Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Gen Kanai points to the Gross National Cool article by Douglas McGray in Foreign Policy which triggered a serious of articles along the same idea. The thrust of the article is that although Japan's economy is in the dumps, the export of trendy culture like anime is strong and that Japanese biggest asset is it's "cool". I like the original article and I think McGray makes some good observations. Tony Kobayashi mentioned this in his remarks at the Japan Dinner at Davos last year and many people have begun to talk about this -- so many people, that the Japanese government has taken notice and begun to pursue this line of thinking in ernest.

I'm not as cool as some, but I'm cooler than many. From my experience hanging out with the cool people in Tokyo, my observation is that they are cool DESPITE government and other un-cool people. In fact, I would assert that in most cultures, it is the oppression and stifling of freedom that often allows a strong counter-culture to form. This counter/sub-culture is often the basis of "coolness". I think that the government's efforts to "support" and fund coolness in Japan could be disastrous. Just like most funding of venture business by government ended up going to people with "connections," I believe that an organized effort by the bureaucracy to make Japan more cool will have to opposite effect. I think that the government should focus on supporting the traditional culture and arts of Japan which are dwindling because of lack of support. They are more used to interacting with the establishment and I believe that the root/heart of a healthy pop culture is a strong base in historical culture.


I worry that the first idea that a Japanese Ministry of Cool would come up with would be to order more episodes of Pink Lady and Jeff.

Yeah, right, Joi, you NOT cool.

Sure I believe that. Get outta here.

You get my most insanely cool award today.


Pink Lady was REALLY REALLY BIG in Japan...

You're absolutely right, Joi: the further the street is from the government, the cooler it is. In fact I focused my first issue of Wired (Sept 2001) on the observation that as Japan's insitution crumbled, its people were becoming ever more creative--and that was no accident. We titled it "The Liberation of Disintigration".
Here's the issue.

Remember Cool Britannia? Tony Blair tried to capitalise on UK youth culture to promote the country back in the early days of New Labour's rule. And now look at us, probably the second most despised country on this planet. Governments should keep their hands off cool and their eyes on what matters.

I'm new to reading this blog, by the way, and really enjoying it.

Very cool Chris. Thanks for the link.

Carrie: Interesting. So Japan's not the first to try to rule the cool...

Cool is such a subjective thing. Cool is in the eyes of the beholder. When governments and big business start to define what cool is, that's un-cool. Energy and passion are essential elements of coolness. It's seeing a band like REM in an old warehouse at the Aloha Tower back when they first toured. At best when government or big business gets involved it becomes a mass market appeal. IMHO, mass market and cool are on on different ends of the spectrum.

The only "cool" government is in Black Rock City, yo.

Ever notice how it is as hard to define "what is cool" as it is to define "what is art". Ever notice how all the really "cool" people you know are somehow really creative, in one way or another? Doesn't it seem that the cool people are always doing something to make us take notice? Isn't this the same role as the artist, the poet, the cultural trouble makers, the crazy ones? The flavor-makers, the trend-setters, the firestarters?

Current government is the antithesis of cool. Not because it isn't cool itself, but by definition. Cool is individual and cultural. Cool is a ripple in a pond started by the falling of a pebble. Cool is emergent. Cool is free.

I remember seeing that issue on the stand and getting REALLY excited about picking it up. I particularly liked the cover. Gibson said some cool stuff but I think I might have enjoyed someone with a fresher perspective on Tokyo (Gibson has done it to death--in a good way).

Still, to this day, my favorite (non-book) gaikokujin reporting on Japan came in the form of two British comedians and their show "Adam and Joe Go Tokyo". It was the perfect mix of exposing new Japanese trends, acknowledging the humor in many things, yet maintaining a high level of overall respect for Japan. Anyone who hasn't seen it and is interested in Japan should hunt it down, it was on BBC 3 this summer.

random aside to Joi/anyone else in Japan:

Has anyone developed something that sends RSS feeds to iMode enabled phones?

Why hasn't anyone been talking about the story that had 3G cell networks making nearby people sick (mysterious, I know) just as Docomo moves forward with the technology? Considering the very high use of cell phones in Japan, if 3G is pushed forward, I see problems problems problems.

the influence of japanese culture on the AP region peaked at 2000-2001 and more or less saturated for the time being.

the moment japan government decided to "instituionalizing" this culture influence, it is likely to achieve only the opposite effect.

imho, the japan government should take a lesson in US government and hollywood and how the two works together to extend the US culture influence.

On this topic, somewhat recent & related an article on the Washington Post dubbed "Japan's Empire of Cool"

Evidence that Japanese cultural exports have done well without government intervention is obviously apparent, however if the government wished to support it further I think it could also be very positive. I would agree that government intervention and "institutionalization" can have the opposite effect. On the other hand government "support" could really help accelerate the industry (Korea is probably a good example of this and is also becoming a strong exporter of "cool").

I see this slightly different. With very short sighted scope, I think that Japanese gov will use this "Cool Japan" thing as a tactic to make copyright law tighten inside Japan. Here's how it goes:

1. Japan's gov praise Japanese creative people based on how they were successful outside Japan, i.e. sales. But what they pick up are only Anime and Games. (this is already happening. if you look into 'e-Japan Strategy' planning sheet, it's there.)

2. then Japan's gov starts saying "we must protect out national assets of creative works". (this is already happening. you'll find it if you look into the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Postal and Telecom's "IT Policy Fundamental Principles" for the fiscal year 2004)

3. and then Japan's gov will be expected to say "to protect out national creative assets, we are going to tighten copyright law and ban pirates" (but as you know, this only helps dinosour copyright gangs to sustain a little longer...)

[is my view too skewed? heh heh ]

No, you're right. Michael Eisner and the Disney empire are crushing themselves with protecting their legacy works (Mickey et al) and are doing a really lousy job of innovation or leveraging their new creative works. The very *BEST* they can do is to get a MC-D's happy meal with a plastic icon from their latest theater release. Lame. Really. Lame.

No, you're right. Michael Eisner and the Disney empire are crushing themselves with protecting their legacy works (Mickey et al) and are doing a really lousy job of innovation or leveraging their new creative works. The very *BEST* they can do is to get a MC-D's happy meal with a plastic icon from their latest theater release. Lame. Really. Lame.

Could someone based in Japan please bring me up to speed on whether amidst the Cool Japan trend Japan has gotten any cooler about race. Specifically towards people like myself who have brown skin?

When last I checked Japanese attitudes towards us was absolutely terrible. Is that all old news or are these backwards attitudes towards race still the norm?

I've talked along similar lines whenever I've had to speak about my essay: "Gross National Cool" clearly benefits Japan, but governments tend to be ill equipped to deal with this kind of culture in any organized way. I would have made the point more strongly in my piece had I known how the idea was going to catch on among government types. So I appreciate the dissent.

1 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Institutionalizing Japan's "Gross National Cool".

TrackBack URL for this entry:

On Thursday, I listened to representatives from the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) - more precisely from JETRO Stockholm . It was interesting to hear an insider point of view, as what I had been reading was very pessimistic and Read More