Just two decades ago, Japan’s image in the world was of an economic juggernaut, challenging America and other industrialized nations with its push for dominance in everything from microchips to supercomputers. Discussion of Japanese culture typically referenced the traditional and offbeat worlds of, say, Kabuki or sumo.

Today, Japan sets the trends in what’s cool. Sarah Palin’s famous glasses came from a Japanese designer. Tokyo has the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, with eight of them earning three stars. Even America’s favorite food show, “Iron Chef,” is a Japanese import. Japanese women are pushing the limits of literary pop culture with blogs and cellphone novels. Japanese comics occupy ever-greater shelf space in bookstores, and animé-influenced movies like the “The Dark Knight” and “Spider-Man 3” find huge audiences in the West.

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