Japan imagined: popular culture, soft power, and Japan's changing image in Northeast and Southeast Asia
Over the past two decades, Japan’s popular culture has been massively disseminated and consumed throughout Northeast and Southeast Asia. A wide range of products, such as music, animation, comics, television programs, fashion magazines, and movies, have been endorsed by local popular culture markets and now constitute an integral part of the cultural lives of many young people in this region. These products not only introduce a multitude of consumption options, but also have an impact on the way young urban consumers imagine and think about Japan. This paper examines the extent to which popular culture can change the perception of a country abroad. Based on questionnaire surveys conducted with university students from Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Seoul, it focuses on the appreciation shown to Japan’s popular culture, and how it shapes young people’s image of the country. The central argument presented is that exposure to Japanese popular culture disseminates new, favorable images, which modify the way the country is perceived. These images arouse feelings of affinity and a sense of proximity, but unlike the “soft power” argument, they are generational, implicit, inconsistent, and subject to different interpretations. As such, the practicality of generating state power in terms of authority or control is doubtful.