Contemporary Japanese fashion as a vehicle of soft power: A case study of Cool Japan in Australia

Author: Tets Kimura

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 24 Sep 2024.

Kimura, Tets, 2019 Contemporary Japanese fashion as a vehicle of soft power: A case study of Cool Japan in Australia, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This doctoral thesis employs interdisciplinary research to analyse the influences on Japanese fashion in Australia that position it as a potential vehicle of soft power. Domestically in Japan, contemporary Japanese fashion has developed as a form of social revenge against an inflexible Japanese society. This has been enabled by the absence of Western institutional fashion systems and traditions, empowering people from the “street” to become influential fashion producers. Freedom to express one’s self in fashion becomes a sanctuary, producing various street styles in Japan. Due to this bottom-up stream, “cool” has become an adjective applied to Japanese fashion internationally, suggesting contemporary Japanese culture is consumed as a “cool” alternative to mainstream Western popular culture. This is reflected in the Japanese government’s soft power initiative known as “Cool Japan,” which seeks to achieve political goals through attraction rather than coercion. Joseph Nye, the father of the soft power concept, asserts that both hard assets such as a nation’s military and economic might, as well as the “soft” asset of cultural attraction are required for a nation to effectively assert its international policies on today’s global stage. The Japanese government’s main political objective over the last twenty years has been economic revitalisation. To meet this goal, the Japanese government has formulated and promoted policies which encourage the export of Japanese culture, including fashion.

In order to assess the soft power potential of Japanese fashion in Australia, two different primary analyses are conducted: observations drawn from Australian print media, such as broadsheet newspapers and fashion magazines, as well as qualitative interviews with seventeen Australian and Japanese specialists who were purposefully selected; notably, government officials (including a Prime Minister’s adviser and a diplomat), and fashion specialists (editor, academics, designers, retailers, a fashion model and a tailor). While the findings identify legitimate acceptance of Japanese fashion in Australia, that acceptance is qualified, as Australians believe that Japanese fashion is different rather than better than its Western counterpart. Indeed, the economic contribution of Japanese fashion is questionable as Uniqlo, the largest Japanese fashion brand by far, struggles to make profit in Australia. Ironically, by building strength and visibility in the West through their stores, the Japanese fashion empire makes itself more attractive to Asian consumers. It is difficult to imagine that other Japanese fashion houses could generate a profit where the largest brand is struggling in Australia. If Japanese soft power though fashion was indeed working in Australia, then Japanese fashion items would be in high demand and generate considerable profits, contributing to the revitalisation of the Japanese economy. Furthermore, if the power of attraction works, it would also mean that Australians would be more likely to support Japan’s pro-whaling stance. However, this is hardly the case. The principal conclusion offered in this thesis, therefore, is that, despite its best efforts, with respect to the export of fashion as a manifestation of “Cool Japan,” Japan’s soft power has had limited influence in Australia.

Keywords: Japanese Fashion, Fashion in Australia, Soft Power, Cool Japan, Joseph Nye

Subject: Humanities thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2019
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: William Peterson