Cool Japan is everywhere these day, used so frequently that it has almost faded into obscurity. But have you ever wondered what “cool” means in Cool Japan? Is it only referring to Japanese pop culture like manga and anime? Does it have to pass as something that is traditionally Japan? What exactly is cool Japan?We asked this very question to the Cool Japan Fund.
On September 2nd, the active connector team got together in the heart of Tokyo’s urban center–Roppongi Hills. Our mission? We were all there because we had the privilege of visiting the Cool Japan Fund and learn how cool this fund is.
As we entered the building full of established business people, nervousness and anxiety haunted us. However, as soon as Cool Japan F
und`s Mr. Koyama kindly greeted us, that anxiety quickly transformed to a curiosity to find out more about this fund.
Through the one and a rich half hour interview we had with him, Mr. Koyama generously shared with us his career experience, and patiently responded to all the questions we bombarded him with.
This is just a snippet of th
e precious and insightful, yet sometimes humorous interview with Mr. Koyama.
In case you have no idea what Cool Japan Fund is, Cool Japan Fund is…actually, rather than reading my monotonous description, let’s just jump right in and hear directly from their representative.
Mr. Koyama: Thank you for coming to Cool Japan Fund. I will be talking about my career and the Cool Japan Fund.
Active connector (AC): Could you tell us about your career path?
Mr. Koyama: I started my career in the field of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries finance. My first area was about forestry finance.
I am originally from Tokyo but I started my career in the regional Fukuoka. This is because I realized that despite being a Japanese, I didn’t know much about Japan’s regional areas and I want to know more about what it has to offer so I chose to work in Fukuoka. This marked a significance became a cornerstone in the career I would eventually pursue.
After working for 3 years, I returned to Tokyo and worked for an export and trade agency.
Although I was still working for the local and regional Japan, I had to deal with were diverse subjects that required global understanding. This allowed me to combine the two concepts of local and global=glocal.
This idea of glocal, is actually very relevant to what I am doing right now at Cool Japan Fund. What we are doing is supporting Japan through connecting Japanese culture and the need in the world. And I think regional Japan ha
s so much to offer to the world, and I am only able to realize this because of my experience of working in the regional Japan.
AC: what are you in charge of at cool Japan Fund? What exactly is your role?
Mr.Koyama: Cool japan fund is an investment fund with the idea of connecting the seed with the needs. What the world needs (needs) and what japan has to offer (seeds). In the fund there are different divisions, and I am in charge of finding the seed (cool Japanese culture to offer to the world) to invest in. This means that I meet a lot of people and various companies, and actively connect them as well as the different ideas they hold.
AC: What is the hardest thing in working for Cool Japan?
Mr,Koyama: One of the most difficult things is being the pioneer in connecting the seeds and the needs. Because there is no antecedent, I will need to experiment it along the way.
Another challenging thing is, the fund has to get the return of the investment. I have to identify whether the investment will make money or not. I have to choose carefully. To do that, it is not only about the number and data, but also about people and leadership. The human aspect, which you cannot necessarily logically calculate, is at the heart of the investment.
Also since Cool Japan fund covers various different types of industries, I need to communicate different kinds of people on a day to day basis. I need to put myself in the shoes of others, and understand how people in different industries “talk”. For instance, people is the media industry and the agricultural industry will use different “languages” and I needs to learn their individual culture to communicate and connect with them.
My big mission is to deliver the cool parts of japan to the world. I have to be a pioneer in fulfilling this mission and since I am a pioneer, as long as I can fulfill that mission anything is okay which is also the most enjoyable aspect of working for Cool Japan.
AC: What kind of connections have you established so far to promote cool japan?
Mr.Koyama: Information is key, so we have established connections with JETRO, in order to be up-to-date with the current trends and needs of the world as well as to understand what local parts of Japan can offer. .Whenever I travel to regional areas of Japan, I always stop by JETRO local offices to access information about local businesses and so on.
Cool Japan Fund also invest in inbound business, so I make business alliance with Japanese tourism organization too.
When you talk about local hidden gems in Japan, such as hot springs and historical craft, there are so much potential but not many people invested in local businesses. For example, in Kanazawa, I witnessed how foreign tourist are really interested in the niche part of Japan. It is really difficult to decide how to invest, so sometimes I just need to see it explore it myself. But I see so much potential and hope to invest more in this area.
AC: What is your advice to students regarding their career?
Mr. Koyama: It basically boils down to 3 points.
1.Whatever you feel passionate about, just try.
This is what brought me to Cool Japan. When I was offered this job, I intuitively thought that it would be enjoyable and fun. The job description read the mission to be “find seed in local areas of investment value.” I thought I could contribute something to this so I took the job.
