Steve McClure searches for cool spots in a sweltering nation

THE GOVERNMENT RECENTLY REVIVED its “Cool Japan” campaign by earmarking ¥50 billion to promote Japanese culture around the globe over the next 20 years. It’s about time, too: Japan has been left trailing in the wake of the South Korean government’s highly successful efforts to publicize K-pop on the international stage.

So what do you get when you google “cool Japan?” After the obligatory Wikipedia entry on the subject, second on the list of search results is the website of NHK World’s “Cool Japan” TV program ( The theme of the program that week was castles: “‘Cool Japan’s’ Facebook attracts a huge number of visitors worldwide whenever it uploads pictures of Japanese castles which tells how much interest foreigners have on [sic] them.”

METI's take on "Cool Japan": not cool.
Kyari Pamyu Pamyu's missile ears: cool.

I have nothing against castles, but they’ve never struck me as especially cool. But maybe they are when compared to the other topics introduced on “Cool Japan,” which included “Early Childhood Education,” “Buses” and the very edgy “Why Japanese People are Stress Tolerant.”

But at least the folks at NHK World have made an effort to design a reasonably attractive and easily navigable website. The same cannot be said of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s imaginatively named “Cool Japan/Creative Industry Policy” site ( mono_info_service/mono/creative), which comes up high in the Google search results. The dull, text only site looks like it’s been designed by bureaucrats for bureaucrats.

I clicked on the “English” icon in the corner of the page to check if METI had used some of those 50 billion smackers to come up with a cool site aimed at an international audience. But the main English portal was as dull and text heavy as the Japanese version. Scrolling down the page, I found the link to the ministry’s “Cool Japan” site. Like the main page, it’s a text only list of links to documents such as the scintillatingly titled “An Interim Report Compiled by the Creative Industries Internationalization Committee.” Yowza.

One link on the page looked promising: “Cool Japan Daily” (http://, comprising “recent news, opinions and trends about Cool Japan.” It clearly isn’t daily and it’s hardly recent, since the most recent posting was dated July 17, 2012. And most of the articles on the site are in Japanese, which kind of defeats the purpose of promoting Japanese pop culture internationally.

Luckily, cool seems to be something that private industry understands better than government bureaucrats. Take the All Nippon Airways’ “Is Japan Cool?” website (, with its bright, bold, graphics and an overall stylish presentation that make this site a lot of fun. “Is Japan Cool?” covers all the topics that make Japanophiles drool: manga, sumo, cosplay, plastic food, high tech toilets and, of course, Japanese hospitality. Nothing about stress tolerance, though.

My advice to the government: hire Harajuku idol Kyary Pamyu Pamyu to take over the “Cool Japan” campaign. That’s not as crazy as it sounds Kyary is one smart cookie, and she certainly couldn’t do any worse than the bureaucrats at METI.

The surreal, psychedelic sense of style she shows in video clips like “Invader, Invader” (available on YouTube) has gained Kyary a huge overseas following. It mixes cool with kawaii a winning combination for Japanese pop culture.

Steve McClure publishes the online music industry newsletter He has lived in Tokyo since 1985.