Hello! It has been a long time, but I’m back. Today I had an opportunity to listen to 6 lectures about Japanese culture and society as part of the MIT-Harvard “Cool Japan” conference that’s been held over the past four days here in Boston. Today for 4 hours I listened to a number of interesting authors and professors speak about a wide range of topics. One of the speakers was David Leheny, the author of Think Global, Fear Local. I had just recently read his book back last autumn. From the book I was able to discern that he was very critical (an understatement) of the current political and social Japanese environment. In his lecture on Japanese soft power, a term which he use for lack of a better word, he described how Japan’s ministry of foreign affairs, MITI, and MEXT have embraced Japanese manga and anime as tools in selling Japan overseas. The consequences of this that he raises are that politicians, especially the Hashimoto faction in the LDP, are now influencing an otherwise independent artistic realm with money and politics. When these two things enter any arena, the rules of the game change entirely for the worse.
Soft power as a concept refers to the notion that any nation has the ability to influence others to their side through means other than coercion. This can be through diplomacy, but is usually seen through the application of cultural transfusion into another society through trade. Japan’s export of popular culture through manga, anime, and music was never planned by Japan’s government. In fact, according to Leheny, Japanese politicians along with many other nations’ politicians did not believe soft power could really work. Years went by in the 90’s and early 2000’s before Japan’s government realized that much of its image success in the west was not because of its policies, but because of the anime and manga industry. This resulted over the past few years in LDP politicians such as Taro Aso declaring that manga should be used as official tools in explaining Japanese society to the world. Other government employees began a program in which the government helped channel money into promoting certain anime and manga. This direct meddling by politicians in a formerly strictly usual apolitical entertainment realm provoked angry blowback. This was illustrated clearly by the manga author who was in the audience at the conference today who expressed in a moving a statement his anger and sadness over the politicization of this sector of Japanese culture. Now, it should be noted that the government does not control the production or planning of any manga or anime. But it does have the ability to give money and support certain projects.
Lehney finally pointed out that this politicization of Japan’s manga and anime has made many in Asia begin to question the convictions and motives behind what they’re consuming.
I’ll try and write up more on the lectures. Other lectures covered topics such as Japan’s pink culture kawaii, Matsuzaka phenomenon in Boston, girls in anime, and another looked at the phenomenon of Onyouji, a heian-jidai bureaucrat/court magician and his transformation into a pop idol and sex symbol over the last 20 years.