Why has Japan’s Soft Power only Partially Succeeded?

Why has Japan’s Soft Power only Partially Succeeded?

Japan has a Soft Power

Nation branding is a significant tool in developing the soft power of a nation.  This is because it assists in establishing a favorable image in the global arena. Nonetheless, it is important to note that finding a catching slogan to market a nation is necessary. Concerning the mentioned, Japan should focus on improving the quality of its soft powers instead of advertising itself to other nations to promote its image in the international arena. This will ensure that it succeeds wholly and not partially.

For several years, Japan has been incapable of using its hard power resources, and this makes it popularly known as a soft power in the global perspective. Subsequently, it can be pointed out that soft power of Japan is substantial despite Vyas (104) asserting that these resources are intangible, hence challenging to measure. Presently, Japan is ranked as a top leader in different fields. For example, it is a global leader in registered patents.  Additionally, it is the second and third top score in music and book market, research and development respectively.  Therefore, through its culture, Japan is the largest soft power across the globe and the largest in the Asian region.

Economic slowdown experienced in the world for several decades did not interfere with Japan’s soft power tools. Instead, it made it remain steady. Citing Martinez (13), instead of Japan collapsing beneath its economic and political misfortunes, it focused on its cultural influence and spread it across the globe. From consumer electronics to pop music, fashion to architecture, and art to food, Japan presently yield greatly cultural influence than when it was an economic superpower in the 1980s. This is a clear indication that it has quality soft powers compared to that of other nations.

Moreover, the cultural influence of Japan across the globe is impressive, and this is evident among the younger generations. In every home, play station features as a household name. Consequently, Pokémon is felt internationally and broadcasted in approximately 65 nations. Nonetheless, the cultural influence of Japan is not just limited to the sphere of pop culture. For example, the Occidental restaurant has been characterized by sushi boom. If the effect of Japan’s soft power in the pop culture is compared with other Asian nations, it is evident that the nations remain the largest consumers of the Japan culture. Consequently, through the popular culture and massive outflow of FDI and ODA, Japan has played a crucial role. Additionally, Japan has a cool sense of attraction among the Asian younger generations (Vyas, 103). This is a clear indication that Japan should focus on other venues to enhance its economic prowess.

Despite the advantages, there are also limitations associated with the country’s soft power impacts, and this is evident in Japan’s relations with other Asian neighboring nations. There are suspicious that lingers in nations like Korea and China and this interferes with its soft power. For example, during the late 1990s financial crises, Japan attempted to create an Asian Monetary Fund. However, other Asian nations were against the idea. Additionally, the U.S criticized the idea. This is because U.S believed that such an initiative would interfere with the objectives and role of the International Monetary Fund. China also objected the project because they believed that it would make Japan have great influence on the region. This led to the question whether Japan wanted to play a role in the international system.

Opinion polls were conducted in regard to the same. The key areas of focus were:

  • Contribution to international peace
  • Cultural exchange with the objective of promoting mutual understanding
  • Expanding the overseas development assistance


What role should Japan play in the international society?

Ensuring international peace 49.3%
Humanitarian roles 42.8%
Solving global issues 25.1%
Developing the world economy 19.7%
International cooperation 15.3%


It is clear from the table that there is an extensive support for Japan playing a great role in foreign policy related to soft power. The second poll focused on Japan’s role in promoting cultural exchanges.

The surveys indicated that youth, sports, and student exchange are linked to internalization; an idea that Japan is greatly obsessed with. Consequently, in Japan, there are various youth exchange programs.   For example, as per the 2005 statistics, 121,812 persons were living in Japan on either college or pre-college visa.

Concerning the promotion of the domestic culture, Hughes and Ellis (158) asserts that it remains as the unique and effective strategy of utilizing soft power. Because Japanese interest in culture is wide particularly in the western world, the country has influenced different events across the globe.  The recent one in the region was the Tokyo style week that was hosted in 2004 in Stockholm.

