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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:33 03/09/2007
Commentary (March 2, 2004)

Introduction to Pop Culture Policy (Summary)

Ichiya NAKAMURA (Executive Director, Stanford Japan Center-Research)

(This is a summary compiled by the author of the discussion paper in Japanese submittd to Stanford Japan Center)

1. Meaning of Pop Culture

Japanese pop culture is now drawing global interest. The conventional image of Japan was of a military state before the end of WWII and an industrial state after the war. However, since the 1990s its cultural presentation has been changing. Further, there is now a suggestion of a "cool" country in today's image of Japan.

This change results in expectations for the growth of pop culture-related industries. However, the share of the contents market in the Japanese GDP is smaller than the global average, and the percentage of foreign sales in the entire Japanese contents sales is also small. Additionally, the Japanese entertainment industry has been shrinking over the last few years. Hollywood's full scale efforts towards the contents business and the speed of growth of Korea's game and animation industries, backed up by governmental policy, are also threatening Japan.

On the other hand, the expressive method of pop culture can be applied to remote interactive non-entertainment fields, such as e-commerce and online education, which have seen promising growth. This expressive method also influences the plans and designs of directly interactive products, such as robots and cars. We should also focus on the effect of this expressive method on foreign policy and security treaties in this trend of focusing on "soft" power.

2. Characteristics of Japan

Comics, animations, and games have flourished in Japanese culture based on western technologies that were imported after Japan's modernization. These fields are growing ever bigger through significant diversification and subdivision, yet at the same time they can be seen as merging into a single industry, helped by digital media mixing techniques.

Within the business structure of this industry, basic business units comprise numerous creators, who run their business in a venture-like manner, and a few producers assigned from oligopolistic companies that hold most of the circulating capital. Although the downsizing of creation tools allows more amateurs to join in the media creation industry, the industry as a whole faces several serious problems, such as the rigid structure of media distribution and an insufficiency of producers who can operate projects internationally. The Japanese expressive method has been continuously cultivated by society since before Japan's modernization, within a cultural background where everybody enjoys "pop" items regardless of their age or sex. The characteristics of this Japanese pop market include the following points: children's purchasing power is strong; participation of adults in the market is large; '"otaku," who are the obsessive "maniac" comic/animation fans, contributes significantly to market activities; and the fact that there is less regulation of sexual and violent expression in the media.

3. Digital Technology and Pop Culture

Digital technology has bred new expressive styles, such as interactive media, CGs, and 3D graphics. These digital technologies have also opened up new business fields, such as the World Wide Web on home computers, Internet access, ring tones, and photo mail on mobile phones. New cultures, new styles, and new businesses have been born from these technologies, which have also changed the market structure through global business networking.

At the same time, the problems deriving from digitalization, such as the illegal copying of music, are becoming serious. Along with this, increased international competition, growing development costs, and declining profitability are also seen as critical.

Digital technologies have broken down the borders between professionals and amateurs, enabling amateurs to develop and broadcast their creations more easily than ever before. Japanese people's aesthetics and expressive powers are now enforced by digital power. In particular, young Japanese are now establishing anew form of informational behavior hat could be tented "P2P-style interactive networking," through building up mobile communication methods or bidirectional communication sites like "" Fuller, new expressive fields are being developed through the spread of ubiquitous computing, which merges the digital world with the real world.

4. Current Status and Issues concerning Pop Culture Policy

Contents policy influences a variety of social aspects, from industrial and artistic promotion, copyrights, computerization of various rinds (such as governmental and educational processes), policies related with scientific and technological fields, social and moral regulations, foreign affairs, and even security treaties. However, the current status of such policies is not clearly organized The policies currently being offered by various governmental offices are all short-term plans without any links with each other, which also serves to undermine their governmental responsibilities.

The government should establish a political system that can utilize the strengths of Japanese pop culture. Because Japanese pop culture is now the "main culture," with the potential power for the international promotion of Japanese industry and culture, it needs to be appropriately evaluated, including its outrageousness and indecent aspects. Contents policy represents a country's cultural stance, and therefore it should be established from a viewpoint that looks out over the next hundred years and with consideration for the maintenance and development of Japanese civilization, which is located between two major powers, the US and China.

In order to build up a long-term development mechanism, the education of people is crucial. Thus, one urgent matter is to establish a system to educate people as creators, artists, and producers with high standards and a global perspective; however, this cannot be achieved without enlightening the nation in general. Therefore the first step we should take is to establish a policy that encourages people to participate in digital creation, such as by promoting contents creation for children in schools and in local communities.

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