Cool Japan launched in 2013 as a government-funded program to promote Japanese pop-culture overseas. Anime, manga, music, and food are of course included but the government also wanted to promote Japanese products, fashion, and other industries.
Cool Japan is set to be funded through 2023, but it’s looking like a waste of taxpayers’ money. The program has invested 52.9 billion yen ($481.24 million) in public and private funds into 25 projects, but it operates at a loss of 4.4 billion yen (40.02 million).
The lack of successful projects has caused people to criticize Cool Japan. The most scathing comments came in 2015 from music superstar Gackt:
“The Japanese government made a new attempt at this in the name of Cool Japan, but while they have set up a budget for it, they have no idea where that money should go. It’s no exaggeration to say it has fallen into a downward spiral of wasted tax money flowing into little-known companies.
But the Cool Japan budget is still floating in the air. Who the hell is this budget for? I wonder if anyone living in Japan actually understands what Cool Japan does. I wonder what Cool Japan does. How many people can clearly answer that question?”
Two years after Gackt’s criticism, journalist Joji Harano of Gendai Business decided to see what Cool Japan was up to. Turns out, not much of anything. According to his article, Cool Japan launched two floundering projects – Wakuwaku Japan and an Isetan department store in Malaysia.
The first project is a satellite TV channel that airs Japanese shows and tourism promotions in various Asian countries. Wakuwaku Japan’s budget must be small since it only airs 6 different shows on a 24-hour cycle. Isetan the Japan Store is a five-floor department store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It only stocks Japanese goods, but everything is sold at a premium price that wards away visitors.
Harano paints a cynical picture of Cool Japan, pointing out that the program is money-sink that wastes tax dollars on half-hearted investments.
However, it’s worth noting that Cool Japan still has five years to prove its worth and it’s not uncommon for government programs to operate at a loss. The biggest thing in Cool Japan’s favor is the massive increase in foreign tourism, which is one of the program’s major goals.
The Japan tourism bump is completely bonkers. More people visited in April 2018 than in all of 2003 combined. pic.twitter.com/tVO4BnHL4T
— Craig Mod (@craigmod) April 24, 2018
Cool Japan has a lot of work to do to improve public opinion as it enters year five. With how things are currently run, taxpayers will view Cool Japan as either incompetent or corrupt, which could lead to its death in 2023.