Pertaining to the bilateral aid programs, the major recipients are in Asia, and this includes Indonesia and China. The FDI outflow of Japan has remained impressive. Consequently, China, Singapore, and Japan have risen in the soft power ranks in the recent years. Japan has shown its appeal through diplomatic engagement and cultural push, based on the Portland communication firm that ranked 39 top soft power players.  Japan was the only Asian nation that was considered as a top contender. It was ranked 10th while Singapore and China were position 19 and 28 respectively. South Korea was ranked position 30.

Research across western nations proves that Japan has shown elements of uniqueness in its soft power.  The neighbor countries such as South Korea and China have reported negative opinions about Japan compared to other nations across the globe.

The impacts of the Japanese cuisine, architecture, and fashion in addition to the popularity of Japanese technology and animation have ensured the nation’s reputation as a cultural hub in the world.  There has been a national campaign to promote Japanese soft power using the slogan ‘Cool Japan.’ The campaign was initiated in 2013, and as a result, the country witnessed an increase in the number of visitors in 2015. In terms of culture, the study placed Japan in the 10th position just one position behind China.

Japan has also shown great progress in the development assistance and feature sizeable spending, particularly in the U.N agencies. This has placed it on the soft power side of the world economy.  Additionally, it prides itself in high purchasing power and increased participation in different multilateral organizations. This has made it enjoy a lot of benefits making it build strong soft powers.  Therefore, it is evident that improving the soft powers quality is important for establishing the country’s image (Vyas, 102).

In measuring the attractiveness of the nation’s economic model, Japan proved to be the most favourable one in the four Asian nations in a top 30 category.  In the enterprise category, Singapore was ranked in the top position.  With South Korea and Japan ranked third and fourth respectively.  The reason for Singapore being top in the rankings is because of the fact that the country has welcomed different forms of investment at low and high level. The nation serves as headquarters for various multinationals serving mostly Asian nations. It combines the western legal system with stability in addition to property rights. Even though it has experienced different challenges in rising inequality, but it is also a nation with no inheritance tax or capital gain tax. This has made it attract people from all spheres of life trying to find security and safety. Singapore also boasts of economic freedom, low taxes and no corruption cases and this have made it compete globally.

Cool Japan

In the recent past, there has been a campaign dubbed Cool Japan. The concept cannot be explained in simple terms. This is because it has diverse meanings and concepts. According to McGray (47), there are different selective cultures within Japan, which have gained popularity and are spread across the globe. The subcultures have a significant influence on the younger people all over the world.

There have been key figures in Japan also dedicated their time and resources to promote the cool Japan concept. One of the figures is Aso Taro, the country’s prime minister who had a great passion for Manga and read it the on a daily basis. His intention was to engage the government and ensure that it promoted the nation’s selective subculture. The Manga subculture became popular and spread to other parts of the world. The Japan’s subcultures include anime, food, clothes, Manga, electronic and consumer goods.  Moreover, through exports of the mentioned products, Japan has received immense support from foreigners (Welch 25).

Academicians have talked about the element of soft power for a long time. However, in the recent past, the focus has been on the U.S.A. This is because it has been viewed as the major source of soft power across the globe. U.S.A prides itself in the film industry. It has globally dominant firms and financial strength. Even though the mentioned factors remain unchanged, it is argued that successive administrations in the U.S have focused on using hard power in military interventions and this has interfered with soft powers in different parts of the world (Allison 32).

Even though the soft power of various burgeoning economies like India and China are presently in the limelight, the recent example is Japan. It can be argued that emergence of soft power in Japan has been due to reduced military capability. Following the Second World War, US occupied Japan.  The condition has remained prevalent in Japan because of its peace constitution that bans reliance on military forces. Despite the nation’s inability to use military powers particularly in international negotiations, Japan has survived and become the second largest economy globally. Additionally, Japan does not apply sanctions when it comes to foreign policies. This is because it successfully cooperates with other countries through soft power.

