Soon after returning to power in 2012, Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, boldly asserted that “Japan is back” from its “lost decades” of economic stagnation and political turbulence. Under the Abe administration, Tokyo has ambitions to assume a greater role in global leadership, and policymakers believe that soft power is the key to achieving this.
Japan has long been aware of the potential of its soft power. Especially since Douglas McGray’s 2002 Foreign Policy article on Japan’s Gross National Cool, Tokyo has been trying to convert the global spread of Japanese pop culture into political influence and economic gains. Influenced in part by Tony Blair’s Labour Party in the UK, Japan introduced “Cool Japan” in 2010, its own version of the “Cool Britannia” campaign. But over the past decade, Cool Japan has been widely criticised at home and abroad for its failure to capitalise on the Japan brand.
At the same time, Tokyo officials are concerned that Japan is losing out to its regional neighbours in the information war. The sudden rise of the Korean Wave – the explosive popularity of Korea’s cultural exports, which been nurtured by the government – is overshadowing Japan’s role as East Asia’s soft power giant. Meanwhile, China is also rapidly expanding its network of Confucius Institutes, educational centres housed within-host universities to promote the global spread