Korean Songs Replace Dramas as Latest Fad in Japan

      July 17, 2010 08:21

      Manufactured bands are the latest forces driving the popularity of Korean culture and entertainment in Japan. While Japanese fans of the so-called Korean Wave had primarily been women in their 40s and 50s until now, the rising popularity of idol groups has widened to teens and 20-somethings.

      ◆ Idol Groups

      The boy band Big Bang recently won a number of accolades in Japan, including Best Pop Video at the MTV Music Awards in May. Big Bang was one of the Best Five New Artists at the Japan Golden Disc Award in February. Almost every Japanese concert tour of the boys has sold out since they started working in Japan in 2008, while other Korean groups such as 2PM, 2AM, SHINee, BEAST and MBLAQ are also doing well in Japan. "Many Rain and Seven fans were in their 30s to 50s, but today's idol groups like Big Bang are popular among Japanese teens," said Hwang Min-hee of YG Entertainment.

      Girl groups Kara and 4Minute are growing more popular, while Girls' Generation plans to hold its debut concert in Japan on Aug. 25 in front of around 10,000 people. "It's because there are only a few Japanese girl groups including AKB48 that are grabbing attention there," said Min Byung-ho, an official at M.net Japan, which showcases Korean songs and performers there. "What's especially promising for Korean girl groups is that 80 to 90 percent of their fans in Japan are in their teens or 20s," Min said.

      The rapid growth of M.net Japan also attests to the rising popularity of Korean singers and songs in Japan. In January 2008, only around 50,000 people in Japan watched the program, but the number has almost doubled to 90,000.

      Girl group Kara

      ◆ Ballad Singers

      Korean crooners known for their tranquil ballads have also established a solid fan base in Japan, especially among older audiences. A key example is SG Wannabe, which held around 100 performances in Japan over the last four years. A staffer with IS Entermedia Group, which manages SG Wannabe, said, 70 percent of SG Wannabe's concert audiences are in their 40s or 50s.

      Actors Ryu Si-won and the late Park Yong-ha, who rose to fame in Japan with their performances in Korean soap operas, also gave concerts there singing ballads. Ryu Si-kwan, head of R's Company, which manages Ryu, said most Korean dramas broadcast in Japan are dubbed in Japanese, so it's not easy for Korean actors to interact with Japanese fans, "which is why fans like to hear their favorite actors sing, since it can bring them closer together."

      ◆ The Future

      While Korean music enjoys rising popularity in Japan, Korean soaps appear to have lost their luster. There have been no major hit soap operas since "Winter Sonata" and "Jewel in the Palace." The Korean spy drama "Iris" was broadcast on Japan's TBS network earlier this year but viewer ratings were between just 7 and 8 percent. "Taewangsasingi" starring the island country's favorite Bae Yong-joon, failed to draw much interest when it aired there in 2008.

      A location shoot for the action TV drama "Iris" in Gwanghwamun Plaza last November.

      But recent moves by Fuji TV, TBS and other Japanese terrestrial broadcasters to allot regular daytime slots to Korean dramas are encouraging, showing a steady appetite for Korean soaps. "The Korean Wave in Japan saw explosive growth around 2005 through dramas and movies, but it looks like the trend is stabilizing now rather than growing," said Prof. Sohn De-hyun of Hanyang University. "The Korean Wave could attract more Japanese fans if Korean songs and dramas achieve synergy, since Korean singers are drawing younger Japanese fans these days."

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