Sunday, February 26, 2012

Is Japan Cool? Representations of Japan from ANA's Cool Campaign!

All Nippon Airlines has a new ad campaign drawing upon the "coolness" of Japanese culture. Here are some screen shots borrowed from their web site. There is a contest involved for free air tickets to Japan. Please note the usual disclaimer here about VAOJ not endorsing any product - what is of interest is the cultural representation in the promotional video and the items selected as representative of (possibly) cool Japan.

In some of my anthropology courses we do a free listing exercise for Japanese culture. In this exercise we consider culture to be composed of sets of items: material objects, architecture, landmarks, food/drink, people, thoughts, beliefs, behavior, etc. The following items are those that can be voted on as either being cool or not in the ANA campaign and might serve as a similar list of the sets that makes up Japanese culture.

Itsukushima Shrine, Electrical Goods Store, Manga Cafe, Karaoke, Iced Coffee, Jinrikisha, High-Tech Toilet, Mt. Fuji, Kaminari-Mon, Decorative Anything, Capsule Hotel, Japanese Hospitality, Harajuku Girl, Sake, Sushi-Go-Round, Chopsticks, Public Bathhouse, Paper Fortune, Japanese Pub, Hot Spring Spa, Maid Cafe, Food Model, Character Bento, Idol, Sumo Wrestler, Tokyo Sky Tree, Ramen, Shrine Visit, Massage Chair, Gyoden, Ultramodern Vending Machine, Soba, Scramble Crossing

As of today, all of these things have overwhelming been voted as cool. You can follow the ranking as the days go by. The idea of cool Japan, especially along the lines of its soft power and pop culture, is certainly not anything new and you can find many web sites, campaigns, research projects and TV shows using this idea. The Japanese government has even been using this idea (link).

How do you feel about the ANA set of items as representative of Japanese culture? What would you add? (The list is certainly Tokyo-heavy and in need of some Kansai additions...) And how do you feel about the video? Is the campaign itself cool?

Link to ANA Cool Japan! Campaign web site:


Anonymous said...

Within your post you ask,

"How do you feel about the ANA set of items as representative of Japanese culture? What would you add?"

but i think that as the video itself is an advertising campaign, asking if the video makes a good representation of japan misses the actual point of it.

isnt an advertisments goal to sell a product, within the lecture, some people criticized the video as "not showing the real japan" and you said that visual anthropology is often looked at through a western viewpoint.

why should a video be criticized for achieving its intended goal, if the intended audience of this video is people looking for somewhere interesting to travel then an advertisement needs to build on previous knowledge

you said in class that care needs to be taken when representing a culture in ethnographic works, and i agree that that is true.

however i cant see this as a ethnographic work, it is a advert made by a japanese airline, to attract people to come to japan.

can they not depict japan in anyway they want?

visual gonthros said...

Thanks for your comments!

Applied anthropologists work for advertising firms. I don't know if that is the case here and/or what kind of research was done for the ad. But we aren't looking at the ad itself as a finished research project, rather we view it as a visual cultural form and an emic perspective. Cool Japan is certainly a fad and this campaign adds to that discourse. And you are correct about its goals, and we should not forget that.

I still think it is interesting to look at the various items that were chosen as "Japanese." The list is similar to lists my own students make. All lists are incomplete. And they created this list to depict an ideal Japan to attract people. Nothing wrong with that. However the depiction should be attractive and not offensive. Remember the Fukudome baseball ad with the problematic flag in the background?