Given the worldwide popularity of Hayao Miyazaki toons, Haruki Murakami books and Sony PlayStation games, the suggestion that Japanese cultural exports are underperforming in the international market might at first seem absurd.

Yet only 5% of the $150 billion in annual revenue accumulated for such content is derived from foreign sales, according to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

The government believes that the problem lies not in a lack of exposure for Japanese products — surveys show that anime and manga are wildly popular in Asia, while Hollywood regularly remakes Japanese pics (“The Ring” and “Godzilla”). Rather, the challenge is bringing buyers and sellers together.

In its sixth year, the METI-sponsored Japan Intl. Contents Festival (CoFesta), a collection of 18 official confabs and 11 partner events that focus on such industries as cinema, music, anime, videogames and fashion, is one way for Japan to boost its overseas presence.

“My division’s purpose and mission is to assist in taking Japanese content global,” said Hideaki Ibuki, director of METI’s media and content industry division, at a press conference Sept. 19, the day before the start of CoFesta’s first two events, the Tokyo Game Show and the Japan Game Awards.

METI is targeting a 300% jump in cultural content sales (reaching $25 billion) in the international market over the next decade through a mandate using the catchphrase “Cool Japan.” A multi-decade economic slump is necessitating the push.

“With the sluggishness in domestic demand and the drop in advertising only worsening, our goal is to galvanize the development of Japan’s content industries, which is where new ideas are produced,” said Yutaka Shigenobu, CoFesta’s vice chairman and exec producer.

CoFesta’s events are held primarily in the Tokyo area through December. Total attendance has jumped from about 800,000 to 2.3 million people between its inaugural year of 2007 and last year. For 2012, organizers are expecting more than just a boost in visitors.

Tiffcom, the film market coinciding with the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival that has seen the value of brokered contracts triple in value to $45 million between 2007 and 2011, is being partnered with three other markets. The Tokyo Intl. Music Market, the Tokyo Intl. Anime Festival and licensing mart Creative Market Tokyo will join Tiffcom at the Grand Pacific Le Daiba Hotel on Tokyo’s Odaiba waterfront Oct. 23-25.

“Up until now, these events were held in different locations, and interaction among the different participants was not possible,” said Ibuki. “One integrated market can create a breeding ground that nurtures overall success.”

The ever-changing nature of the market poses a challenge. As an example, the Tokyo Game Show, which set an attendance record this year with more than 220,000 visitors, was dominated by social gaming, much of whose downloadable content is made specifically for smart phones. This reflects the recent struggles faced by traditional gaming heavyweights Nintendo and Sony, which have mainly relied on packaged products.

CoFesta’s Shigenobu believes that in the current international market success depends on adaptability, saying that it is becoming necessary for content players to collaborate with Internet-based media — a strategy that Japan will have to follow.

Companies established this year in Japan are already making contributions.

Tokyo-based Gloczus assists in distributing Japanese digital games overseas. Digital Publishing Initiatives Japan provides sales and distribution services for digital editions of Japanese books and magazines. The company expects to digitize 1 million titles over the next five years.

“At this time of major change for media, Japan, too, must choose a path that will raise its business models to be on par with new international standards,” Shigenobu said.

Fest Traveler: Tokyo Intl. Film Festival
Mission faces next transition | TIFFCOM far but fruitful | CoFesta’s extends quest to boost Japan presence