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After four years Cool Japan is “4.4 billion yen in the hole” and continuing to show few results

Posted: 29 Apr 2018 08:00 PM PDT

What happened? You used to be Cool, Japan!

We haven’t checked in with Cool Japan lately. Back in 2013 when it first launched, we were optimistic that the various “cool” elements of Japanese culture such as manga, anime, and music were about to get government backing to expand overseas.

Two years later in 2015 the only thing Cool Japan seemed to be good at was playing it cool and keeping deathly quiet. It was enough to enrage musician and celebrity of refined tastes, Gackt, to launch a harsh criticism of the organization that once promised to help his industry.

"The Japanese government made a new attempt at this in the name of Cool Japan, but while they have set up a huge 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?”

Indeed, back then a search of the Cool Japan website yielded promotions of abacus and gauze makers rather than, say, the Naruto musical which was playing overseas at the time. But that was back in 2015, perhaps shaken by Gackt’s drubbing, the Cool Japan Organization has stepped up their game since then.

Recently, journalist Joji Harano with Gendai Business wrote an update on Cool Japan, highlighting a few of its endeavors as of 2017. According to the article, two of Cool Japan’s major investments underway are Wakuwaku Japan and an Iseten department store in Malaysia.

Wakuwaku Japan is a satellite television channel which shows nothing but Japanese programming round the clock in the language of the Asian countries in which it airs. It’s actually a great idea… in theory. In reality it’s about half-a-dozen decent shows like The World Unknown to Matsuko and Signal on repeat, 24-7. The rest of the time its rather heavy-handed tourism promotion which no one is dying to see.

▼ However, I will admit this commercial is kind of cool.

Of course, getting the “come to Japan” message is an important factor of this project, but getting butts in front of the TV really should be job number one. Securing rights to really great shows like GameCenter CXGeinoujin Kakudzuke Check!, or Gaki no Tsukai (blackface scandal notwithstanding) should have been taken care of before the channel even launched or the mission should have been aborted.

At the very least, they should have gotten some of NHK’s popular shows like Pitagora Switch. Considering they are the public broadcaster of Japan and Wakuwaku is a government backed channel, you’d think it’d be an easy arrangement.

But no, and as a result ratings for Wakuwaku are said to be lagging and the channel is currently in the red. Still, you could argue it was huge success compared to All Nippon Entertainment Works (ANEW).

▼ Not to be confused with All Nippon Airways (ANA) which is actually
pretty cool and far more effective at physically getting people to Japan.

ANEW was founded in 2011, when Cool Japan as we now know it was still germinating, with a cash injection of 6 billion yen from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). Its mission was to produce movies and eventually become a Hollywood studio, introducing Japanese filmmakers and franchises to western audience.

The initial investment got a starting line-up of seven films off the ground. However, due to chaos in the management of ANEW, not one movie was made. Having not made a single yen in profit, the government sold ANEW to a venture capital firm in 2017 for the low, low price of 34 million in order to cut losses. When all was said and done, 2.2 billion yen of tax revenue had been used up with absolutely nothing to show for it.

The other flagship endeavor of Cool Japan is Isetan the Japan Store, a five-floor department store in the heart of Kuala Lumpur stocked only with Japanese goods. Again, on paper this isn’t a bad idea. In China someone did the same thing, and despite everything being fake, it was very successful.

▼ They did at least get the words “Japan” in there!

But if I were to describe Isetan in one word… it’d be unremarkable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine department store, but that’s all it is really. I’d never recommend Isetan to anyone for any particular reason, and come to think of it I wouldn’t even know how to get to the nearest Isetan from where I am.

Really it’s just a regular department store, and I’ve never been to Malaysia but I have to assume they already have department stores there. Not only that, but I’m going to make the rather safe assumption that everything in Isetan the Japan Store is more expensive too.

▼ And here’s Malaysian vlogger Jonathan Ng to confirm
that Isetan the Japan Store is indeed really expensive

To make matters worse, Malaysia is said to be a sort of Bermuda Triangle for Japanese goods and services where 70 percent fail in the first three years. Opening an all-Japanese megastore seems like attempting to sail the Titanic into this Bermuda Triangle, no matter how superior a Japanese potato peeler may be.

Overall, Harano paints a pretty bleak picture of Cool Japan’s situation stating that among all of it’s 52.9 billion yen in public and private money invested in 25 projects, Cool Japan is operating at a loss of 4.4 billion yen.

But there are some points that should be made in Cool Japan’s defense. First, the project is set for a ten-year period after which it will be assessed. Since we’re only at the half-way point, it may be unfair to judge them just yet.

Secondly, Cool Japan themselves would probably be quick to point out that a secondary aim was to promote inbound tourism, and tourism to Japan has never been stronger.

How much of a hand Cool Japan had in that is unclear, but it’s a bit of a moot point anyway since the primary aim is to set up viable Japanese industries abroad.

