bay region of LA County which has a huge Nikkei and Japanese American population. We can use a little more economic development here, Japan...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have watched a couple of programs by NHK on this.

When I saw the first one I was absolutely sure this idea was weird. But the J pop culture exists and “exporting” it might prove one of the many ways to promote Japan and subsequently cash in on it. We cannot keep insisting that something does not exist when it is all around us. According to the second program I saw, several small-size PR companies in Europe have embraced the idea and are promoting J pop culture products, making sizeable profits.

Given that some weird points morally unacceptable to western people are excluded from the picture (or in other words, the products are adjusted to the preferences of the market), this project might gather speed.

And hey, product design & marketing nowadays are all about making a product sellable so now I do not doubt that some companies will be willing to tap into this and will do their best. We have seen many times that J people’s hard work and persistence have given good results. So I wish them luck in this!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

"(Japanese are) raised in an environment where everything is high-quality—manga, anime, games and other toys".

Everything is high-quality huh? Don't want to be labelled as the naysayer but notice how things like 'music' and 'TV programs' are missing from the list. And this is not an accident.

What is not explicitly mentioned in this article but which is implied is that Japan NEEDS to develop their businesses abroad with the yen the way it is. The yen needs to severely depreciates to the 90-100 yen mark to the US dollar in order for the BOJ to achieve its 1% inflation target.

Meanwhile, J companies will continue to lose big bucks when they repatriate their profits.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Japantowns ? Goods made in China. How does that help the Japanese economy ?..

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I'll take this bet, where can I put my money down? I bet it fails miserably in weeks and just makes Japan look desperate for attention.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Everything is high-quality huh? Don't want to be labelled as the naysayer but notice how things like 'music' and 'TV programs' are missing from the list. And this is not an accident.

And with the exception of a few, games are also deteriorating in quality... And are most mangas and animes even really that high-quality?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Once again the public sector, lacking an ounce of entrepreneurial sense, interferes to justify their own comfortable existence with unsustainable ideas from snake oil consultants.

What intellectual property rights and scalability are there in quirky Harajuku fashion and Izakaya? Yes, Japan can throw public money at this hare-brained scheme, leasing overpriced real estate, but there's very little first mover advantage or means to protect your investment.

Before you know it, Chinese and Koreans will adopt the concepts, improving their local value proposition. Look at the Wagamama noodle chain started by a guy from HK in London, but now on five continents.

Ideas like this belong back in the 1960s, when few travelled, information came through a couple of TV channels, and the country next door was exotic.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Let's cut to the chase. Japan's economy is in the dumps, so millions of young people there cannot afford "Japanese Cool" themselves (NEETS), and the population is aging rapidly, so there are fewer young folks to be cool, so they have to look overseas to try to find people guillable enough to pay for this stuff. And the J-government is going to spend billions of yen to try to help find them. Too bad they didn't spend the money years ago to help create some young folks of their own.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Revenue from Japantowns? HAH you'd see Korean pretenders siphoning the dough out of this scheme much sooner than you would expect! Just like their sushi joints in Cali

1 ( +2 / -1 )

bleh, keep Harajuku "fashion" in Harajuku please.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@mctavish I can't see how pop culture like Hello Kitty and manga denigrates Japan's image. Onsens, mountains and shrines are all well and good when you're in Japan ( although visitors to Japan and many Japanese will confess to feeling a little bored when seeing their umpteenth shrine or sitting through a tea ceremony ). America exported Marvel Comics to the world but that didnt stop people admiring and reading Faulkner and Hemingway. Everything has its place...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I would recommend Japan doesn't do this. They'll be confronted that their super unique Japan isn't so super unique after all. Besides, do they expect people overseas to pay in Yen, or buy things made in Japan when they can buy cheaper Japanesey looking things that were made in Korea or Japan? Foolish idea showing the desperation of clueless, out of touch politicians.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Japan should stop selling itself to the world, instead should do what it did best during the 80s when it gave the world what it wanted, new ideas/medias such as mangas/animes, new electronic gadgets, superior products, etc

