"Creative Industry: a key to solidify bases for regional cooperation in Asia"
Speech by Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Itsunori Onodera

November 15, 2004
Hong Kong

Honorable Chairperson,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It was in September that I was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and I am privileged that my first overseas visit is to attend this Asia Cultural Cooperation Forum. I would like to express my deepest respect and appreciation to the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for their thorough preparations and untiring efforts towards the successful opening of this forum.

In this age of globalization, culture is increasingly being shared, transcending national boundaries. You may have heard that in Japan the Joshi Juni Gakubo, which is a group of musicians performing on traditional Chinese instruments, have attracted the attention of the Japanese people and have enjoyed a good deal of success. In addition, the Korean drama Winter Sonata has aroused a "Korea boom" in Japan, and the number of Japanese people visiting Korea or learning the Korean language has recently increased dramatically. At the Tokyo International Film Festival held at the end of October, a new category was established, entitled "Winds of Asia" in which more than 30 films from Asian countries were screened, providing a multi-faceted introduction to the newest trends in Asian cinema.

Japanese culture and in particular popular culture remains vibrant and with growing popularity in Europe and America as well as Asia, the phenomenon of "cool Japan" is being observed. Examples of this phenomenon include the Academy Award for an animated film Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, or Spirited Away in English, as well as the affection overseas for Pokemon and Hello Kitty. Popular Japanese singers and groups such as SMAP, as well as authors such as Haruki Murakami have a wide fan base overseas. In addition, there are many Japanese films such as Shall We Dance?, and Ring that are being remade overseas, in addition to a large number of Japan-themed movies, including Last Samurai and Memoirs of a Geisha. I hear that Ms. Zhang Ziyi is to take the lead in Memoirs of a Geisha, and I strongly feel that the fact a famous Chinese actress is playing the lead role in a film about a geisha, is indicative of the enormous potential for exchange of popular culture in Asia in the future. This kind of Japanese pop culture is something by which the values that have been nurtured by Japan over the centuries through exchange with Asia and beyond, and have become increasingly universal, are, through full use of modern technology, being evinced in a new manner.

Given this wealth of cultural exchange between Japan and other Asian countries, I would like to emphasize two points. Firstly, culture as a matter of course nurtures a soundness and wealth of spirit, but given that it also encourages creative industry and supports economic vitality, it is an area that is the key for the future prosperity of Asia and also in terms of making a contribution to the world. Secondly, in addition to cultural exchange among Asian countries cultivating a mutual awareness of the diversity that exists in the region and engendering respect at the national level, it also, by encouraging feelings of oneness among different peoples, leads to an important basis for the promotion of regional cooperation in the future of Asia in a variety of areas.

I would now like to elaborate a little on the first point, namely the promotion of cultural exchange to enhance spiritual wealth and to develop creative industry as the source of future economic vitality. Even in the 21st century, the world today is engaged in a variety of conflicts, and new threats such as terrorism are increasing. This is compounded by intensified economic and trade competition in a globalized world. Under such circumstances it is only too easy for policymakers and citizens alike to turn their attention almost exclusively to security and economic considerations. True human happiness however, is to be found in spiritual wealth. Security and material wealth are only a means of achieving the goals of human life more easily. However, it is all too easy to forget the importance of culture that nurtures spiritual wealth, thereby letting these means become an end in themselves. This is one reason why globalization currently poses a threat to the national identity of many nations. In addition, in Asia that is going to experience economic maturity and countries such as Japan in which society is aging, the so-called creative industries of services and above all cultural-related industries are key to the maintenance of economic vitality. People will certainly come to place more importance not on the material things as a tool for convenience, but in the message implicit in them, in other words in the added value of cultures. In this way a cultural industry will bring forth both supply and demand for cultural activities. I believe that the more material wealth people achieve, the more spiritual contentment they seek, and also that people, including the elderly, who are no longer involved in the process of manufacturing goods in their jobs, will be able to focus their energies on a second phase of life in cultural and artistic creative activities. In this way, the creative industries, will be the key for humankind, and above all Asia, with its wealth of cultural traditions, to maintain economic and social vitality. Moreover, we must not forget that such industries are also environmentally friendly. The government of Japan will be channeling its efforts in invigorating this area, from a variety of different aspects.

With regard to my second point I would like to emphasize that deepening mutual exchange among the countries of Asia and recognizing and respecting mutual differences, while considering their common points to nurture the feelings of oneness among the people of Asia, will be the key to the development of regional cooperation in Asia in the future.

Last year cultural exchange between Japan and ASEAN was promoted as part of the ASEAN-Japan Exchange Year 2003, with the aim of constructing a frank partnership "acting together and advancing together" between Japan and ASEAN. During the course of 2003, a variety of exchange activities took place, organized chiefly by citizens of the different countries and private sector cultural organizations, and I am sure that the result was a deepening of friendship among the people of Japan and the ASEAN countries. In particular, the J-ASEAN Pops Concert which was held in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Bangkok and Yokohama was a concert that enjoyed the participation of famous pop stars and artists from Japan and ASEAN countries. According to one of the group leaders from Japan who performed in the concerts, the concerts engendered a common feeling of being Asian, and also enhanced their pride as a Japanese.

The process of promoting mutual exchange, discovering values that are common to Asia, and gaining a better understanding of what place their own culture has in Asian culture as a whole would contribute to an increased understanding among the people of Asia of the cultures of the different countries in Asia, and further promote the appeal of Asian culture and the culture of each country. In so doing, Asian values, which embrace peace and harmony, would, if transmitted more dynamically to the world, be able to make a significant contribution in the future of human civilization in the 21st century.

As I have mentioned, Japan, by transmitting Japanese culture to the world and actively absorbing the cultures of the countries of Asia, is seeking to promote cultural exchange programs that would nurture feelings of oneness in Asia and disseminate Asian values to the wider world. It is individuals who create cultural arts, it is individuals who convey, absorb and further develop them. The role of government in this process is not to intervene in the content of culture, but to formulate policies that encourage individual talent to flower, nurture this talent as an industry, and promote its exchange with other countries. It goes without saying that governments should avoid imposing unnecessary barriers to the flowering of culture. Especially from the perspective that the most effective means of achieving cultural exchange is to promote person-to-person exchanges, from FY2003 Japan has been developing the Visit Japan Campaign (Yokoso Japan!). In 2003 the numbers of foreigners visiting Japan rose to 5.21 million. This year that number is expected to further rise to 6 million. Next year, with the opening of EXPO 2005 AICHI, and Central Japan International Airport, more overseas visitors are expected to come to Japan and I hope that they will each experience directly Japan's culture.

At this forum where the countries of Asia are assembled under one roof, I sincerely hope that vigorous discussion on cultural activities and measures will take place that will bring forth a wealth of new ideas and innovation.

Thank you for your attention.


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