Over the weeks since posting the first in this series, we have had chance to speak and gauge reactions from a number of different people working in various backgrounds, from Foreign Embassy officials to Japanese creatives, media producers to programmers. Whilst ideas of what is marketable to the West in terms of boosting Japan’s image were mixed, one overriding agreement was that it was time an independent professional communications company took over the reigns of the “Cool Japan” campaign. Everyone we had a chance to discuss the topic with voiced concern that with the government department currently behind the campaigns, they are heading in completely the wrong direction. As they try to focus on branding the country in a way that reinforces an outdated image more inline with the far-removed bubble economy days, the bureaucrats are not only ignoring the creative potential of the country, but more importantly, damaging the image of Brand Japan with each wrong move.
We have proposed themes such as product and package design, fashion and architecture as alternative images to focus on to bring the idea of Japan back into today’s contemporary world and attracting the right sort of attention. In this post we will look at something the country has been renowned for for a number of years, but which has unfortunately also often been communicated in the wrong way: technology and innovation.
Japanese technology and innovation has been a leading light of the country for many years; however, in recent times, there has been a huge slowing down in the edge that the country once had over other nations. For example, the days of Japan’s mobile industry being years ahead of any other countries are now gone, as the world has slowly caught up to the kinds of technology—such as mobile wallets—that the Japanese have had for years. This, combined with Japan’s lack of foresight on how they could market their technology globally, means that many areas have become stagnant. This being said however, there are still many areas, often ignored by the media because they lack the “wacky” factor that unfortunately the world has come to expect, that are both groundbreaking and true symbols of a “Cool Japan.”
As we have described in Part 3, Japan’s consumers are amongst the most demanding in the world. As a result, visual merchandising in the country is amongst the best in the world. Sophisticated displays with thought-out designs are more increasingly being blended with the latest technology to draw shoppers in and create a new type of shopping experience. Innovators like Team Lab are pioneering technology such as their smart hangers which interact with shoppers to create individual shopping experiences, but just as importantly, are actually beneficial to the back end, where they record retail data for the shop themselves. With rising consumer markets in the likes of Singapore recently, this kind of technology and visual merchandising expertise could well be an exportable product.
With the world’s media focused evermore on the environment and the theme being at the forefront of all developed countries’ agendas (and increasingly developing ones as well), green technology is another area that Japan excels in and could really set the standards globally. Along with the main players such as solar and wind, Japan has born some incredibly inventive and potentially influential new technology like the futuristic agricultural system called Imec developed by Dr Yuichiro Mori. A system that makes it possible to grow plants without the need for soil, this innovation has the potential to transform agricultural sectors in the growing areas where lack of agricultural land is a major problem, and help answer food shortages and food security.
Individual components are harder to export as an idea in itself, as semi-conductors and sensors aren’t the sexiest of technologies to the general public. What is marketable is the fact that 70 percent of the worldwide supply of the main raw material used to make printed circuit boards (PCBs), which are used in all electronic products, from PCs to smart phones, to digital wristwatches, are made in Japan. A staggering amount of the technology that we rely on today functions because of components made in Japan—a fact that the world was made aware of after the devastating earthquake ceased operations at many of the big factories and upsetting global supply chains. This concept could be packaged nicely and used as another tool in communicating the global importance of Brand Japan.
As we outlined earlier, it is obvious that Japan does continue to slip in retaining its place as a global leader in certain technology markets as rising economies nip at its heels. China and India, which are both embracing capitalism and globalization at blindingly fast rates, don’t seem to struggle with the language and culture issues like Japan. As we can see in just a few examples, though, there are still many areas where Japan leads the world, and where their attention to detail drives innovation that could have profound effects on our lifestyles of tomorrow. If properly marketed and communicated to the rest of the world, Japan would no longer be about futuristic toilets and robots, but seen for the truly innovative nation it is, something particularly “Cool Japan.”
(For those interested I recommend reading this article “Why Apple Isn’t Japanese” from Newsweek in 2007, although a few points are dated the majority of the article is still very relevant for Japan today.)