Agreed, there was a time when Japan DIDN'T care ( I miss those days) and turned out THE BEST products at the time, they took a chance and almost anything you bought lasted forever, had value and was the envy of many, Not so today, now you have Korea making great products for a lot cheaper in many cases with this economy, if you want to buy Japanese products today, a little on the dull side and way too pricy. Countries like Taiwan and also China are catching up. Why Japan sees no urgency in this is astounding to me! Japan DOES have what it takes, but they lost their luster and now they hope by bringing in Japantowns that will boost the economy? On that part, the ship sailed a long time ago. At this point and time, I can't see how that would help Japan in any way.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

There's absolutely nothing special about Harajuku, Hello Kitty or Cool Japan. If you're hoping those things will revive the economy, you're doomed.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I find most of what was written quite amusing.

Japan make some surprisingly good whiskey, try marketing that.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Cool Japan is yesterday. Today it's cool Korea.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I'm not sure about this... Exporting Harajuku overseas. I really do think some forms of Harajuku should stay in Harajuku. Every time I go to the NYC Kinokuniya, I semi-cringe looking at the Lolita fashion magazine section while passing by it. And if NYC should ever import a maid cafe, I'll be face-palming for eternity. (NYC does have its own Japanese "little Tokyo" per say, but it's kind of branched out.) As I'm not in NYC, I'm perfectly content with Mitsuwa. However, the one thing I'm SUPER happy that's going to open up in the fall for me is UNIQLO. My local mall will have the first serious mall UNIQLO in the States. Finally, a clothing store with the right kind of sizes and styles for me. No longer have to ride an airplane just to get to a UNIQLO (and I avoided all NYC stores because paying bus fare on top of clothing + NY tax isn't worth it).

There are certain things that Japan can export and do it right, but they shouldn't be done in the "Cool Japan" image. :/ California has several Little Tokyos and Daisos. Daiso never expanded beyond California though. Well, so much for expansion.... I found a cute little "made in Japan" trashcan in Taiwan's Daiso, which made me relieved because I was afraid I wouldn't see one in that store filled with things mostly not made in Japan, asides from the food.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

it might be a good counterbalance, offering an japanese quality of commercial experience

as alternative to the

global infiltration of starbucks, dominos pizza,

and other corporate entities offering goods and services at subpar quality

and having a neo-colonial corporatist agenda.

of course, mass marketing of trashy lolita fashion and manga type pop culture does not offer much in the way of a japanese experience.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@Mocheake

What Hello Kitty not special! go wash your mouth Young man!

But i also fail to see how this will make money for Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If I remember correctly Yaohan tried this in the 90s and went bust in the process. The centre in London was biggish, pretty cool and sold plenty of Japanese products but was just too expensive. So far it seems the most sustainable Japanese retail export has been Uniqlo selling its Chinese made clothes. But is it really so different to the chains available locally in any developed country?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

just don't forget to leave the loud audio advertising and all the above ground electrical wires in Tokyo.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

In other words the Japanese hope to create the "gaikoku mura" (Huis Ten Bosch, Parque España and many others, see Hendry) but (with the exception of world trade fairs perhaps), as many commentators have noticed this form of "post-tourist" attraction is largely percuilar to the Japanese. The Japanese have a massive tradition of copying things, such as the Sun Goddess, shrines, and house hold shrines, Ise shrine, horses, pilgrimages, and food, and finding these copies "simulacra," as real as the real thing. Other Asians may be into it. Japanese tourists might be into it. I would recommend against trying to sell Japantowns to Westerners, who would only go to be weirded out.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

my guess is that the Japanese overseas and who can afford to go overseas enjoy the lifestyle mostly but have nothing to keep them overseas once they arent a student anymore, and so they are creating money for themselves-with this guess in mind, what doesnt make sense to me is why dont those same Japanese spend money in Japan on making that foreign lifestyle that they enjoy a lifestyle here?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

dont come here! in singapore a japanese fuji apple sells for 700 yen a pop! keep it with u in japan!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

