This all may have been said before but there is a serious problem with Cool Japan, and it is threatening my daily fix of neato contemporary Japanese culture.
Looks like a bad case of DENTSU-itis.
To put it simply; any Japanese government cultural promotion initiative will be used as an excuse for one group of rich, well-connected old dinosaur pols to give billions of yen to another group of rich, well-connected old dinosaur ex-pols and fixers.
I may be mistaken here…
I am sure that the wizards at DENTSU (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dentsu) know their stuff when it comes to pitching the newest bright and shiny thing at the Japanese consumer. They have been doing it for decades, and they are held in almost god-like reverence for their abilities. So much so that having them as your ad agency of record conveys a mark of respectability and prestige upon whoever and whatever they get involved with. You can’t build a cathedral in medieval Europe without the Church, and you cannot run a succesful product launch in modern Japan without their imprimatur. Just look for them in the credits of your newest fave anime. If it has ambitions, they are there.
It may even have been made by one of their affiliates. http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/company.php?id=249
Behold an award winning Densu campaign:
Dentsu doesn’t have to “go all in on Woo-woo“. Woo-woo goes all out for them.
Or to put it a different way:
“”Dentsu’s monopoly is based on access to celebrity, not media. This works because in Japan it is aesthetic novelty, rather than hit-you-on-head ideas, that will always win out when building brands, and celebrity is the easiest way to auction novelty to the highest bidder.”” http://jameshollow.com/blog/japanese-advertising-industry-nutshell/
Except when the product is a bit odd: You cannot wreck your J-pop idol’s rep by having her pitch weird otaku crap. Besides only the hard-corest of western geeks would recognise her in any case.
I am a bad person.
I read manga on grey-zone aggregator sites. Sometimes I go to scanlator sites, but mostly I read from scummy make-cash-off-the-backs-of-scanlating-volunteers sites because they have a lot of content, and I can also shut off cookies, java-script, go to “mobile” mode and get low-res versions of my fave fix that load really really fast on my third-world internet connection. And the annoying gehhhh(!) -taste scam ads magically vanish.
My karma feels a bit dirty. Sometimes I go to Amazon.jp.co and guiltily buy something I cannot understand to ensure that the mangaka gets a few yen. Not often, sometimes.
In a perfect world, I would be reading the stuff on a “Cool Japan” site set up as a non-profit collaboration between Jp publishers that would not lock up my pathetic old pc with 19 layers of flash, and would also be serving me Jp tourism, culture, fashion and otaku crap ads; perhaps even Rakutan/ Amazon.jp sales links – with suppliers who ship to the gaijin out-lands. My hideous furreigner credit cards and Paypal account would work! Content on the site could be set up so as to allow quasi-wiki style translation corrections (niconico comment style?)
And it would make my breath smell minty fresh.
Such a site would not worry about content getting filched, because all content will always get filched anyway – so it wouldn’t take 2 hours to load each page. Instead it would just be happy to have the most, best , newest and richest content. With some savvy ad curation, no one would turn off the ads because the ads would be way kewl.
Oh, and the mangaka would get some coin from this.
Even if the content was back-stock and/or web-toon B-grade fodder, it would still be interesting.
OH SNAP! I have re-invented NAVER: pity that manwha barely clicks for me…
This kind of blue-sky rant is symptomatic of a greater paradox in Japanese (and to a growing extent global) culture: the really interesting stuff gets made in spite of, not with the help of any type of “official” encouragement.
“”Better yet, a debate is needed within Japan to improve Japanese culture on the whole, meaning: more power to women, youth, minorities and artists; less groveling to loan sharks, Keidanren, and mandarins. But any attempt to question the tenets of Japanese culture is likely to draw accusations of racism or Japan bashing. Issues about how to heal the sickness in the heart of the culture — stress, alcoholism, suicide — aren’t likely to come up during the two-week election campaign about the TPP and NPPs.”” – Christopher Johnson
The problem is not unique to Japan. The usual naive answer to this kind of complaint is the admonition to give money directly to the artists. That might work, but I suspect it would be impossible in Japan, and the “artists” would never see a yen of it.
So here is my stupid suggestion:
Give tiny tax deductions to the Genshiken(s)…
…and to the organizing committees of local merchant association festivals, ecology enthusiasts, anti-nuke advocates, “recycle” promoters, maker-geeks, Pride parades, Yabusame and re-enactor maniacs, Neet/ freeter/ homeless rights groups, multicultural committees, fringe music festivals, amateur theatre groups, car rallies and the entire oddball circus of cultural detritus that we euroethnic types take for granted on our weekends.
