A buddy of mine recently returned from his annual trip to Japan, lacing our female friends with omiyage (souvenirs) that are difficult or impossible to find in the 'States: Green Tea Kit Kat bars, exotic-flavored Gummi Bears, gourmet shrimp chips, et cetera. And I knew he'd have some guy gear that one could only find in Tokyo. This time he was sporting the impossibly stylish Cycling Jacket you see above—you've got to see it and touch it in person to appreciate—which is both well-tailored and functional, constructed from a proprietary blend of moleskin and Windstopper fabrics. While Japanese manufacturer Nanamica sells a few jackets Stateside through the J. Crew Menswear Store, if you want the Cycling Jacket you have to go to their shop in Daikanyama, Tokyo.
To a lover of designed objects, the words "Japanese Market Only" are three of the worst words in the English language. So much cool stuff is designed on that island and destined never to leave its shores, like this beer glass designed to evoke Mt. Fuji, this cutting board meant to put you in a good mood, or this malted milk ball dispenser that I must acquire if I am ever to become a grandparent.
So why doesn't that stuff make its way to our shores? According to the International Business Times,
...Bottlenecks...have prevented domestic exporters from capitalising on Japan's overseas cultural appeal. An inability to transmit information to overseas markets, a lack of sufficient risk money and the lack of an overseas base for rolling out one's business, are some of the bottlenecks that Japanese SME's (small to midsize enterprises) face....
That is about to change thanks to the Japanese government's "Cool Japan Fund," which launched yesterday. The scheme calls for roughly $1 billion of public money to be used to locate the coolest things Japan designs and builds, and then provide the capital to start pumping those goods overseas in an effort to boost the home islands' flagging economy.
Nobuyuki Ota has been named CEO of the Fund, and as a former Issey Miyake exec, Ota presumably has the taste the Fund needs. What's a little more worrisome are the folks who will actually be deciding what is cool enough to export: A panel of government bureaucrats. Let's hope they've all got good design taste.