A Trendy or Cool Japan? These Case Studies will Enlighten! A Book Review

26 Oct

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

Tim Craig’s Cool Japan is an excellent study in nearly everything a student of Japanese pop culture will want to know more of and get answers to those aspects he or she is afraid to ask. If the product can be exported out of the country to experience then it is explored here. Specific companies are examined in this collection of essays, and the big three — traditional culture, popular culture and business — are looked at in synchronicity. The topics include nearly every aspect of the entertainment scene. Foodies will take delight in two chapters too (more on this later).

From the music industry to Sumo culture and even video games, the breadth of knowledge this author reveals (some units are in collaboration with others) is amazing. To take a look at the differences between Japanese games and Western ones is just one tiny part of this particular chapter. Not everyone knows about the details behind the merger of Square(soft) and Enix, and what it meant from a financial standpoint.

The title of this publication is aptly named as it is also the name of the initiative the Japanese government started back in 2010. The goal is to broaden the greatness of this country’s most exportable products and “capitalize commercially on the worldwide popularity of Japanese manga, anime, film, TV dramas, fashion, food, and other cultural products. It was also a response to the widely noted fact that—despite exceptions like Pokémon, Studio Ghibli and Sanrio’s Hello Kitty—Japan’s cultural industries were underperforming internationally. Despite the global popularity of their products, Japan’s cultural creators were earning far less than their counterparts in the United States and South Korea.”

Should South Korea’s own cultural exports be worried? No. This author takes the time to explain how the markets have changed since the 90’s and he is very exquisite in detailing the scene then and what it is now. The study is very deep in the first chapter and to look at each separate industry will take more than one reading to soak in.

Anime fans will be particularly interested in the chapter authored by Craig, Mike Adams, Joe Kesslering and Niko Iftner. This industry is huge and distinguished by four “booms.” The first was in 1963, with legend Osamu Tezuka paving the way, the second in the late 70s as production doubled, the third as post y2k targeted a teenage demographic more and the fourth starting this year as the growth has largely been extremely positive from a business perspective. This unit presents an overview of how the production process works, where the money goes and why working in this industry has a huge turnover rate for employees in the lower echelon. The study examines Studio Trigger’s (Little Witch Academia) rise in the market.

The unit which explains why tea is highly exportable and prized is only one of two sections about the ‘food’ scene. Not everyone knows how to appreciate sake, and technically, consumption of this rice wine has been on a decline in the past 40 years. According to Craig, other alcoholic drinks like beer, wine and shōchū gained in popularity and this traditional liqueur is considered an “old man’s drink.” It’s not all that trendy or hip. He writes, “Sake demands respect.” Not everyone understands what the relationship should be between folks, the drink and event to when it’s shared. This detail will not always be made known by people running events in another country. Not every nuance of an experience can be taught. This author explains how this drink has come to the attention of a world market and reveals there are only less than a dozen breweries located in North America. Three exist in Canada!

The information presented is current, and to see how particular industries are affected by globalization is at the core of what this work is about. The content feels like one part social studies and another part a business education. While this collection is developed to be a textbook, even the casual reader will find the material fascinating. Even if the person does not know much about sumo wrestling, for example, a quick introduction is made so reading the material afterwards make sense. After reading this work, even the casual reader will be better informed what is happening now with the exports coming out of the land of the rising sun.

5 Stars out of 5

Readers can also visit Blue Sky Academic’s website and purchase specific chapters at a reduced price to read.

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