According to McGray (47), the East Asian nations are suspicious about the motives of Japan because of its previous attempts to form an empire using its neighbors, the country has not only been patient but also sensitive. This is because its focus is to create an image that promotes good partnership in the region. Therefore, it can be argued that the situation uses hard power as a challenge and a necessity to apply soft power. This explains why in the recent past, Japan’s modern culture and lifestyle has been felt all over East Asia. For example, there is the popularity of Japanese manga comics, television dramas, anime cartoons, pop singers, and merchandise, which are based on the Japanese culture. The mentioned has affected the nation’s relationship with other East Asian nations. In fact, the popularity has been witnessed among young generations as far as South Korea and China. This is despite the fact that China and South Korea strongly remember the Japanese cultural imperialism and wartime aggression. This is a clear indication of Japanese attractiveness.

Rozman, Kazuhiko and Joseph (67) examines cultural soft power as an element of foreign policy. In his study, he acknowledges the challenges associated with utilizing soft power as a resource. He further asserts that East Asian nations have strong bindings with Japan than with U.S.A. Japan have been in a position to use the mentioned position to spread its cultural values. Nonetheless, people should understand that soft power is not a one-way process. This is because there have been ideological and cultural soft powers of other East Asian nations in Japan. Welch (24) asserts that a nation that has attractive ideas can easily open up to external ideas.  Before the era of western domination, Japan absorbed culture and ideas gleaned from Korea, China as well other neighboring Asian nations. Presently, the mentioned are coming into force and feature culturally attractive ideologies. This has made Japan also to import the ideas. For example, in the South Korea has become popular and are characterized by television dramas, films, and pop brands.

Furthermore, because of Japan’s greater economic prowess compared to other Asian nations, the impact of the cultural soft power has been from Japan into East Asia and not vice versa. Japanese language in addition to other forms of culture such as films, pop groups, and TV dramas has become popular in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea. In the recent past, South Korea started to legalize Japanese culture imports after several years of suspicion. For example, the import of Japanese animated films and popular music became legal in South Korea in 2000 and 2004 respectively (Cooper 147).

Presently, Japan experiences different challenges. One of them is obtaining financial resources for cultural activities. There is a perception that cultural activities should result in benefits that can be explained to stakeholders and taxpayers.  This means that it is proving challenging to direct resources to projects that their outcomes can be felt after a long time. Intellectual exchanges are some of the activities that fall under this category. Consequently, there is growing trend to particularly among the Japan circles to ensure that there is international cultural diplomacy that is focused towards promoting japans traditions, culture and ideas to other parts of the world (Cooper 148).

In the globalized world, even though every country has a unique culture, they cannot be distinguished from other nations.  In other terms, cultural services and goods are being internationalized in the world markets. For instance, there are certain Japanese cultural products/services which might be performed or produced by non-Japanese nations. This is similar to French cuisine that might be well prepared by Japanese people. It is questionable whether otaku and anime culture and Haruki’s literature are part of the Japanese phenomena.  Against the mentioned background, it is evident various players have opted for contemporary Japanese cultural aspects such as Japan Foundation. The players have started to view cultural traditions of Japanese as not part of its property but as a form of human heritage. Different dimensions characterize the cultural dimension. However, some of them have been ignored until recently.

It is evident that soft power in Japan can be perceived in terms of expanding the country’s cultural capital.  Soft power in Japan is expounded in terms of cultural policy and cultural strategy. The Japan’s cultural strategy began when the country was experiencing different economic challenges. Nonetheless, McGray asserted that it was possible for Japan to overcome economic stagnation, and this was based on the country’s cultural prowess.

The Japanese pop culture, manga and different electronic firms such as Sharp, Panasonic and Sony, art and fashion like Murakami and Miyake have become popular across the world.  The mentioned is a good example of the Japanese cultural capital influencing other nations. For instance, drawing from South Korea, according to Haksan Munhwasa, the Japanese comics dominates the Korean comic market.  Consequently, in the Taiwan market, surveys have proven that 30% of younger generations love Japanese culture including drama and music.