Or to put it in polite politico-socio-economic policy terms: support local and regional grass-roots organizations with limited tax benefits targeted towards projects and bare-bones operating expenses.
Spend your government money as diffuse tax expenditures rather than lump-sum payola.
…Now, the utter inanity of venturing free advice on Japanese tax policy, in English, on a blog about manga, from Canada is obvious. In fact it is standing behind me in the form of a 600kg troll with a severe case of body odor and really bad breath. He is laughing quietly at me, right at this moment… “Bakka gaijin! Fu! ufu! ufu!” he whispers in breathy basso tones… I blame Matt Thorn for whistling him into existence and setting him on all of fools who have “ideas” and want to complain and give free advice to Japanese folks and institutions, in English, from blogs on anime and manga, written in… And I know Matt Thorn is right about this. I could stop now and he would vanish.. Nervertheless…
Becoming a non-profit agency in Japan is not too difficult. Getting charitable status, which allows one to receive tax-deductible donations is well-nigh impossible. http://blog.japantimes.co.jp/yen-for-living/tax-deductions-and-the-myth-of-the-no-donation-culture/
Despite this, local grass-roots Japanese culture flourishes because small voluntary groups, with the support of local businesses and individuals come together year after year and put on events. For the gaijin manga/ game/ anime fan, the most famous of these is the Comic Market, or comike/comiket.
You cannot make a tax-deductible donation to Comiket.
Its organizational structure is a bit byzantine. Even though it is supported/ sustained by a non-profit organization that keeps it from disintegrating between conventions, supporters keep them going without any expectation of a tax write-off. Comiket gets by with oodles of volunteers and a few fundraising side-ventures – finding a home for overstock dojins and printing the massive convention catalogues.
All those fun local matsuri and festivals? Arranged and supported through local business groups, ad-hoc do- gooder committees, shrines and temples. Zero tax expenditure for the central government. Perhaps some free office space from local governments, but don’t hold your breath.
Contemporary Japanese social realities work against changing this. Those that already do anything of note do so without help; so why should the taxpayer fund loser dogs? Any change would also risk giving tax money to yakuza, cults, right-wing crazies, pyramid scammers, wacky fringe political parties and North Korean sympathizers.
In the end, it is easier to give a train-load of cash to the conservative old-boy network of ad agencies and golden parachute study groups and let them run a telephone poll and a few expensive celebrity commercials. Stability is guaranteed; effectiveness occurs only as a happy accident.
That the Japanese consumer will make polite, outward noises of approval – for at least the first two days – out of a sense of cultural solidarity and good manners is part of the symptom and not evidence of any economic recovery. The captain on the B-Ark doesn’t have to do much.
“Unless of course,” he said softly, “they were eaten by the goat …”
I know this sounds like Euroethnic old-boy making easy blanket prescriptions for things he doesn’t understand, but can it be that hard to try it? Give a few yen to stuff that already works, so that it doesn’t die.
You could probably get a bunch of grad students together and design a new class of micro-charitable organizations in one semester. Something that could issue capped charitable donations for several limited classes of “cultural events”. Restrictions could be placed on office rent, salaries, administrative expenses, contracted services, etc. to make sure the cash goes to the festival and not into some scumbag’s pocket.
The size and number of donations that could be issued per year could be limited. Audits, boards, general elections, transparency, peer review, yadda yadda yadda could keep the system clean. Plenty of fine bureaucrat jobs there too. Someone from head office has to go to the matsuri to make sure it hasn’t turned into a fiasco. Japan has accountants. Time to use them for goodness instead of boringness – or at least use the boringness for goodness.
The trick would be to design the program so that you get a slew of new teeny tiny local events and relatively few scams. It could be messy, at least at first. One could be unfair and require a one or two year unfunded track record prior to approval, affiliation with a “responsible” organization, and all manner of other nudge nudge wink wink to keep the boat from rocking during too much during the shakeout phase.
The aim of the program would be to give a tiny leg up to all the grass-roots enthusiast events that already take place all over Japan, and that are under strain from a lousy economy, ageing population and a mounting general feeling of irrelevance and despair.
If the “Deep State” really wants to co-opt the freak fringe, nothing co-ops better than a 47 page annual charitable status/ grant report requiring audited financial statements and power-point presentations of last year’s activities, along with a three year membership-derived statement of goals and projected future deliverables. Great practice for the real world – even for University manga club members.
