Business Branding Japan as "cool" No limits, no laws
商业 日本贴上"酷"标签 日本文化要大展拳脚
The beautiful people join hands with the bureaucrats
THE Tokyo headquarters of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) was the cockpit for the country's post-war economic miracle.
But these days it is a stodgy place. The decor barely brightens even when you enter the offices of "The Cool Japan Promotion Strategy Programme".
There is not an Apple MacBook in sight, and demure "office ladies" still serve the tea.
But METI wants to let its hair down.
With the former bastions of Japan's economy, such as cars and electronics, facing stiff competition from South Korea, China and elsewhere,
it is looking for alternative sources of growth in so-called creative industries, such as fashion, music, food and anime (cartoons).
The search has become more intense since March 11th when a nuclear accident battered Japan's image abroad.
(So blanket was the repudiation, according to Interbrand, a consultancy, that it hurt even Hyundai, a South Korean car firm sometimes mistakenly thought to be Japanese.)
"We have to rebrand Japan," says METI's Tetsuya Watanabe.
He describes March 11th as a "boiling-frog" moment—when Japan suddenly woke up to its industrial decline.
The aim is to spur a nearly fivefold increase in cultural exports by 2020, to ￥11 trillion ($140 billion)—almost as much as Japan earns from car exports.
In the hands of civil servants, the plans for this are not exactly zinging.
One milestone in the Cool Japan campaign is, bewilderingly, a gathering of the IMF and World Bank in Tokyo next year.
"酷日本"活动一个里程碑事件是明年是IMF和World Bank 将聚首东京，此举让人摸不着头脑。
Yet young Japanese designers, artists, chefs and pop stars have flocked to it—not despite METI's involvement, but because of it. Takashi Koyama, a fashion designer, says Japan's hottest trendsetters are too niche to expand abroad on their own.
Without METI's clout, he says, they would be copied by cheaper South Korean rivals, who have expanded abroad more aggressively in recent years.
He says that March 11th was a wake-up call to Japan's creative industries, too.
"If we don't go abroad, we will perish," he says.
On October 7th 14 small Japanese labels, supported by METI, kicked off the Cool Japan campaign by opening a temporary store in Singapore called Harajuku Street Style, named after Tokyo's edgy fashion district (pictured).
The aim was not just to promote Japanese brands, says Mr Koyama.
It was to promote the "atmosphere" of fashion in Japan, a what-the-heck attitude to mixing items and styles of clothing.
"No rules, no regulations," is how he describes this.
If only Japan's economic policymakers would apply that dictum more widely