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Last Updated: Monday, 13 December 2004, 17:19 GMT
Japan counts on cool culture
Japanese geisha
Japan's traditional culture may prove key to a dynamic future
The Japanese, according to one of their proverbs, reckon that "bad and good are intertwined like rope".

It also now seems that the nation's economic and international prospects may be inextricably linked to how cool and cultured the population is.

"Artistic and cultural activities now extend beyond national borders," the Japan Forum on International Relations (JFIR) said in its latest report.

"Japan must posses attributes that attract the admiration, goodwill and respect of people in other countries."

Pop culture

According to the think tank, Japan should ensure it projects an image that proves as alluring and pervasive as the American dream.

Instead of John Wayne, Coca-Cola and hamburgers, think geishas, bonsai trees and sushi.

Japan's foreign policy must be based on an understanding and appreciation of traditional Japanese values, and must inspire goodwill and respect
The Japan Forum on International Relations

After more than a decade of economic woes, Japan is looking to become the world's hippest nation, with a growing number of business leaders and government officials referring to the country's "gross national cool" as an engine for growth.

"Japan's foreign policy must be based on an understanding and appreciation of traditional Japanese values, and must inspire goodwill and respect... not antipathy and scorn," JFIR said.

That way it will be able to exercise a "soft power", a sort of subconscious manipulation, over other nations, the think tank claims.

Simply put, we will buy more Japanese products, and support their policies, because we will want to be seen as more Japanese.


Foreign demand has been key in Japan's recent economic turn around, but recently that recovery has begun to sputter.

During the three months through September the economy teetered on the brink of a technical recession and a strengthening of the yen against the dollar has raised even more question marks about growth going forward.

Japanese Elvis impersonator
JFIR wants Japan to emulate the global reach of American culture

Key to the JFIR's strategy will be education - that way the Japanese will be smart enough to earn our respect.

It recommends that policy makers enhance Japanese language teaching, and ensure that students develop "a respect for the arts through their learning of philosophy, history and traditional culture".

Teaching should be available for everyone, focus on providing key skills, and train people who can earn respect and compete abroad. It also should make sure that individualism is promoted, but not at the expense of the collective.


The military's role in Iraq, where its troops are have taken on a peace-keeping role and are helping to rebuild shattered infrastructure, is another example of the kind of action that could improve Japan's international standing, JFIR said.

"Today, whether they intend to or not, all people have the potential to exercise soft power on behalf of their country - the role is no longer confined to a certain group, such as diplomats, academics, journalists or businesspeople.

"Japan has developed a full range of admired cultural resources, from the sense of beauty appreciated since the mid-19th century by foreigners... to today's movie and anime.

"These cultural assets are now considered a part of Japan's strengths."

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