Opening businesses in foreign lands can be risky business, so losses shouldn’t be a surprise. However, as seen by the examples above, the choices Cool Japan has made when it comes to what to export, have been downright mystifying.

Rather than opening up Japanese businesses in other countries, why not focus on ones that already have a foothold for a greater chance of success?

For example, Yoshinoya has already made some inroads in foreign countries, suggesting that it is viable there. By making a relatively low-risk investment in Yoshinoya’s expansion overseas, Cool Japan could turn a quicker profit which could then be used for incrementally more risky ventures like, say, bringing Coco Ichi or Kurazushi abroad… then focus on the department stores and abacuses.

Or how about Universal Studios Japan’s annual line-up of pop-culture themed attractions coincidentally also called “Cool Japan?” How much more of an obvious opportunity to export Japanese culture and make money in the process can there be than by the Cool Japan Organization investing in bringing Cool Japan attractions to Universal Studio parks in the U.S.?

▼ Monster hunting with giant swords and Sailor Moon weapons or
Final Fantasy virtual roller coasters? Nah, that’s just not cool enough apparently.

These are just two ideas off the top of my head. I imagine given time to really think about it, there are even better ideas to promote Japanese culture while establishing profitable enterprises. In other words, what Cool Japan is trying to do doesn’t really seem that hard.

Some would suggest that this situation is a sign Cool Japan is either grossly incompetent or corrupt, but I’ll just say they are under-performing for the time being. There’s still five more years until its day of reckoning, during which a lot a lot of cool things can still happen.

Source: Gendai Business, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Facebook/Cool Japan

Lucky winner of Coca-Cola Japan’s transparent cola campaign stunned by what he received in mail

Posted: 29 Apr 2018 06:00 PM PDT

Or rather, by what he did not receive.

Transparent beverages like amazing colorless milk tea and lemon tea made headlines in Japan when they were released a few months ago, due in no small part to the fact that it royally messed with our brains in a good kind of way.

Which was why Japanese Twitter user @masa_b_ got a pleasant surprise when Coca-Cola Japan's official Twitter account notified him that he was the lucky winner of the "Untested Transparent Coke Present Campaign", a promotion he had applied to for a chance to get the rumored new colorless drink.

The prize was to be sent to his address, but when he opened the parcel weeks later in the mail, only an an empty plastic box imprinted with Coca-Cola's distinctive logo greeted him.

▼ Bewildered, @masa_b_ examined the
single card nestled within. (Translation below)

"Congratulations on winning the prize! We would like to sincerely thank you for taking part in the 1 July present campaign. We've enclosed a set of two bottles of Untested Transparent Coke in here.

Through accumulated research, we've created this crystal clear taste with a light feel, almost as if it's air.

We've used specially designed clear bottles that can only be seen by those with pure hearts.

Please enjoy!"

▼ “Wait, where’s my Cola!?”

Dismayed that he couldn't see or even touch the bottles promised within, @masa_b_ was fully convinced that he lacked a pure heart. It wasn't until he saw the next few words that everything clicked in his mind:

"This is an April Fool's joke.
Could it be that plans for retailing this product is also (a joke)…?!
When that time comes, please remember to bring this box with you!"

Japanese netizens were amused by the company's humor:

"It's great that they actually delivered an April Fool's joke to your doorstep."
"It looks like a premium box. Better take good care of it."
"Wow! This looks delicious! Why can't everyone else see it?"
"I really want this."
"I can see the Cola!"

It's a shame @masa_b_ couldn't get his hands on some transparent Coca-Cola, but he did get a nice card and a good laugh out of it. If we knew earlier how badly he wanted them, we would have happily made some colorless Cola for him.

Source: Twitter/@masa_b_ via Hachima Kiko
Featured image: Twitter/@masa_b_
Insert image: Pakutaso

Boy threatens to stab school staff forcing elementary students to wear Giorgio Armani uniforms

Posted: 29 Apr 2018 10:30 AM PDT

Threatening to cut people up with a knife is not the best way to go about airing frustrations.

School uniforms in Japan can be prohibitively expensive, costing parents close to a whopping US$1,000 for a complete set good enough to last through the school year.

Which was why Taimei Elementary School, located in the luxury shopping district of Ginza, ruffled feathers when they announced some time ago that their students will be donning uniforms made by high-end Italian fashion brand, Giorgio Armani.

▼ Those are some rich kids alright.

Not everyone's thrilled about having young children wear such lavish outfits, least of all a particular 14-year-old junior high school student from Tochigi Prefecture, who took to the Internet to air his disapproval.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, the student made thinly-veiled threats on a website earlier this month, commenting that "(Taimei Elementary School) should just let students commute normally. If they don’t cut this out, then I’m going to cut them with a knife."

