Japan takes steps to promote brand
Updated: 2013-08-31 09:03
By Cai Hong (China Daily)
'I hate you, but I still like you."
In this way, Hiroshi Murayama, a columnist with Japan's Nihon Keizai Shimbun, compared the Sino-Japanese relationship to that of two lovers.
The similarities are visible here and there.
A survey by the Japan Foundation found that more than 1 million Chinese learned Japanese last year, up 27 percent from 2009. They were the largest group studying Japanese outside Japan.
Japanese pop culture such as manga books, songs and TV sitcoms took Chinese universities by storm. Young Chinese want a command of the language.
The finding is a surprise, given that China and Japan have been at odds since September, when the Japanese government illegally "nationalized" China's Diaoyu Islands.
Chinese tourists have avoided Japan even though Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy encouraging the depreciation of the Japanese currency to attract foreign travelers to Japan. The number of Chinese visitors decreased 27.28 percent year-on-year in May, according Japan's Kyodo News Agency.
To follow the example of and compete with China's worldwide Confucius institutes, Japanese experts have called on the government to promote the Japanese language in other countries. The approach is seen as a way to enhance Japan's presence in the international community. Japan is planning a huge investment in the project.
A panel of experts for Japan's Foreign Ministry has come up with a report to make it easier for young people abroad to learn Japanese. Japan will spend millions of dollars on the project and send a large number of Japanese teachers to foreign countries. From Japan's perspective, more foreigners who speak its language will lead to more understanding and support of the country.
Part of the justification for the project is the declining interest in the language in countries like South Korea, Britain and Canada. Meanwhile, an increasing number of foreign students are picking Chinese as their second foreign language.
The project is part of the country's grander "Cool Japan" strategy. In 2002, US journalist Douglas McGray famously calculated "Japan's Gross National Cool" and awoke the country to the potential of capitalizing on the global infatuation with its anime, games, manga and Japanese pop.
Elated by the international attention, Japan's bureaucrats and CEOs reformulated the concept of "national cool" into a Cool Japan marketing campaign that could reach new consumers and add soft power to Japan's manufacturing achievements.
In June, Japan's upper house approved a Cool Japan fund of 50 billion yen ($509 million) over the next 20 years, with a target of 60 billion yen via private investor partnerships.
Just this year, questions were raised about why Japan is not competitive in selling its television shows in Asia, a market overwhelmingly controlled by South Korea and also China to some extent. As a result, Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry set up a Creative Industries Promotion Office to coordinate efforts aimed at increasing cultural exports.
Japan is setting its eyes on ordinary foreign young people who are wild about Japan's films and video games. The Japanese government will appoint 150 fans from Europe and Southeast Asia as its "overseas ambassadors" and invite them to tour Japan in October. These "ambassadors" are responsible for putting in a good word for Japan via social networking tools like Facebook.
The cultural promotion program is supposed to help Japan build its brand power and draw in more tourists and students from abroad.
Japan's Nihon Keizai Shimbun warned that Japan should not simply seek to boost exports from certain companies, industries or regions. Japan needs to promote a wide range of goods that can win hearts and minds around the world.
This warning should be seen as inspirational to Japanese policymakers. A recent survey found that 92.8 percent of Chinese had an unfavorable opinion of Japan, despite its increasing population of students learning Japanese.