The “Cool Japan Fund,” conceptualized by Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and set to launch today, is set to use around US$1 billion (almost 102 billion yen) of primarily public funds to boost cultural exports from Japan, including very distinctly Japanese food and drink, fashion, animated and live-action movies and other “soft” exports. This is aims to do what Japan Inc. did for car exports and electronics a few decades ago, resulting in the globalization of such brands as Toyota and Sony. Now Cool Japan aims to that with Japanese sake, sashimi and anime.
Nobuyuki Ota, chief executive of Cool Japan Fund Inc., says that it makes sense for the government to back cultural exports amid questions of why public funds were being used for this effort. “A state-backed fund can do what private investors cannot,” Ota, a former fashion executive who brought Issey Miyake designs to the world, said. “Private investors sell their assets once their investment targets become profitable. We can be a long-term investor because it takes time for those small companies to grow.” The Cool Japan Fund starts with 37.5 billion yen (around US$371 million) – which includes 30 billion yen from the government and 7.5 billion yen from 15 companies who are backing this move, with the likes of ANA Holdings Inc. and advertising giant Dentsu Inc. According to Yoshiaki Akamatsu, an official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is overseeing the project, the fund will eventually increase to 90 billion yen by March 2015.
Some experts question the need for taxpayers to pump money into private companies, saying that if these businesses getting public support are worthy and viable, why do they need public funding? “It is difficult to preserve local culture without injecting government money,” Ota said. “Local manufacturers are shrinking, and many young people leave for bigger cities. Once the older generations die, there will be no one who would take over that. I wonder what will happen to Japan 100 years from now.” The fund’s benefactors runs from anime production houses to producers of comics and movies, TV programs, games, fashion and local products such as lacquerware, beauty products and food.