Repackaging national identity: Cool Japan and the resilience of Japanese identity narratives

2019-03-20T13:32:00Z (GMT) by Taku Tamaki
‘Cool Japan’ is an instance of Japanese government's nation branding exercise as part of its soft power projection in which the unique selling point is identified as Japanese national identity. In this paper, I examine the relationship between Cool Japan and Japanese national identity and highlight a tension in the construction. Cool Japan is about emphasizing Japan's attractiveness for public diplomacy, while the top-down nature of the branding undermines the imagery that the branding is designed to convey. I show that policy elites resolve this tension by invoking the traditional Japanese identity narratives that construct Japan into both a non-Western and an un-Asian entity, reproducing the myth of Japanese uniqueness. I argue that the elite narratives surrounding Cool Japan readily replicate the language reminiscent of prewar identity construction. Despite the contemporary popularity of manga and anime, the purported ‘coolness’ of these products are framed within older constructions of Japanese Self that can trace their pedigree back to the nineteenth century. Using the minutes of committee meetings, policy documents, as well as media interviews given by policy- and business elites, I show that Cool Japan is effectively a twenty first century rendition of the familiar Japanese identity construction.