(I wrote this while I was still in Japan. I’m not sure if I ever believed it, but maybe it’ll amuse somebody.)
I don’t hear much about Cool Japan these days, the effort to market Japan as a cultural superpower. Maybe it failed. But I haven’t heard anyone make the claim that it was doomed from the very start. It was. “Cool Japan”, two words that just don’t go together. The term itself is fundamentally oxymoronic. That sentence should prove that when it comes to uncool, I know what I’m talking about.
Let’s face it, Japan is one of the lamest countries on earth. Shall we count the ways?
1) This is a small, compact country. The land is small, the people are small, and the portions are small. And small is not cool. Cool is excess, doing whatever you want wherever you want in whatever quantities you want. Japan is a country of limits, where you try and make the most out of what little you have.
Here, you do not wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care. You might hit someone.
At best, Japan is cute. It’s no contest, Japan is the cutest country on earth. But cute isn’t cool. Cute begs you to love it with big puppy dog eyes. There’s a power in that which is difficult to resist. But it’s not what cool does. Cool doesn’t give a fuck whether you like it or not, or even whether you exist. That’s what makes it so appealing.
2) Japan is polite. Conservative. Japan works late and fucks the least out of all the developed nations. Japan doesn’t dance, and if possible, would prefer not to be asked. If it’s true that white people can’t dance, at least they are having fun trying. Japan didn’t even think to build a dance floor, and now that you mention it, they would really like one but they already used the space to build an apartment complex that can house three hundred. Lame.
Japan gets along. Cool gets ahead.
3) Apparently the objective of Cool Japan was to conquer the world with videogames, cartoons, toys and comic books. These were never going to conquer the world. These are things you turn to when you want to run away from the world. In what universe are any of these cool? Oh wait, they also had the fashion. Harajuku girls, and all that. Fashion that makes a real fashion statement. If that statement is the holy shit, those crazy Japanese, which really doesn’t need reinforcing.
Meanwhile, they still don’t have a single star who could open a movie around the world, or a single artist who could sell out Madison Square Garden.
They should’ve pushed their food harder, which everyone knows is awesome. Or hi-tech gadgets, they’re pretty cool. Except Japan came unfashionably late to the smartphone party, because they didn’t really get how the rest of the world were using the technology.
4) Which brings us to the most unavoidable cause of Japan’s lameness – Japan is an island nation. A sheltered child that knows embarrassingly little of the outside world. Often mistaken as a progressive futuropolis, Japan is still a country where, depending on where you’re from, we outsiders can either be worshipped for our foreign wizardry, like being over six feet tall and knowing The English, or else dismissed with casual hillbilly racism. The Japanese language actually has a use for the word “foreigner”, a word I’d never used before in my life, because it really does matter on a practical, day-to-day level who is Japanese and who isn’t.
In fact, “foreigner” is more than just an adjective, it’s a a profession here. You can be a professional non-Japanese person in Japan. And the absolute most damning evidence that Japan is fucking lame is that Japanese people will call anything and anyone “cool” just for not being Japanese.
The youth of Japan are often an exception to this. But while young Japanese aren’t always lame, they are rarely cool either. Jaded is cool, up to a point, but these kids are almost nihilistically self-centered. They’d sooner change the cartridge than change the system. They know it’s a game they can’t beat, so they give up before even trying. But they don’t even give up in style, by rioting and breaking shit or flipping the bird and leaving for good (very few Japanese can stand the rarefied air outside their dome for too long). And that’s why there are millions who are satisfied working unskilled part time gigs for the rest of their lives, and a subclass within that who won’t even leave their rooms.
Sexiness. Swagger. Self-reliance. These things are cool, and Japan has none of these. As hard as it is to say as a non-American, these things are America. America is cool. America does whatever the fuck it wants. Even when America is being evil, you have to grudgingly admit that military is fucking badass. Cool America sells itself, it doesn’t even need to be said. And it sure as hell doesn’t need the dang gubmint to help. Cool Japan, ladies and gentlemen, take it from the Japanese government. Could there be anything lamer than having your mum brag to your friends about how cool you are?
They should’ve gone with Safe Japan, and marketed itself as an expensive but luxury place to retire. Or how about Cute Japan, the mascot of which is a fluffy white kitten with an itchy red spot on its back that it can’t reach and needs you to scratch. Lame Japan probably wouldn’t have worked as a slogan, and might even have failed as hard as Cool Japan, but at least it would’ve been true.
Don’t get me wrong, you can decide for yourself just how worthwhile the term Cool is, and how pejorative the term Lame is. And whether either of them translate at all to “good place to live and raise a family”. You can probably read between the lines and see that I actually love living here …
… but then again I am the lamest person I know.