California has several "J Towns". They are usually frequented by Isei or American Japanese with friend to enjoy the culture but they are never very crowded. Little Tokyo in LA has had its moments of fun. It became rather run down and dark so I gave up going there. A lot of money would have to be spent by companies to make it worthwhile and today's economy here doesn't seem to allow it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Cool Japan is an oxymoron. Talk about an over inflated ego.

When is the last time you bought something from Uniqlo? How much did you spend? Can anyone name one cool brand that is Japanese nowadays?

Japan's strength is in patents, the profits from which will not trickel down to avarage Japanese.

It was a good run, but all good runs must come to an end. Last person turn the lights of please.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Chinatowns are everywhere in the world. Let us make Japantowns.

IGNORANCE, ARROGANCE AND FAILED.

This business concept may work only in the Southeast Asia and China, but not here in USA.

Thanks to hard working Japanese Americans who always belive education is a key to mobility in society. Most Japanese Americans have been well assimilated in US society as MD, Lawyer, Engineers, Scientist, Politicans and etc, and left Japan Town over 6 decades ago while there are many Chinese Americans still living within the Great Wall of China Town in many US cities The famous one is in city of San Francisco. .If you go to Japan Towns here in US, many restaurants are now run by Korean, Phillipine, Southeast natives. We do not go there as we found better things to do outside of the Great Wall. We are free and we love it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"the worlds third biggest economy" theres that rather egotistical brag again... Japan will do that is its name afterall, people know your a big economy and dont require a brag that makes Japan look like its got an inferiority complex Rich culture, again I have problems with the way its written, apart from the US -no offence intended- there are very few Poor cultures... I dont believe in Japan towns and China towns, I think they do more to alienate the immigrants from a country than to introduce the citizens to another Japan needs to find its niche and I think arguably tourism could go far, but with Japanese architecture currently so hideous and goods marked up so high its not persuading half as many as it has the potential too

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The U.S. already has "Maid Cafes". They're called "Hooters".

Stylized uniforms: Check Cheerfull waitresses willing to stroke your ego: Check So-so food: Check Beer and mixed drinks served: Check (on second thought, I don't think the maid cafes do this)

That said, I don't think there's a huge amount of American men yearning to be waited on by maids. But I COULD be wrong.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

BUTLER Cafes, on the other hand... Women LOVE to be served by Chippendale wanabees.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese copying the Chinese - china towns hahahha

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@ SwissToni

If I remember correctly Yaohan tried this in the 90s and went bust in the process. The centre in London was biggish, pretty cool and sold plenty of Japanese products but was just too expensive. So far it seems the most sustainable Japanese retail export has been Uniqlo selling its Chinese made clothes. But is it really so different to the chains available locally in any developed country?

Yaohan, the name, sank, but it got bought by a new company which then became Mitsuwa. I don't know how it is in the UK, but in the US, the Mitsuwas (formally known as "Yaohans") are thriving to say the least. Then again, I've never been to any of the other Mitsuwas except the one in my own state, which is ALWAYS crowded in the weekends. We do have a high Asian population to count for that though. So lots of people will still go for the ramen and other Japanese food. However, our Mitsuwa is owned by a Korean, but a lot of expat Japanese and Japanese Americans alike will still come by and shop/work here. (That's usually a good sign.)

