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An employee of Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) displays DVDs of the popular Japanese amine "Gundam." TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images



The Future of Japanese Cool

part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


As we've seen by now, a lot of this stuff in Japanese anime and manga and video games is kind of racy and very violent often. And it's a little bit, kind of out there.

That's often true of any form of emerging pop culture. Think about rock 'n roll or hip hop. But, when it comes to Japan and business, there really is a big business between these creative industries and the traditional Japanese corporation. And yet the Japanese government is showing more than a passing interest in these creative businesses.

Next, we go to an office tower in the government district of Tokyo to visit an official from JETRO, the Japan External Trade Organization.

JETRO traditionally has backed the Japanese automobile industry, the Japanese steel industry. Now they're really trying to back the Japanese 'cool' industries to grow in the United States, in Europe, the rest of Asia - grow the export market.

We meet with Dai Higashino of JETRO's Economic Research Department. He's dressed appropriately for his government job, in a brown suit and wingtips. He's 37 years old-roughly the same age as Eiko Torikai, the animation producer we just met.

We ask if he likes manga and anime.

"Well, some parts," he says. "I like some mangas for adults. But I am not - otaku de nai desu."

Higashino switched to Japanese right there to say, "I am not an otaku." Not a fanatical consumer of anime, comic books or video games.

You know, that almost went without saying. And yet, he has plenty to say about the Japanese content industry: movies, music, game software and animation. He flips through these thick government reports on the growing pop culture sector.

"In 2001," he says. "overall sales were for 11 trillion yen. For 2010, it's expected to rise up to 15 trillion yen."

Fifteen trillion yen, by the way, is about $150 billion.

That's real money. And we know the Japanese pop culture industry is growing. But what we really wanted was a sense - what's coming in the future? For example, car companies get bigger market shares, sell more cars, means more dollars, more jobs. So does pop culture work the same way? Higashino talked about the importance of price when it comes to manga. Manga right now, $10 a pop in the U.S.. If they can get it down to $5, sales could soar. And then talking about anime, he's very confident because he believes Japan owns the brand. And more popularity around the world, that means more wealth for Japan.

"Japanese anime has a very high quality and very high standards of production," says Ignacio. "It's not only sold for kids but also meant for adults. So there's a huge economic potential. Besides Japanese anime, is there anything that you can think of that could compete with that? Maybe Disney, but not really, right?"

Yes, but Higashino also notes that a lot of anime and manga is being outsourced to South Korea and elsewhere. In fact, there's a growing anime and manga business in Korea. And when we visited a publishing company, they're planning to find manga that's made by American artists and import it into Japan.

Well, why not? This is pop culture. Think of rock 'n roll again. It was an American innovation, but people all over the world heard it, bought American records then turned around and formed their own rock bands.

Well, that process is already well under way with all the cultural products that we've been calling Japanese. From Australia to South Africa, France to the US, people are making anime and posting it on the Web. They're drawing comics and calling them manga.


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