Can cool design help boost Japan's economy?

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry has a strategy in place called "Cool Design." Its goal is to capitalize on the Asian nation's history of stylish, forward-thinking creativity.
Written by Reena Jana, Contributor

Japan is known for its hip design, from futuristic street fashion to pop-culture iconography (think anime), from basic Muji goods to the high-end collaborations between artist Takashi Murakami and Louis Vuitton.

To art and cultural historians, Japan has a rich legacy of elegant visual traditions and artisan techniques. To economists, Japan has been facing challenges--its economy slowed in the 1990s after years of striking growth, and the country was overtaken by China in 2001 as the world's second largest economy. Today, Japan is still the world's third largest economy, but the Asian nation has been reeling after the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Given these factors, could design help revive Japan economically?

Japan's Ministry of Economy,Trade, and Industry (METI) believes so, and is following a global strategy it calls "Cool Japan." The goal is to keep Japan's design heritage and its creative industries on the forefront of the global cultural stage. (You can read a PDF of the entire government strategy here.)

"Capitalizing on the popularity of 'Cool Japan' can accomplish the following: 1) unearthing of domestic demand, 2) incorporation of foreign demand, and 3) transformation of industrial structure," the official METI document on the design strategy states. "These accomplishments can secure new income sources and jobs, leading to regional economic revitalization."

Tactics include presenting a traveling exhibition of design that marries historical styles with futuristic technology. It was on view the weekend of February 10-12 at New York's Capsule Studio and will travel to Paris next month. The overall Cool Japan program includes projects across Asia and Europe, too.

The exhibition, titled  "Future Tradition WAO" -- "WAO" refers to the sounds of the Japanese characters for "rebirth of Japan" and also happen to sound a lot like the English word "wow" -- features such innovative fashion items such as Masaya Kushino's gravity-defying shoes without heels, which recall both Lady Gaga's sartorial preferences and traditional Japanese platform footwear from centuries past. Other old-Japan-meets-new-Japan objects on view include an iPhone case featuring traditional Japanese lacquer techniques and patterns borrowed from a medieval samurai robe.

This short-term, small-scale exhibition is unlikely to make an impact on Japan's economy in a big way. But perhaps the numerous Cool Japan initiatives around the world--such as workshops and presentations in China and India--together may prompt consumers and corporations alike to seek Japanese designers' wares and talents.

(Via Artinfo.com, Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry)

Image: pinti pinti/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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