We’re Sort of What They’re Talking About

This Japan Times article was making the rounds a couple of days ago and I finally got around to reading it. Basically, “Cool Japan needs to listen to its target market” is talking about how the so-named initiative, which is ambitious and good and aimed at building cultural interest ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, needs to spend more time connecting with people who aren’t Japanese but who do like Japanese things.

As far as awards ceremonies go, the Sugoi Japan Awards were a fairly flashy affair. … [T]he prizes recognized recent titles in anime, manga and fiction that an online poll of Japanese fans wanted to do well overseas. … In a room filled with those dedicated to getting people in other countries interested in Japanese culture, however, the room seemed conspicuously absent anyone from outside Japan.

That does seem strange, doesn’t it? Not that there would be awards for things that Japanese people love and want to do well internationally, but that there weren’t international voices involved.

A case in point is a lot of the stuff that we kick around on this site. As Jul pointed out recently in the comments, a lot of these artists have very small, at best, followings in their own country; I’d be willing to bet a few dollars that there may be idols currently working and performing somewhat regularly who have more fans outside of Japan than in.

Which is not actually to say that those are the idols that Cool Japan or any other initiative should quietly promote; in addition to being ludicrous, there are huge international idol superstars, from the 48s to Perfume and so on, and Babymetal more than holds up the extreme end of that spectrum, so stick with what already clearly works.

But, acknowledging that, the fact that some idols (or manga or anime or whatever) actually resonate more with foreign fans than with domestic does say that there are potentially big rifts between what those two markets will respond favorably to, and that needs to be acknowledged for Cool Japan’s goals to be met — otherwise, it’s a very expensive echo chamber.

The Japan Times article gets to that same point, and that it’s in English-language media from Japan says a lot. It may be part of the criticism of Cool Japan that causes the foreign ministry to shift gears, and that could be very cool for people like us. Like, we won’t get anything from it, but it could mean that international promotional resources make their way to, for instance, a PassCode, and something that we really like and champion gets a meaningful boost.

I have no idea of the likelihood of that, but it would be interesting.

3 thoughts on “We’re Sort of What They’re Talking About

  1. This article has some great points.

    However, it isn’t just Japan that is like this, but they are major offenders. Every country’s population has a vague idea of what foreigners like about their country, and many times it is very different from the reality. For an anecdotal example: When I was living in Germany, super markets would have “American Day” sales where they would sell things like sandwich presses (for grilled cheese I guess?), plain French’s Mustard, American flags, etc., because those things were so strongly associated with what it meant to be American to Germans in the town I was living in. Now, when we think of what German’s must think is “American”, I’m fairly sure French’s Yellow Mustard and sandwich presses are no where near that list.

    The difference between the Japanese idea of what foreigners like and what they actually DO like is especially wide because of the Galapagos Effect that Japanese culture is affected by. It’s domestic market is widely accepted as a unique market, hence why Europe and America don’t get some video games or movies: They just aren’t deemed to be sellable to the Western Market by whomever makes those decisions.

    So, I wonder if groups like our small family here can help to show the Japanese Culture Ministry what foreigners ACTUALLY enjoy. Is there some way we can get involved in this process, get our voices out there, and hopefully garner support for the bands that we enjoy?

    Getting international support and success for the bands we enjoy is a goal of everyone’s here I’m guessing. I know I would love to see Passcode do an international tour, or see Kamen Joshi mentioned in an American newspaper’s music section!

    • Hey phillter, we always appreciate your thoughtful insights. However, by your third paragraph, you may have unwittingly become the proverbial “dog chases tail”. We just had an online poll to help promote groups. What became of it? Aside from the few eyebrows that were raised in our direction. not much. I doubt Alice Project approached the Cool Japan Committee and presented the results. Besides, we are firm believers in a free market, meaning that hard work and a quality product that the public desires is the key to success.When political entities become involved, corruption soon follows. Always has, always will.We basically did all we could do to have our voices heard. The only other option would be to choose a handful of groups with the most potential(based on FACTS,not feels)and promote them constantly. I doubt Maniac wants his site to become that. By 2020, the world media will descend upon Tokyo, with cameras in hand and a desire to experience what the local culture has to offer. What might be seen/heard by said entities that might be deemed of interest to the west?? The timing may be just right for the second wave we talked about previously, to arrive. Again, as believers in a free market, we are willing to let these events happen organically. After all, Babymetal appeared with zero outside help. Only after the hard work and the refinement of their product was complete, did they begin to get the media nudge necessary to go global.

      • Agree. Free market is the best indicator of success. Imagine the scenario of an agency lining the pockets of a committee member to promote their group. You end up with a group getting the spotlight regardless of popularity. Besides that, committee members may deem certain groups “undesirable” to represent Japan to the outside world, regardless of the groups status, and they end up promoting a “safe” group. Allow peoples choices and willingness to pay for a quality product determine who rises and who falls. After all, competition breeds excellence. I’m perfectly content to enjoy this music as the niche market that it may always be.

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