This article Japan looks to keep sun up on animation exportsis an old one from 2005, but the key issues are still relevant, and highlight some of the themes in a forthcoming chapter in a book to be published in 2007 by Asia Pacific Press.

But the question remains how successful it will be to treat animation as another Japanese industry like selling hard drives or motorcycles, as animation has thrived — artistically, at least — leaving artists to their own devices.

What is behind the push however, is the perceived lack of exploitability of Japanese ‘soft’ know-how, and a considerable deficit in the terms of trade in copyright goods. This is compounded by a competitive imperative to earn more revenue from intellectual property rather than straight manufactures, given that neighbouring economies such as China appear on the verge of emerging as more than just the world’s production house/s.

A few key facts and figures quoted in the article are:

According to the Digital Content Association of Japan:

  • Japan’s total Content business in animation, film, publishing and music was at 14.7 trillion yen ($140bn) in 2003
  • Animation (including manga cartoons, films, videos and character products) accounted for 2.7 trillion yen ($26bn), according to the Digital Content Association of Japan.
  • This compares with 50 trillion yen ($474bn) in the US, – 40% of the world total
  • Despite the strength of Japanese animation competition is bound to emerge from other Asian nations like South Korea and China, where Japanese animation companies turn to for labour.
  • China’s culture ministry last year started a university programme to boost China’s animation industry, including via tie-ups in Japan.

It is not just Japan that is turning to other countries for, what is still referred to by some in the industry as “grunt work”. Australian and Singaporean animators and game developers often outsource work to China given the significant cost difference. This comes despite Singapore not yet being an “established” media content region, and significant government efforts to promote the industry. Yet, similarly to Japan, both policymakers and industry players seem to realise that the only way ‘forward’ is to focus on the high-end ‘creative’ aspect of IP creation and the retaining of copyrights.

For Japan (as for Singapore) the strategy for policymakers surely lies in capacity building rather than excessive control of industry activities.