「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら
「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら


Cool in Japan

By Patrick St. Michel


Every Monday, I tune in to TV Tokyo to watch a show called Why Did You Come to Japan? The premise is simple — a camera crew waits at Narita International Airport for foreign visitors, and then they ask them why they came to Japan. The visitors answer and, in the case of tourists with really interesting stories, the program follows them along on their vacation.

It's certainly interesting, and I've spent many Monday evenings watching Japanese cameramen trail Chileans eating dozens of varieties of ramen or aspiring French models auditioning for Japanese ads. Yet it's also part of a larger trend in Japanese television over this past year. It is the most popular of a genre wherein non-Japanese visitors are interviewed about how great Japan is — for the benefit of Japanese viewers.

Rediscover Japan on TBS and Sugoi Desu Ne! Shisatsudan on TV Asahi also zero in on what those outside of the archipelago love about Japan. Watch enough episodes of these shows and you'll be convinced every single aspect of the country's culture is awesome.

Japan wants to spread its culture worldwide, and the government even has a program called "Cool Japan" aimed at achieving this goal. Yet sometimes it feels like the country just wants to convince Japanese that the world thinks the nation is cool, rather than winning over those abroad.

TV shows like Why Did You Come to Japan? are a good example, as is the special "Cool Japan" zone that Universal Studios Japan opened earlier this year. This corner of the theme park featured attractions devoted to Japanese franchises popular worldwide, such as Attack on Titan and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Yet it was built in Osaka — sure, some visiting tourists would go, but the bulk of customers were Japanese. The section was such a success it will come back in January.

I remember when Japan didn't even need to try to be trendy. Growing up in the United States in the '90s, the country was often synonymous with cool. Anime such as Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon were popular shows, while video games from Nintendo and Sega were must-have items at school. Yet today, Japanese pop-culture exports aren't as hot as they used to be, and face serious competition from South Korea, which currently own the coolness crown.

That's probably one of the reasons shows like Why Did You Come to Japan? have become so popular — they offer a chance for viewers to be reminded that many still do think Japan is awesome, even if the nation's standing globally isn't as golden as it used to be. As entertaining as these shows can be, though, I can't help but feel time would be better spent finding and cultivating great new things to share around the world.


「You は何しに日本へ?」は筆者が毎週楽しみにしているテレビ番組の一つだ。最近はクール・ジャパンを紹介する番組が多いが、筆者はこの現状に少し疑問を感じている。

The Japan Times ST: October 23, 2015

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート




2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版