Three Elements of Japanese Creativity

June 23, 2016

by Arthur Richer

The Cannes Lions Festival is not only about agencies chasing awards to build their fame back in their respective countries. It is also a place to share knowledge and inspire all kinds of communication professionals — especially the younger ones. This is the reason why Young Lions Academy exists, allowing different groups of “students” to learn from different professionals. One of them is Tetsuya Honda, managing director of Blue Current Japan, who met the “Creative Academy” group to teach them why Japan is such a creative country.

It was first interesting to note that, according to the Adobe Stage of Creation study, Japan is recognized as the most creative country in the world, and Tokyo as the most creative city by 30% of respondants (only 6% for San Francisco!), but the same question asked among Japanese people show lower results. Tetsuya tried to explain why Japan is so creative through 3 different concepts, and then illustrated this by a very popular and largely understandable example: emojis.

The first concept comes from Shintoism, and is called Perfectly Rejecting Perfection (PRP). Everyone wants to reach perfection in their actions, but when something is too perfect, it doesn’t drive attention. In Japan, people tend to reject perfection, which helps create things that are different while also serving their purpose, and to imagine new things that come from a different perspective. The second concept is the Inner Child. Although Japanese society can be seen as quite rigid and disciplined, Tetsuya mentioned that Japanese people are also able to go crazy, even in a professional environment. This is made possible by the fact that every Japanese is made of two complementary identities: the public one and the inner child. There is an inner child hidden in every Japanese person, and its expression is what allows Japanese creativity to be so different, free and surprising. Finally, the last concept is next stage creative. The concept is not only about making something different, but rather about making something different that will add value and make things better.

Tetsuya took the last part of his master class to illustrate this specific creative process with emojis. Emojis are a Japanse invention that have conquered the world, to the extent that an emoji was named “Word of the Year” by the Cambridge Dictionary, and that during the Japanese prime minister’s last visit to the U.S., Barack Obama thanked him for this incredible invention. Tetsuya mentioned the first emoji was found in a manuscript from the 18th century, representing an umbrella in the middle of a text. But the most interesting thing to see is how emojis became so universal. Tetsuya showed a study from the Wareda University’s department of human sciences that explained how emojis are perceived differently from one country to another. For example, when Japanse people see sadness in an emoji, Thai people will sometimes see joy. Emojis are a testimony of why Japanese creativity is so unique because they allow humanity to communicate better. Not only can emojis even communicate emotions and feelings between people who don’t share a common language, but they also bring nuance, subtext or context to an idea.

In this temple of creativity that is the Cannes Lions Festival, we can all be inspired by such a unique way of creation. Even if Japan is not the most awarded country in the competition, its creativity flows through all creatives around the world, and its people should be thanked for sharing with us such inspirational ways of thinking.