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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #124: February 20, 2004

JETRO Seeks to Promote Investment in Japan's Cultural Industry

John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)

According to the Japan Corporate News Network (, Japan's External Trade Organization (JETRO) has initiated a campaign in the United States aimed at attracting investment in Japan's cultural industry. Over the past several years, Japanese cultural products have gained worldwide recognition and popularity and this once small and hardly profitable industry is now one of the fastest growing exporting sectors in the country. Recent policy initiatives headed by Japanese governmental organizations, including the one mentioned above, seem to indicate that bureaucrats and politicians are finally waking up to the notion that Japan's future core competence lies not only in the production of traditional manufactured goods such as cars and computers but also in the creation of cultural content (music, cinema, animation, video games, fashion and design). The belief that edgy Japanese cultural products have the potential to propel Japan into a global leadership role once again is beginning to take root even among the most conservative and traditional circles in Japan. In addition to JETRO, METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry), MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and the MLIT (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport), which is in charge of tourism, are actively promoting Japanese culture abroad in the hope that their efforts will increase Japanese influence and attractiveness on the global stage.

A recent report submitted to the MLIT by the Tourism Advisory Council seeks to capitalize on increased interest in Japanese culture in order to promote tourism. The plan is to establish a "national charm" that will depict a country that is attractive and "open to the world". METI's Comprehensive Strategy on Information Security seeks to enhance Japan's competitiveness and national security by "building economic and cultural power". METI's aspiration is to "exercise international leadership through economic power and cultural assets, rather than arms and military power". MOFA has tried to incorporate Japan's cultural attractiveness into its diplomacy promoting particular films, books, artists and designers through its hundreds of embassies and cultural offices throughout the world. These initiatives rest on the belief that "cultural power stands alongside economic power as an important pillar of Japanese foreign policy" (Task Force on Foreign Relations for the Prime Minister, "Basic Strategies for Japan's Foreign Policy in the 21st Century, New Era, New Vision, New Diplomacy", 28 November 2002). Furthermore, it meets an objective that Japan has set for itself ever since the Meiji Restoration, namely to emerge as a global cultural leader.

The strategies outlined above take advantage of and in some senses complement impressive achievements made by companies, studios and individuals that have made Japanese cultural products a success. Historically Japanese artists, animators, fashion designers and cinematographers have rarely been beneficiaries of government subsidies and promotion strategies. The industry has been unstable and Japanese artists have for long lived in extremely precarious economic conditions, and many continue to do so. Now that their efforts have prompted a monumental change in how Japan is imagined and received overseas, the government has begun to show an interest and is changing its attitude. Thanks to imaginative creators, many of whom are women, a nation once depicted as gray and depressing due to its aging population and a never-ending economic recession is now regarded by powerful media sources as an "empire of cool" (The Washington Post). As Douglas McGray has pointed out in his Foreign Policy article published in May/June 2002, the focus is no longer on Japan's Gross National Product but instead on its "Gross National Cool".

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