In Akihabara, Tokyo’s centre of anime and manga sales and fandom, a new government plan is wildly popular. The idea is to project an image of “Cool Japan” around the world (like Cool Britannia in the 1990s, but without the rhyme). Kyon, a costumed maid touting one of the area’s many maid cafes, says she feels fully part of the effort. Tsukamoto Hiroshi, a retail buyer of manga, says that the fragile Japanese comic industry could do with some official support. But isn’t a government-driven attempt to manufacture “cool”, well, just the opposite?
Now, the guardians of Japan’s economic future are banking on much the same thing. They hope that the beloved, magical cat can reach into his bag of tricks and pull out a ticket to the global spotlight, both for himself and for the nation that created him. Although appointed Japan’s “anime ambassador” in 2008, Doraemon didn’t speak English until a few months ago.
The critters, warriors and doe-eyed women of Japanese animation and manga comics have long found fans around the world. But now the Japanese government wants to mobilise them for a far sterner task: boosting the economy. Enter the "Cool Japan" fund, a $500 million investment of public money aimed at helping Japanese firms promote their cultural wares abroad - an echo of South Korea's investment in soft power that has lifted its K-pop music industry and rapper Psy to global fame.
Is nation-branding effective? Japan is perhaps a good case study. Japan has engaged in a dedicated effort to brand its nation through pop culture, among other things. It is leveraging the popular culture of anime and manga comics to become “cool” in the eyes of the world.
What's Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's (METI), then, come up with as a solution? Jumpstarting international interest in its other endeavors, of course — fashion, design, anime. And to put a little umph in its appeal, they named their latest campaign Cool Japan.