Cute Masquerade and the Pimping of Japan



This essay will consider gendered aspects of Cool Japan ideology as found in government-sponsored texts and imagery, as well as in other international arenas. Although scholars have recently offered critiques of Cool Japan as a form of nationalistic nation branding, uses of an objectified femininity have rarely been included in these analyses. By displacing female innovations and creativity in cultural production to the margins, Cool Japan reifies and officially promotes male geek culture. We find general dematerialization of the producers of Cool Japan ideology, which in turn becomes characterized as creative, quirky, edgy, and benign, thus masking the way Cool Japan has been produced, critiqued, imagined and endorsed primarily by male elites in Japan and internationally. This discussion suggests that Cool Japan's otaku ethos does not include women and girls who fail to conform to a narrow model of cute femininity, thus maintaining and promoting structures of gender stratification. In addition, the global spread and government exploitation of uncomplicated cuteness (kawaii) often confounds a flat understanding of the aesthetic with a gendered perspective and its expressions in girl culture. Women and girls are contained in Cool Japan ideology, and are not usually represented as shaping, resisting, creating or critiquing Japanese popular culture.