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In February 2024 alone, the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) reported inbound tourists reaching 2.79 million and over 3 million in March. Those who were part of these staggering crowds witnessed first-hand how travel to the country has come alive once more since opening their doors after the pandemic. 

It is undeniable that this global admiration for Japan can be attributed to its natural beauty, energy, and charisma. There has been a boost of efforts from the government to put themselves at the forefront through what they called the ‘Cool Japan’ campaign. What exactly is this Japanese soft power all about, and how did it contribute to where Japan is right now?

Resilience In The Early 2000s

Response to Natural Disasters

Cool Japan
Tohoku Region 10 years after the 2011 earthquake Image Credit: nippon

Japan’s rise as a tourism powerhouse wasn’t without its challenges. Initially, in the early 2000s saw the country grapple with a series of natural disasters, including the devastating 1995 Kobe earthquake and the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Notably, these events understandably caused a decline in tourist arrivals. 

However, Japan’s response to these crises showcased its remarkable resilience. The Japanese people’s unwavering spirit and their efficient disaster management systems left a strong impression on the global community. The world witnessed their discipline, selflessness, and focus on rebuilding their lives and communities. This display of resilience fostered a sense of admiration and respect for Japan’s character.

Economic Revival

Following these natural disasters, Japan also embarked on a period of significant economic recovery. The “Lost Decade” of the 1990s, characterized by stagnation and deflation, slowly transitioned into a period of renewed growth. The government implemented a series of economic reforms, including deregulation, fiscal stimulus packages, and monetary easing by the Bank of Japan. 

These measures helped to stabilize the financial system, boost consumer confidence, and encourage investment. As a result, Japan’s economy began to show signs of improvement in the early 2000s. This economic resurgence bolstered Japan’s image as a stable and technologically advanced nation, further piquing international interest.

Launch of The Nation’s Brand Strategy

Cool Japan
Image Credit: HubPages

Strategy and Objectives

Recognizing the growing global interest, the Japanese government launched a strategic initiative in 2002 called the “Cool Japan” campaign. This nationwide effort aimed to promote Japanese pop culture, traditions, and technological advancements on the international stage. 

Cool Japan had two main objectives. Firstly, it aimed to heighten Japan’s global image and influence its soft power – the ability to attract and persuade other countries through cultural appeal rather than military force. Secondly, it sought to revitalize domestic industries, particularly those related to tourism, entertainment, and technology.

Programs and Events

The campaign implemented various programs and events to achieve its goals. These included:

  • Supporting the international exposure of Japanese music, anime, and video games:

Cool Japan
World Cosplay Summit 2017 Image Credit: Kyodo News

The government provided financial assistance to Japanese cultural producers to attend international conventions and festivals. They also collaborated with foreign broadcasters and streaming platforms to distribute Japanese content overseas.

  • Highlighting traditional Japanese arts and crafts: 

Cool Japan

The campaign showcased the beauty and craftsmanship of traditional Japanese arts, such as kabuki theater, calligraphy, and ikebana flower arranging. They also promoted the appreciation of Japanese aesthetics through exhibitions and workshops held around the world.

  • Promoting Japanese cuisine and fashion: 

Cool Japan
Image Credit: Please The Palate

Japanese cuisine, known for its fresh ingredients, delicate flavors, and emphasis on presentation, was a major focus of the campaign. Government agencies organized culinary events and demonstrations featuring renowned Japanese chefs. Japanese fashion, known for its unique styles and emphasis on detail, was also promoted through international fashion shows and collaborations with global fashion brands.

  • Organizing cultural festivals and exhibitions showcasing Japan’s rich heritage:

Cool Japan
Japan Festival 2023 in Mississauga, Canada

The “Cool Japan” campaign supported the organization of cultural festivals and exhibitions in major cities around the world. These events showcased various aspects of Japanese culture, from traditional arts and crafts to contemporary pop culture. This allowed foreign audiences to experience Japan’s rich heritage firsthand.

  • Leveraging technology to create innovative tourism experiences: 

Cool Japan

The campaign recognized the growing importance of technology in the tourism industry. They supported the development of virtual reality experiences that allowed potential tourists to explore popular Japanese destinations remotely. Additionally, they encouraged the use of mobile apps to provide foreign visitors with information and recommendations while traveling in Japan.

The J-Pop Boom

A significant contributor to the success of the “Cool Japan” campaign was the explosion of Japanese pop culture, or J-Pop, on the international scene. Catchy music, vibrant anime characters, and captivating video games resonated with a global youth audience.


Cool Japan
Image Credit: t13

J-Pop artists like Ayumi Hamasaki and Hikaru Utada gained international followings. Anime series like Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z became global phenomena, captivating viewers with their imaginative storylines and animation styles.  These forms of entertainment not only provided a window into Japanese culture but also created a sense of cool and trendiness associated with Japan.


The J-Pop boom fueled a surge in tourism, particularly among younger generations. Firstly, Fans of Japanese music and anime were eager to visit the real-life locations that inspired their favorite characters and stories. This gave rise to “anime tourism,” where fans travel to places featured in popular anime series. Additionally, cities like Akihabara, a district in Tokyo known for its electronics and anime stores, became popular tourist destinations. Lastly, theme parks featuring anime characters and storylines attracted a large number of visitors.

‘Japan is living in 2050’

Cool Japan
Robot receptionists at Henn na Hotel (Tokyo) Image Credit: Rethinking the Future

A Mix of Tradition and Modernity

Another aspect that has fueled Japan’s tourist appeal is its reputation as a country at the forefront of technological innovation.  Firstly, Japan’s bullet trains, advanced robotics research, and emphasis on green technology have earned it the reputation of being a nation “living in 2050.” Moreover, this unique blend of cutting-edge technology existing alongside ancient temples and serene gardens is a major draw for tourists. Furthermore, visitors can experience the juxtaposition of the future and the past within a single city.  Lastly, this fusion of tradition and modernity creates a captivating and dynamic travel experience.

Creative Innovation

Japan’s dedication to creative innovation extends beyond technology.  The country boasts a thriving design scene, a unique approach to fashion, and a dedication to artistic expression.  This constant push for creative boundaries adds another layer of intrigue for tourists seeking a glimpse into a society that values both tradition and progress.