Concerned for the safety of staff and students starting a brand new school year, the principal quickly lodged a police report prompting an urgent investigation into the matter. The menacing comments were eventually traced back to the junior high school student who later confessed, “I thought it was wrong of them to make the kids wear expensive uniforms even though they’re just elementary schoolers.”

▼ Though that may be true, it isn't appropriate to stab people either!

Threat charges have been filed against the offending student, but while the case seems to be closed for now, we can't help but think that Taimei Elementary School isn't quite out of the woods yet with their choice of expensive fashion.

Peculiar school uniform regulations can attract the wrong kind of attention in Japan, and if Taimei plans to continue down this path, they may need to prepare for more weird things to come their way.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun Company via Otakomu
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2)

Police on the lookout for man offering young boys money for sneezes

Posted: 29 Apr 2018 08:00 AM PDT

Suspect is said to provide tissues as well.

On the evening of 25 April near Sukenobu Station in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, a male high school student was approached by an older man who said, “I will give you 1,000 yen if you sneeze.” The boy did, so the man handed the lad a 1,000-yen (US$9) bill and tissue.

While on paper that might sound like an awesome deal, the creepiness factor most likely gets jacked way up when it happens in real life.

▼ “Hey kid, I’ll give you a dollar if you sneeze in my latte.
I’ll throw in an extra dollar if it’s extra thick.”

It’s unclear whether the student fulfilled his end of the bargain or simply gave back the money, but either way he was disturbed enough to go to the police afterward and file a report.

The man is described as in his 30s, and about 180 centimeters (5 feet and 10 inches) tall. He is also said to have a slim build, black hair, black suit, and a black shoulder bag. In other words, he looks more or less like every middle-aged Japanese man on the street, which may make finding him difficult.

Added to this is the issue of whether or not what the man was doing was a crime, as unsettling as it was. In order to pursue the investigation, Shizuoka Prefectural Police are citing Article 2 of the Police Act which allows it to act under the aim of “maintaining public safety and order.”

The authorities are currently asking around and checking security footage for more information on the sneeze-procurer. Until they know more they are advising all residents to be on alert and, “Never take him up on the offer. If you feel uncomfortable, please go to the nearest police box and file a report.”

The bizarre nature of this case only gets more bizarre when we learn that this isn’t the first such incident in Hamamatsu City. On 20 October, 2016 a high school boy reported being approached by a man described as in his 20s. The man said to him, “Can you sneeze? I’m doing research on sneezing.”

In December of that same year, police were able to find the man and give him a warning not to ask people for sneezes again.

These incidents took place two years apart and in different parts of the city, but the truly unique nature of attempting to solicit sneezes would strongly suggest they’re connected. The police will no doubt be paying the 2016 individual a visit if they haven’t already.

Until then, we should all do well to heed the police’s advice and not take money from strangers in exchange for sneezes. We’ve covered these types of cases many times in the past, and I’d wager dollars to donuts that there is something downright nasty on that tissue he’s handing out. So please only sell your sneezes to licensed sneezologists.

Source: J-Cast News
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso

Japanese Twitter users agree that yakuza members are more Photoshop savvy than the average joe

Posted: 29 Apr 2018 02:00 AM PDT

Although when you think about what they do for a living, it does makes sense.

Having a set of sought-after skills like being proficient in word processors or database software can help prospective employees clinch job offers in Japan. And for organized crime syndicates like the yakuza, expertise in photo editing software is seen as particularly desirable.

Former adult magazine editor @3rdtoy's tweet recently garnered a fair amount of attention from netizens, most of whom nodded sagely at his words of wisdom.

▼ Even yakuza have to catch up with the times.
(Tanslations below).

"Between a group of 100 yakuza members and a group of 100 normal employees (up to 30 years old), you can be sure the yakuza group will be more Photoshop savvy."

▼ And the reason is rather straightforward.

"If you're wondering why so many yakuza members are skilled in Photoshop, it's simply because they need to edit photos of women working in sex-related services or create counterfeit stuff."

Yakuza are notorious for operating a variety of large-scale sex-related businesses in Japan, such as sensual massage parlors, strip clubs, hostess bars, and regular old prostitution. Since performing digital touch-ups on faces or body features on advertisements attracts more customers, it's important for members to get well acquainted with image editing software.

▼ A good example would be this adult magazine here.

▼ If you're wondering why @3rdtoy knows so much,
that's because he's personally dealt with the yakuza before.

"When I was an adult magazine editor, I remember seeing low-ranking yakuza easily using Photoshop and felt utterly devastated since I couldn't do it myself."

It's surprising to discover that even a crime organization like the yakuza seeks to maintain a certain level of digital competence just like other companies out there. Although is it more surprising than them giving out Halloween candy to kids? That’s one we’ll let you decide.

Source: Twitter/@3rdtoy via Hachima Kikou
Top image: Pakutaso