Even though I might not be able to do a tough negotiation with, for example, rich Arab businessmen, I am familiar with what is happening in the local area and he could talk with them. And I was so passionate about it. So I joined Cool Japan fund.
2. If you don’t have any ideas of what you are passionate about, just appreciate a connection and jump in that.
It is all about goen. (ご縁)Luck, fate, connection, whatever that fits. This is what brought me to my previous careers too.
3.Experience different jobs to so that you can understand what kind of a person you are.
Dont just think in your head. Sometimes, you never know until you actually do it. When I was a student I was working for a think-tank and was in charge of research. That experience taught me what I am really good at and can feel passionate about etc…]
AC: Regarding the concept of Cool Japan, you stated about bringing the local businesses into going abroad, but I am interested about what do you think is “cool”?
Mr. Koyama: Actually, to the contrary of what people might believe, what is cool does not need to be something traditionally from Japan, or Japan original. What is “cool” here is whatever that really attracts the world, or is going to attract the world.
For example, Japanese whisky. Whisky is originally from Britain, but Japanese whisky recently got an award in UK, so it is considered as cool.
Or Japanese sweets, something that are not so sweet, if compared to for example, Indian sweets or Algerian sweets.
As one example of our investment, we, Cool Japan Fund, have invested in the Japanese tea café project which provides not only Japanese tea but also “castella” in the US. It is a popular sweets in Japan, but it was originally brought by Portuguese.
AC: I want to know, when you said about products whichever attract the world. In your job, how do you know that the product can be “cool” in the future too?
Mr. Koyama: We have several solutions that we are working on for this. Firstly,we don’t only invest the money but also we send people to the company that we invested in. Some of the Cool Japan Fund’s board members will join the project itself and make sure that the project will succeed, meaning it will be cool in the future too.
Secondly, we are constantly trying to get up-to-date information from local people. We havethe pipelines for the information all of the world. This allows me to get what can be perceived as Cool out there. Similarly, you (foreign students) are also like the pipelines for us to know the information and perception about Japanese in each country.
(Student Voice: Haruka) Actually just few weeks ago I came back from Berkeley, California, and there was a café in front of the campus, and it was always full of people queuing everyday. Even though it wasn’t run by a Japanese owner, the concept bore Japanese taste, with signature drinks like Matcha latte and Hojicha latte.
Mr. Koyama: That is one of the good examples!
AC: Tell us more about your investment cases.
Mr. Koyama:We invested in Ippudo, one of the ramen chain restaurants. Currenty, there are a lot of ramen stalls and shops all over the world, but their tastes are not so original (close to what we eat here in Japan.) So, Cool Japan Fund wants to share the real taste of ramen to people of the world.
Actually, investing in Ippudo will also benefit other Japanese “cool Japan” products. Dishes and cups used in Ippudo can have traditional Japanese features which can be one promotion of sharing Japanese products.
(Student Voice: Rodrigo from Peru): Actually, I would like to suggest Cool Japan to focus more on the developing countries too. People ARE willing to pay more for Japanese food. I could only speak for Colombia, for example, just a regular price for sushi could be 12-15 dollars.
(Student Voice: Amine from Algeria): It’s also the same in Algeria. Sushi will cost 3000 yen. There are some places, and the images are “cool”, even though it is expensive.
Mr. Koyama: Thank you so much for your suggestion! We indeed witll take your advise into our consideration!
Amin: Filipinos, well only the one that I have seen.
Mr. Koyama: What kind of aspects of Japanese food that attract you?
AC: By the way, very fundamental question, is Cool japan a brand? What is “Cool Japan”? Because I see it everywhere on NHK, advertisements, etc.
Mr.Koyama: Cool Japan itself is not a patented thing. Anybody could use this, it is just an expression. On the other hand, Cool Japan Fund’s J logo is patented.
AC: What does Cool Japan think about the prices of Japanese products sold abroad? Japanese products are famous for good quality but at the same time, very high pricing.
Mr. Koyama: Of course there are things that are expensive, we do not want to compromise too much of the quality. Also we understand localization of Japanese products mean something, but we do not want to lose what we, Japanese/world considers “COOL” about “Japanese” products. We do not want to compromise this aspect and that is what we think more important than making them cheaper.
After all, like Apple, if we could market and advertise it in a good way, of course there would be people who are buying that. We are not trying to compete with the price.
AC: Thank you Mr. Koyama, for kindly sharing with us the vast but progressing mission of Cool Japan Fund.
We hope that people overseas as well as native Japanese people, can appreciate what Japan has to offer, for all its worth.
 JETRO is a Japanese organization providing information for people who want to export or import