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Although not so long ago you could count the number of world-famous Japanese people on one Yakuza's hand, these days the country is producing more and more figures, human and otherwise, that have grabbed the attention of a global audience. The mantle of the country's most famous film director has passed from the late Kurosawa Akira to Kitano Takeshi - better known in Japan as an irreverent slapstick comedian. J-pop, as Japanese pop music is called, has long been popular across Asia. But now a generation of young, bilingual artists may help to globalize the phenomenon. And then there's cute. The names Pokemon and Hello Kitty might send your kids into spasms of commercial greed but imagine if they had the same effect on the entire population! Well, in Japan they do. Cartoon characters, comic books and all-round cuteness are pervasive - some might even say downright invasive. But 'Japanimation' has a more serious side to it. Movies like Spirited Away and Ghost in the Shell made even Hollywood sit up and take notice.

Japanese companies may not dominate the Global 500 listings quite like they used to but they aren't out for the count, either. Japan's top electronics brands, such as Sony and Panasonic, continue to dominate the world. And Toyota leads the world in car manufacturing efficiency. The almost insatiable demand for new gadgets in Japan means that new products come out on almost a weekly basis and some of them never make it to foreign markets. A Big Bang in the financial industry has caused major upheaval and some ground-breaking changes in the way Japan does business.

Modern Japan is cool, and Japanese pop culture has fans world-wide

There are plenty of famous people in Japan, though you may not have heard of most of them outside the country

The business world here is someties referred to as "Japan Inc". So who are the big players?


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