Guest writer: 404#4044

Japan may be on a slow decline as far as being a global economic force, but the soft power of its modern entertainment genres, from manga to anime, has global appeal, especially among young people.


Cool Japan

“Cool Japan” is a phrase that has been adopted recently to refer to Japan’s status as an emerging cultural superpower. This is considered a form of soft power: “the ability to indirectly influence behavior or interests through cultural or ideological means”.

The origins of this term trace back to the time period after the American bombings. Japan hoped they could improve their economy and national image by distributing their pop culture throughout the world. In contrast to their long history of being a resilient military power, they opted instead to establish themselves as a soft power, with the goal of changing the world’s perception of their nation. A key factor to the birth of this “new Japan” was Oshin, a Japanese soap opera. This show and many others were well received. With this, the country started introducing the idea of “Cool Japan”, which was an attempt to make use of the success of their pop culture and distribute that pleasure towards the country’s cultural perception. The Japanese commodities are considered “culturally odorless”, as stated by Koichi Iwabuchi. What he means by this term is the fact that, despite the profound influence of Japanese consumer technologies on the cultural activities of our everyday lives, we tend not to talk about them in terms of a Japanese cultural presence.


Japanese Pop Culture

Japanese Pop Culture encompasses various parts of Japanese life, including Japanese cinema, cuisine, television programs, anime, manga, and music, all of which still retain older artistic and literary traditions, and many of their themes and styles of presentation can be traced back to traditional art forms.

After the end of the US occupation of Japan in 1952, Japanese popular culture has been deeply influenced by American media. However, rather than being dominated by American products, Japan localized these influences by appropriating and absorbing foreign influences into local media industries, such as anime.

Japan is a soft power giant; this means that it’s very influential culturally worldwide. However, Japan’s soft power is different from countries like France or Italy. While these European countries are regarded as the mothers of European cultures, Japan has become a cultural powerhouse only after WWII has ended. They have invested a lot in the entertainment industries, namely manpower, talents, and money. Although there are plenty of factors leading to Japan’s success in these said industries, I think the most important one would be westernization.

In my opinion, westernization was absolutely crucial to Japan’s success in the entertainment industry a few decades ago, because their products appeared to be familiar to the western world, removing the majority of the exotic factor to them and therefore making them more appealing to those western audiences.


Anime

Anime is a type of movie or television show which utilizes animation as an art style iconic to Japan in order to convey a story. Unlike western cartoons, anime can be distinguished by its detail in character design, a large variety of facial expressions, in-depth character development, a wide target audience and the rare use of talking animals. These traits are used in order to deepen the connection between the audience and the characters themselves. Frequently, anime is based on animated comics called manga, which is an ancient form of comic writing which dates back to the 12th century.

AstroBoy
Cover art for Astro Boy, one of Tezuka’s creations.

The world of animated films in Japanese popular culture has been a growing trend since the 1920s. Osamu Tezuka (1925–1989) began his forty-year evolution of animation or anime.

The success of the Pokémon franchise has been credited as the main force that popularized anime in the United States. The anime market has also been described as owing greatly to the crucial role of fans as cultural agents which help anime culture get around the world. This is called globalization, resulting in anime being part of the global appeal of Japanese pop culture and making Japan a “soft power”.

As anime has grown in its variety of viewers, genres, and themes, the industry has become more prevalent in society, making it one of the most iconic Japanese entertainment mediums.


Other Industries

PowerRangers
Power Rangers, one of the most popular Kaiju films.

Apart from anime, Japan has also made a dent on fashion, through cosplay–an artform where fans dress up as their favorite characters. It also made a noteworthy impact in the film industry, through Kaiju films; in the video game industry, through arcades such as Pac-Man or Galaga; and even music, through idols and J-Pop.


Japan’s cultural growth in the last 40 years or so has been unprecedented. In fact, from pop music to consumer electronics, architecture to fashion, and food to art, Japan has far greater cultural influence now than it did in the 1980s when it was an economic superpower.

Sources and Further Reading

  https://www.spectator.co.uk/2015/01/how-japan-became-a-pop-culture-superpower/

  https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2002/jun/01/artsfeatures.features

  https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2010/09/07/reference/anime-makes-japan-superpower/

  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_popular_culture

  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_power

  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cool_Japan

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