Geopolitics and soft power: Japan's cultural policy and cultural diplomacy in Asia

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Japan's cultural policy and cultural diplomacy in Asia has changed dramatically over the past one hundred years, from actively introducing and imposing Japanese culture during its empire-building period, to essentially avoiding the promotion of Japanese culture in Asia for most of the postwar period due to fears of being seen once again as engaged in cultural imperialism, and more recently, to supporting and encouraging the export of Japanese contemporary culture and lifestyle in order to attain "soft power." Looking at the fluctuations in Japan's cultural policy over these three periods allows us to understand how Japan has used cultural policy to further its geopolitical goals and more basically how it has viewed the role of "culture" in the context of its relations with Asian neighbors. In a broader sense, the Japanese experience shows that cultural policy, even when inward-looking, is not isolated from a country's geopolitical position and its ambitions in the world, regardless of the political system under which it operates.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)37-61
Number of pages25
JournalAsia-Pacific Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In actual terms, the state’s support for cultural promotion overseas contains a wide range of uncoordinated initiatives involving no fewer than 13 governmental ministries and agencies. The most prominent are MOFA, the Japan Foundation, the Agency of Culture (under the auspices of the Monkasho¯), the Prime Minister’s Cabinet (PMC), and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). However, as in other fields when different governmental ministries and agencies are involved, there is routine competition over resources, overlapping responsibilities, lack of coordination, and struggle over prestige. The terminology used by different ministries also varies. MOFA advocates supporting “pop culture diplomacy,” METI talks about supporting the “content industry” (the ministry defines any cultural and artistic work with commercial value as content), and the PMC states that it wishes to promote Japanese “life culture” abroad by introducing Japanese cuisine, fashion, and Japanese brand names to foreigners (Zykas 2011: 155-157; 163-66).


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