Opinion: The three secrets behind Japan's creativity

Japanese creativity is changing the world as the country becomes a significant player in the communications and marketing world, argues Tetsuya Honda, founder & managing director of BlueCurrent Group Japan

Tetsuya Honda of BlueCurrent Group Japan
Tetsuya Honda of BlueCurrent Group Japan

"Japanese Creativity that’s Changing the World". This was the subject of my speech at the recent Cannes Lions festival.

A survey by Adobe rated Japan as the most creative country, followed by the US. Similarly Tokyo is rated the most creative city, followed by New York. As Japanese we are grateful for this compliment, but why is Japan seen as so creative? The answers are not clear. Even people attracted to ‘cool Japan’ may not know where that cool comes from. In fact even Japanese people themselves take it for granted. In an attempt to reveal the secrets of Japanese creativity, I have developed three key phrases that I will attempt to explain.

My first phrase is "Perfectly Rejecting Perfection" (PRP). Japan is often seen as a perfect country, evidenced for example by the punctuality of trains in Japan. Tokaido Shinkansen is a bullet train that runs 120,000 times per year, yet the average delay is only 36 seconds. However, when we consider ‘Sen no Rikyu’, the creator of the ancient Japanese tea ceremony who designed tea cups in an imperfect shape some 500 years ago, we see that Japanese people find beauty in an imperfect world. This comes from Shintoism. In Shintoism, people are connected to nature and nature is always imperfect. With so much information and content surronding and distracting us, we pay little attention to anything that is too perfect. Therefore, the idea of "PRP, to perfectly reject perfection, is important to us. This is why Japanese high school girls reject perfection by wearing uniform in an alternative way. "Yuru-kyara", local characters like Kumamon and Funasshi express PRP with their own flaws, and the stickers used by the app "LINE", which 200 million people actively use, are inspired by PRP.

My second phrase is "The Inner-child". As well as perfection, rule and order are representative of Japanese culture. During the rush hour in Tokyo, people stand neatly in line for trains. The well-ordered behavior of Japanese people, even amidst disasters, impresses others around the world. However, Japanese people often ‘et their hair down. They have parties and go crazy. This is because Japanese people hold their inner-child within themselves. People are restricted by the rules of an orderly society, so drinking, karaoke, or cosplay (costume play) help them release their inner-child. You can see this in Kagome’s "Wearable Tomato" campaign and Docomo’s "Three second cooking: Flying Shrimp fries" campaign. Both of these campaigns have a strong inner-child essence.

My last phrase is "The Next Stage Creative". This relates to the creativity that comes from a combination of "PRP" and "Inner-child" and has been developed by copying originals. PRP gives you the freedom to customize originals and inner-child encourages you to play with these originals. Thus creativity is developed through copies created and recreated by many different people. It can be seen in the process of how an endless range of exotic flavored Japanese ramen noodles has developed. ‘The Next Stage Creative’ in Japanese ramen is attracting interest from all over the world. Countless flavors of Ramen noodles exist, but every single ramen must have been created through a process of copying and mixing. Chihiro Miyazaki, the store manager of Soranoiro who has been labeled ‘the next generation’s ramen creator’, said: "I believe the key is in the imitation. You can create something new by imitating. By adding your value, you can then reestablish it and create your own version."

Today, we live in a world overloaded with information, uncontrollable social media, and a dynamic of co-creation. I believe that these three phrases explain why Japanese creativity is well positioned. This is how Japan’s creativity is changing the world.

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