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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:33 03/09/2007
Comment (September 9, 2004)

Comment on Mr. Toyoo Gyohten's Article "Japan's Soft Power Reconsidered"

Ian Condry  (Assistant Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

My comment comes from reading the recent opinion piece on the GLOCOM Platform website by Toyoo Gyohten "Japan's Soft Power Reconsidered"  ( He argues that ".... the governments should protect and promote the nation's cultural assets and heritage....."

It strikes me that this is common way of talking about the promotion of culture, namely, to "protect assets" or "protect intellectual property," yet my sense is that the spread of cultural influence depends substantially on encouraging its flow, which at times may mean promoting the network of artists, intermediaries, and fans, rather than protecting the culture itself.

One key to promoting cultural assets may be *not* protecting them. For example, I've been particularly struck by the ways that American students are changing their relationship with music consumption thanks to online file sharing. I am also amazed at how anime fan circles in the US add subtitles to the latest anime broadcast in Japan, and distribute the shows for free over the Internet. Both can be seen as "piracy" yet both encourage a deeper interest in, and a deeper involvement in, culture. My sense is that the policy debate is too heavily focused on protecting what is already successful, with less consideration of the mechanisms that promote success. One might even say that copyright can protect the past, but it can't create the future.

Along these lines, I've written an article that called "Cultures of Music Piracy: An Ethnographic Comparison of the US and Japan," which will be published this month (Sept. 2004) in the International Journal of Cultural Studies (Sage Publishers). I have posted it on my website if the reader might be interested (

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