Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Korean Boom and Mutual Understanding
KODAMA Miiko  / Professor, Musashi University

March 28, 2005
Japan has been swept up by a craze for all things South Korean since last year, with the Winter Sonata and many other South Korean TV series broadcast on Japanese television. The star of the Winter Sonata, Bae Yong Joon, became an idol of older Japanese women, with many fanatical fans trailing him wherever he went when he came to Japan. The trend has spilled over into other areas, boosting travel to South Korea and the number of people studying Korean.

What has caused this Korean boom on TV? First and foremost, most Japanese TV series had not been made to the taste of older Japanese women for some time. The Japanese TV broadcasters had become so ratings-oriented that all their prime time programs were targeting young people and catering only to the young viewers. "There's nothing I want to see on television" was an often-heard complaint.

What was it about the South Korean TV series that captured the hearts of these women? It stemmed largely from the bewilderment and antipathy they had been feeling about the expressions of love portrayed in Japan today. In contemporary Japanese TV series, couples have sex as soon as they start seeing each other, and as soon as they break up, they move on to the next person. Nothing can be farther from the ideal of "pure love" envisioned by these women. In South Korean TV series, on the other hand, the couples continue to love each other for as long as ten years after they break up and overcome many obstacles in order to be reunited with their first love. The expressions of love are mostly lyrical and romantic, the couples going no farther than embracing each other gently with beautiful scenery in the background. This is the same sense of values the older Japanese women grew up with so they can identify with it. The TV series also have the support of some young people who share these values. It should be noted that there are people in both countries who share the same values.

How has the phenomenon been portrayed in the media? After all, the media's perspective is what is most apparent. Most magazines made fun of women supporters who are fans of the South Korean TV series or stars, using expressions such as "middle-aged women shrieking their heads off." The writers of these articles were obviously chagrined at the women who are crazy about South Korean men. One survey revealed that about 44 percent of Japanese women think that this trend for things South Korean is here to stay while only 26 percent of men think so. It is clear that Japanese men would like to dismiss this as a passing fad.

The media content is becoming increasingly multi-cultural throughout East Asia. The South Korean TV series are popular in China as well as in Japan. Japanese comics have been dramatized in Taiwan and exported to South Korea. Japanese animation films are popular all over the world. International distribution used to emanate from the United States or Europe, but now we are entering an age when there is mutual exchange among East Asian countries.

South Korea's popular entertainment thus came into Japan, opening a new chapter in the exchange between the two countries. It was the Japanese women falling for South Korean TV series that started this trend. Rightly or wrongly, these women were unhampered by the past. Sixty years have passed since the end of World War II and not many Koreans have direct experience of Japan's colonial days. The official view used to be that mutual understanding between South Korea and Japan is only possible after there is a common historical recognition. But contemporary understanding through the mass media is an alternative. It is certainly better than proceeding without any understanding at all. Once people become interested, they can study about the past. Surely that is a viable option. This is the context in which I think this popular cultural trend, the craze for South Korean entertainment, is important.

The Writer is Professor of the Media Sociology Department at Musashi University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

小玉美意子 / 武蔵大学教授

2005年 3月 28日






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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Korean Boom and Mutual Understanding