Can METI’s ¥50 billion fund unfreeze ‘Cool Japan’?
BY ROLAND KELTS
Naysaying is almost always risk-free, especially if you do it online. If you’re a cynic, you’re usually right, and if you’re wrong, you can just delete those errant tweets and posts and join the party.
So last month, when Japan’s Upper House rubber-stamped a culture-promotion fund called Cool Japan, I expected little more than bemused shrugs from the anime industry and scorn from Internet otaku (fanboys).
Kyary Pamyu PamyuThe government has been trumpeting its support of Japanese pop culture since at least 2002, when journalist Douglas McGray’s essay, “Japan’s Gross National Cool,” helped awaken politicians to a post-manufacturing path to global relevance. At the time, populist Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, an Elvis fan with a storm-trooper-like helmet of gray hair, announced that Japan would be King of content par excellence.
Here’s what happened: Doraemon, the blue cat character from the series of the same name, which has rarely aired in English-speaking countries, was chosen by the government as Japan’s “anime ambassador.” The following year, three girl-next-door models dressed as a Lolita, a Harajuku-girl and a schoolgirl posed for photographers at the Japan Expo in Paris. But they weren’t cosplaying; they were there as government-sponsored “kawaii (cute) ambassadors of Japan.”
In 2009, a British radio program interviewed me in Tokyo on the significance of then-Prime Minister Taro Aso’s proposed National Center for Media Arts — what the media called the Manga Museum. This would be the first major government-sanctioned repository for Japan’s popular arts post-1945, aimed at a new generation of tourists for whom Japanese pop culture was not merely cool, but worthy of curation and study.
Museum ground was never broken.