Whenever I go to Uniqlo, I don't buy any of the clothing that says "made in China" on their tags. Of course, they don't seem that different than a lot of other clothing chain, but I like Uniqlo's color and size selection. I put them right besides Kohl's and I'm perfectly satisfied with that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Here in Northern Virginia, we have Super H Marts. Mostly Asian food (Japanese/Korean/Vietnamese), but there's a smaller section of the store dealing with Japanese/Korean small appliances and other sundries. No clothing to speak of, though.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

AnonymouseNJ. The Yaohan mall in London was sold on to a (Hong Kong) Chinese company but still didnt make it. Theres a large Asian population supporting a vibrant Chinatown in the city and a good few Japanese businesses too. These have grown up supporting immigration and tourism rather than by any export endeavours. In Japan Yaohan's businesses were taken on by Aeon who have gone on to be major mall developers but they are essentially generic shopping centres.

I think the idea is probably fine for a series of pop up shops or events but I dont see the idea of exporting Japantowns as sustainable when most of the products are available locally or via the internet. It certainly wont stop the rot in Japans export market. Unlike others though, I dont think Japan is going to disappear.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sell your superior j-phones to abroad countries and we'll see second "Economical miracle".

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Japan, you can buy some of the crappy provinces of Canada and turn it into Japanada. Seriously. Let the negotiations begin :p

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@ Fadamor:

Here in Northern Virginia, we have Super H Marts. Mostly Asian food (Japanese/Korean/Vietnamese), but there's a smaller section of the store dealing with Japanese/Korean small appliances and other sundries. No clothing to speak of, though.

I think it depends on the H-Mart as every single one of them is different. H-Mart is the shortened nick name for its full name "Han Ah Reum" and as you can tell by that, it's a Korean super market/mall chain. We have several of them here in my state too (as we do have a significant Korean population up here). One of our Super H-Marts is like a mini-mall so they also sell clothing, serve bakery goods, has a bookstore, etc. and etc.

@ SwissToni:

The Yaohan mall in London was sold on to a (Hong Kong) Chinese company but still didnt make it. Theres a large Asian population supporting a vibrant Chinatown in the city and a good few Japanese businesses too. These have grown up supporting immigration and tourism rather than by any export endeavours. In Japan Yaohan's businesses were taken on by Aeon who have gone on to be major mall developers but they are essentially generic shopping centres.

I see. o__o Wow. Thanks for informing me on what happened to the rest of the chain. ^^

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Unlike Chinese or Vietnamese investors, the Japanese and Japanese-American investors in the U.S. will not pool their resources and money to build their own shopping center. They think of in a more selfish way and doing thier business separately. Japanese investors will not work as a team for a common goal. What a selfish people. No wonder Koreans are taking over Japantown in the U.S.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@sfjp330, I always have a high regard to your post. You brough up a very good point that Japanese and Japanese American are selish, or appreciate a value of self-reliance as well as people of UK. Is it something to do with their DNA living in Islands without any resources? Very interesting.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Culture is perhaps the richest Japanese asset. But J-companies must abandon their "Elizabeth Arden Circuit" mentality: that have retail stores in some 8 cities abroad is enough. J-companies should copy the way US companies do business abroad: open stores wherever you can profit. Quality they already have (despite me not thinking that Uniqlo makes good clothes), they must only be more daring.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It is bound to fail if it is organized by the government. Let Japanese businesses find good opportunities abroad, they know better than the government how to invest their money.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Whatever happened to the idea of stimulating tourism with a few free tickets to Japan? Who won those tickets? If Japan would subsidize an airline ticket just 20% and a Japan Rail pass 50%, tourism would double. Get the tourist in Japan, and the economy will be stimulated in many ways. Keep the tourist in Japantown, San Francisco, and the USA tourism benefits. The are dozens of Shinkansen trains running every day during non-commuter times that are practically empty. A subsidized Japan Rail pass with limited time of use would fill these trains with tourists. The nice, young people pushing the vending carts would also appreciate the increase in sales.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Many posters jumped to the conclusions ranging from "it works definitely " to " no way" etc.. The key to success is to take action & soon for the residual values left over from hello kitty to mangas may not last for too long time before they are placed in the museums... Hence, tapping the potential & just do it..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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