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'Cool Japan' culture blitz with new TV channel

Publication Date : 07-01-2013

 

The Japanese government is planning to step up efforts to show the world how cool Japanese culture is, starting with the broadcasting of Japanese anime, dramas and gourmet programmes through a new dedicated television channel.

A report carried by the nationally circulated Yomiuri Shimbun daily on its website said the broadcasts are expected to start in Singapore as early as next month. They will air later in Indonesia, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.

Singapore was said to have been chosen because of its excellent infrastructure, which will reduce the time needed to kick off the project.

The latest move is an extension of efforts in recent years to promote Japanese pop culture overseas under the "Cool Japan" banner, in the hope that it will stimulate foreign sales of Japanese cars and other products, and also lure more foreign tourists to Japan. The Trade Ministry has even used the banner to promote Japan's creative industries.

The government seems to be accelerating the pace to counter similar efforts by the South Koreans, who have been eminently successful over the past 15 years in popularising Korean dramas and K-pop in the Asian region and also around the world.

The Yomiuri report said the government is expected to set up an 80 billion yen (US$907 million) fund later this year, with contributions from the private sector, to support the running of the new channel. It will help subsidise the cost of localising programmes through dubbing and subtitling.

The report does not say whether the government will also promote J-pop, which has lost much of its former gloss to its Korean rivals in recent years.

However, some observers believe the Japanese government is on the wrong track. They include contemporary artist Takashi Murakami, who has exhibited his works at the Palace of Versailles and designed products for French luxury brand Louis Vuitton.

He said in an interview carried last month on economic publisher Toyo Keizai's website: "(If we want to promote manga), we should just get Japan's three largest publishers to set up a manga museum together in Tokyo. Give special tax-free provisions for the project and leave it to the private sector to pursue it."

He pointed out that Cool Japan, a catchphrase reportedly coined by a Japanese advertising firm, has not caught on overseas.

Professor Kan Kimura, a Korea scholar at Kobe University, feels promoting Japanese pop culture at this juncture is pointless.

"Japanese anime and movies are already very competitive overseas and can be seen in many countries on cable TV. What is the point of starting a new TV channel now to promote them?" he asked. "It will just become another white elephant."

Still, company worker Kansho Uno, 29, supports the move. "I think the broadcasts will help deepen the cultural exchange between Japan and other countries, and hopefully they will enable foreigners to like Japan and Japanese things even more."

Anime hits such as Doraemon, Pokemon and Dragon Ball are already widely known overseas. Fictional character Hello Kitty adorns a galaxy of products from lunch boxes to laptops.

On the culinary scene, sushi has arguably become the world's favourite Japanese food.

Prof Kimura noted that in 1997, when Seoul decided to promote Korean pop culture abroad, Korean drama and movies were not internationally competitive.

"It was understandable that they needed government help."

Combined efforts by both the public and private sectors succeeded in promoting the country's dramas and K-pop abroad, and drummed up a passion for things Korean that has boosted sales of cars and electronic products as well as tourist arrivals.

Much of this success came at the expense of the Japanese. In the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese TV dramas were huge hits around the region. In the 2000s, they were booted aside by Korean productions.

 

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