From the above perceptions, it is evident that Japanese cultural capital has impacted on other East Asian nations. Additionally, the cultural capital of Japanese has been popularized in other nations such as Taiwan and South Korea. Citing Cooper (167), the soft power concept in Japan was first discussed in 2001, and immediately after this, the Japanese government began to formulate the soft power policy that could result in economic benefit by paying attention to cultural strategy, particularly on international relations. An example of such policy is the growth of tourism also referred to as the Yokoso Japan. Through tourism, the Japanese government intends to promote it’s the country’s culture so that foreigners can show interest in it. An example is that the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry declared the government’s interest in promoting Japan’s brand value (Martinez 20).  In other words, presently, the government recognizes soft power on the basis of economic development and diplomatic strategy due to the existence of attractive cultural power.

According to Lam (349), Japanese soft power is a way of proving the nations possibilities and brand image and value in the international scenes. This is to say that Japan soft power forms part of the government policy. The South Korea cultural capital also referred to as Kanryu or Hanryu was first applied in Beijing. During this era, the term was used to refer to Korean pop music. Subsequently, the Korean culture has expanded in other Asian nations.  For instance, TV dramas, movies, Korean music, theater, and food have been grouped as Kanryu or Hanryu.  This culture spread to Japan and other Asian nations. The reason behind this is an exchange of cultural information between the two nations.  Additionally, an economic-politically environment in the international perspective can be perceived as a major cause. Hence, it is evident that South Korea enjoys competitive power, particularly in the cultural market. High cultural contents led to competitive power, and this made the cultural capital of Korea to expand greatly.  From the above explanation, it is evident that soft power development forms between South Korea and Japan. However, the two has shown definite contrast.

In conclusion, it is evident that Japan has used its soft powers, and it presently regarded as a cultural norm. Japan has positively used its culture to promote its global image in the international perspective.  Japan effectively used soft power to attract huge population towards Japanese culture. Few events such as dolphin killing and whale fishing are some of the events that have been used to attract foreigners.  Japan has also applied its soft power with the objective of improving its relationship with other neighboring nations. For instance, there has been drawing competition on Manga. However, winners are usually drawn from Taiwan and China. The wide spread of soft power in various forms such as multinational firms, global brands and play a critical role in promoting the image of the nation.  It can be argued that branding campaign such as Japan marketing makes it act as an ambassador for its image across the world. In most cases, soft powers are viewed as a nation’s brand. For instance, Japan’s prime minister was quoted saying that Matsushita and Sony are the right and left faces the country. However, it is significant to note that the mentioned brands are from the success and stability of a nation’s economic and political institutions. In other words, cultural product and global brands are crucial in establishing long effects in branding the nation. Evidently, nation branding and soft powers are intertwined. Nation building focuses on how a nation represents and presents itself to other countries.  Therefore, the perceptions that Japan is not developing in other spheres such as technological is based on its weakness to promote its image positively as a world brand. Additionally, it is because of the cultural development of other nations.


Works Cited

Allison, Anne. Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006. Print.

Cooper, Robert. “Hard power, soft power and the goals of diplomacy.” American power in the 21st century (2004): 167-180.

Hughes, Christopher W., and Ellis S. Krauss. “Japan’s new security agenda.” Survival 49.2 (2007): 157-176.

Lam, Peng Er. “Japan’s quest for “soft power”: attraction and limitation.” East Asia 24.4 (2007): 349-363.

Martinez, Dolores. The worlds of Japanese popular culture: gender, shifting boundaries and global cultures. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

McGray, Douglas. “Japan’s gross national cool.” Foreign policy 130 (2002): 44-54.

Rozman, Gilbert, Kazuhiko Togo, and Joseph Ferguson, eds. Japanese strategic thought toward Asia. Springer, 2007.

Vyas, Utpal. Soft power in Japan-China relations: state, sub-state and non-state relations. Routledge, 2010.

Welch, David. “Powers of persuasion.” History Today 49.8 (1999): 24-26.



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