All across Japan, hundreds of thousands of young (and young at heart) enthusiasts struggle every year to put on shoestring events with popcorn budgets that do not even allow them to rent a storage locker to stash tables and tents from previous year’s events.
Similar simple problems with basic enabling infrastructure; a place to meet, funds for local licenses and event permits/ insurance, hall rentals and the like make each and every one of their events an epic labor of love. Their burdens could be eased a bit.
Near Kamakura, a yearly event with movies, Dj’s and skateboards – completely grass roots and local!
This would go a long way to ensure that a future Cool Japan initiatives have something to pitch, besides a few token high fashion reinterpretations of Harajuku street fashion from 4 years ago and Hello Kitty.
It all might break down if your matsuri is full of risqué cosplay, dojins featuring tentacle pron, loli smut, hard yaoi and lewd josou games. Then again, Flash Art grade international high church art can sometimes feature imagery that would make a hentai mangaka vomit. Gummint and big business attention might be the last thing the organizers want. Would the copyright holders step in and shut down %85 of a cosplay event? Would the massive and much feared Oricon cabal usurp all the live music festivals and fill them with processed cheese bands?
And what the heck am I thinking, making sweeping pronouncements about what the Japanese people and their government should do with their tax code? In a manga und oddball theory blog, no less? Who in the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is going to read this and care a whit? Silly Rabbit! Do you actually think that anyone from Japan reads this thing? And yet…
You cannot make a tax-deductible donation to Comiket. (!!!)
A lousy tax deduction for Japanese people to support what they love and what already does so much for them: I know they already support it and will continue to do so without such official encouragement; still the absence of even the modest incentive and acknowledgement of the importance of a wider civil society saddens me.
It is not like I am sitting on my isolated little furreigner mountaintop and yelling that the entire Japanese gummint should scrap their tax code and budgeting process in favour of a Jack Halderman experiement. It’s just that…
You cannot make a tax-deductible donation to Comiket. (I stop noaw…)
I doubt that Comiket would directly take Deep State coin, but you still could do a few neat things with such a system. While the main benefits would be an encouragement of local grass-roots Japanese culture for the japanese consumer/ fan, there would eventually be marketable foreign-interest spinoffs.
I am reading my latest fun find on manga.jp.org. I have the language selection toggled to English, but I note that French, Spanish and German scripts are also available. Or I can toggle back to Japanese, which changes the “flag translation” window entry section below the screen. As I am neither practicing my Japanese or my English I generally don’t visit here often, I can flag a real clunky bit of dialogue from the English page.
I have signed up for a basic membership so I can vote some of my monthly membership credits to a mangaka whose product I really really like. One of the publishers or advertisers on the site will then contribute a few yen to a non-profit charity affiliated with Comiket that will make a grant towards the dojin publishing expenses or/or table fee for that mangaka, so that they can show up with their circle and commune with their fans. The supporting Japanese company gets a tax credit, up to certain limits. Or the contribution can go towards a travel fund so that the mangaka can do a book/ convention tour at a regional Japanese convention or even in far-off lands. My leecher-guilt is soothed, even as I worry that perhaps the sponsors are gaming the voting system. At least the mangakas all get a ridiculously low basic residual rate for having their works up on the site.
I can buy more credits through a premium membership or earn them through fannish participation and site grunt work. I wish I could translate, but reviews earn me a few credits as well, as long as they are judged useful and I don’t rile the moderators by trying to snooker the system.
While reading, I am occasionally tempted by ad links for related products on Rakutan, and notice that since I am reading a manga that supposedly takes place near Kamakura, that there is a link to tourism site promoting upcoming Kamakura events: a Rockabilly festival and two traditional matsuri taking place in the area in the next few months. Perhaps I should click-through to see what the January schedule holds? At least I am not reading Shoujo manga. If I did that I would be deluged with sugary fashion ads. If I want ultra girly kawaii hyno-swirl contact lenses (Halloween approacheth) I at least know that the supplier will probably take my Paypal or credit card and ship to me as long as I am not in a “difficult” location.
Wow, there’s a hot-spring tour package that can accommodate my strange alien nekkidness and possibly one or two discrete tats (Tattooed barbarian days are Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the summer). And lookie: the mystery grab-bag of used yukata; fabric re-use grade, two kilos shipped sea-mail (slow, no tracking) for $30! I always get that ad when I am reading Gintama, along with the cheesy wooden sword ads…
A silly fantasy: Japanese retailers find foreign buyers incomprehensible and would never waste time marketing to them. Until they find that they can make a decent profit from the exercise.
Or until the Koreans and or the Chinese show them how it can be done.