The Politics of Research on 'popular' Culture in Japan

Friday, July 18, 2014: 11:00 AM
Room: 301
Oral Presentation
Patrick W. GALBRAITH , Duke University, Durham, NC
At the beginning of the new millennium, Japan, then still the second largest economy in the world, was suffering from a decade of recession and watching as geopolitical interests shifted to east Asian neighbors. At the same time, Japanese games, cartoons and comics were circulating around the world, and business and government leaders rushed to support the creative industries. The subsequent strategy to win the hearts and minds of the youth of the world through mega-popular franchises such as Pokémon was dubbed “Cool Japan.” While the success of this strategy has been widely debated, and drawn its share of criticism, in June 2013, Japan’s Upper House sent out a statement that they were redoubling their Cool Japan efforts, giving the go ahead to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to earmark ¥50 billion for promoting the cause over the next 20 years. With Tokyo gearing up to host the Olympics in 2020, many expect the charm offensive to gain momentum. However, with increasing interest and investment in branded popular culture, local geek subculture has become an issue of national concern. What is "cool" about Japan, and who decides? How do gamers, comic-book nerds and animation aficionados fit into that image? Is it cool to include such people in projects focused on "Japan?" What sort of research is acceptable, popular and cool within this paradigm? What research is “uncool?” What is the role of the Japan researcher in negotiating all of this during a “crisis” in the field, which is to say declining opportunities for funding and employment? This paper seeks to unpack the politics of popular culture in Japan through the case study of Akihabara, an area in Tokyo that some think is geeky and gross, and others position at the center of Cool Japan.