Japan's fashion finding favor as part of int'l "Cool Japan" campaign

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-5-1 10:41:00

In a bid to offset the nation's singular dependence on auto and electronics exports amid global slumping demand and economic malaise, the Japanese government is turning to cultural exports to boost trade and creative collaborations overseas.

"Cool Japan," a cultural, trade and public relations strategy from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, is aiming to provide a global platform for some of Japan's small and midsize companies, while simultaneously offering their foreign creative counterparts the chance to break into the Japanese market.


Japan's creative industries, which comprise, but are not limited to, fashion, animation, interior design products and food, account for around 2 trillion yen (about 20 billion US dollars) of a global market that the government here sees topping 900 trillion yen (about 9 billion dollars) by 2020.

Through the ongoing global endeavors of the "Cool Japan" strategy, the ministry aims to expand its share to between 8 and 11 trillion yen (between 81 and 112 billion dollars) within this timeframe, according to official ministry statements.

Adding increased impetus to the growing global campaign, the cabinet last month approved the Bill of the Act on the Japan Brand Fund, aimed at supporting sustainable economic development by attracting overseas customers to Japan's creative products, and to encourage increased visits from foreign holiday makers.

"In order to contribute to the sustainable growth of Japan's economy, the bill aims to establish the Japan Brand Fund, which is a company to support business activities for cultivating overseas demand for Japan's attractive products or services that make full use of the unique characteristics of Japanese culture and lifestyle," the ministry said in a recent statement.

With the nation facing slumping domestic demand, a turbulent employment environment and a plummeting birthrate, coupled with a rapidly aging society, the ministry maintains that Japan must proactively take steps in new directions to sustain its economic growth.

"To achieve this goal, it is imperative that Japan makes use of its attractive products or services that make full use of the unique characteristics of Japanese culture and lifestyle, and to develop the attractiveness into new business, so as to attract overseas demand to Japan," it said.


Creative exports such as food, animation and comics, have been mainstays of Japan's "soft power" exports for decades now, but more recently Japan has looked to its fashion industry to help showcase both established and emerging talent overseas and enhance reciprocal cooperation in this sector.

Under the "Cool Japan" banner and in collaboration with the Japan Fashion Week (JFW) Organization -- who themselves took the biannual fashion extravaganza on the road this year -- the " Creative Japan Fashion Fair" movement has been gaining a great deal of traction of late.

"To promote the whole 'Cool Japan' concept we believe that fashion can influence all of Japan's creative and cultural exports, including movies, music and games," Akiko Shinoda, director of international affairs for the JFW, told Xinhua in an interview Tuesday.

"Fashion is the key to the whole concept, it can impact the image and status of all the other creative areas," Shinoda said.

The director went on to say that countries such as France that are well known for their couture, attract a lot of tourists interested in "Parisian-chic" for example, or the atmosphere and peripherals that supports it and lends an air of prominence to its inherent distinction, acclaim and heritage.

Conversely, Japan is well-behind some other countries when it comes to marketing its own creative industries to an international audience, the fashion expert said.

"Countries that promote fashion attract tourists, and in terms of pushing creative industries and culture Japan is decades behind some of its Asian neighbors," Shinoda explained. "Although there is great potential here," she added, referring to recent overseas projects.

Such projects included Fashion Week Tokyo in China and similar events have been held in India and Italy, all under the "Cool Japan Strategy Promotion Program" implemented by the government and all well-received by their respected audiences, according to Shinoda.


Saudi Arabia was also recently treated to the best Japan has to offer in terms of its unique aesthetic, that in some instances can seamlessly fuse ancient cultural ideologies such as "wabi sabi" with uber-modern, cutting-edge designs.

The "Creative Japan Fashion Fair" Saudi Arabia project was pitched at the young generation in Saudi Arabia, Shinoda said, and centered around the ubiquitous, trendy and up-market Harvey Nichols department store located in Riyadh.

The younger generations in Saudi Arabia are becoming increasingly interested in fashion and the social advancement of women has also progressed, hence Japan's industry ministry has and continues to eye the market for consumer goods and fashion as a potentially lucrative one.

"Wealthy consumers with unique fashion taste are willing to try new styles and trends in Saudi Arabia. European and other Western fashion companies have already entered the market, however Japanese brands have yet to debut there (until recently). This presents a significant opportunity for Japanese fashion to branch out into a new unchartered market," the JFW organization said in a recent press release.

Under the government's strategy, however, the "Cool Japan" campaign must continue to evolve and showcase new creations and concepts in different countries so as to stay competitive, relevant and truly global, as demand continues to wane domestically and the market here becomes increasingly saturated.

"There's a lot of competition in the domestic market and Japanese designers must think about new markets and breaking new frontiers," Shinoda explained.

"All this is compounded by the fact the population here is shrinking and so Japanese designers must be pushed to think globally, as it's becoming increasingly difficult for them to survive in the Japanese market alone," she said.

Spearheaded by Shinoda -- who's been actively working on the " Cool Japan" and "Creative Japan" projects, as well as coordinating a host of other domestic and international fashion events for the past five years -- talks are underway with the industry ministry regarding the future direction of Japan's global fashion push.

"There are some emerging economies that are booming right now like Indonesia and the population is also increasing, so the potential for the fashion market to increase there is huge," Shinoda said.

"We are also very interested in Thailand, as the fashion audience there is already somewhat matured and they love Japan, yet have not been exposed to Japanese brands. Japanese designers are not established in Thailand yet, so plenty of opportunities also exist there," she said.

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