Korean 'Invasion' of Japan Is a Bridge to Understanding

      September 03, 2010 12:42

      Jeong Woo-sang

      The Brits invaded the U.S. twice as far as pop music goes. The first invasion was in the 1960s spearheaded by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and the second was in the 1980s led by New Wave groups like Duran Duran and Culture Club. They didn't just enter the U.S. market: they changed the direction of the entire industry.

      Now, Korean girl bands like Girls' Generation and Kara are taking Japan by storm, prompting the Japanese to refer to the "Korean Invasion." The phrase contains both apprehension and excitement. On Aug. 25, the top story on the main evening news on NHK was a five-minute report on Korean girl bands. If the wild popularity of the Korean soap "Winter Sonata" can be seen as the first Korean Invasion, the second involves the explosive success of these manufactured bands that began in August.

      Until now, only K-pop star BoA and the group Dongbangshingi (TVXQ) reached the top of the Japanese charts. The Korean Wave was typified by the popularity of the actor Bae Yong-joon, who starred in "Winter Sonata," but young Japanese looked down on the phenomenon as a matter for middle-aged housewives. The emergence of Girls' Generation and Kara has changed all that. As one Japanese netizen wrote, "The performance by Girls' Generation was something I could enjoy with my dad." The band has something to offer different age groups, and the second Korean Invasion is affecting the entire spectrum of Japanese society.

      In the 1970s, Samsung benchmarked Japan's Sony and Toshiba in developing products. At first, Samsung simply copied them. But in the process it amassed a stable of skilled workers and focused on key industries. In the end it beat its Japanese rivals. A blight on Samsung's success was the suffering of small and mid-sized suppliers, who were often subject to severe price-cutting demands. But although it did not follow an ideal development model, Samsung's strategy paid off handsomely.

      Korea's pop music scene has walked down a similar path. The concept of idol groups is a Japanese one. Yet although Korea imported it, Korean idol groups have now overtaken Japanese idol groups by offering more than just the "cute" factor.

      With a huge amount of investment being focused on dance groups, rock, folk music and jazz have almost perished in Korea. But because of this strategy of focusing resources, Korea's dance music and girl groups have become extremely competitive. These are the two sides of Korea's music industry.

      Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in a statement on Aug. 10 praised cultural exchanges between Korea and Japan, saying they have grown both broad and extensive. Bilateral relations remain littered with obstacles, including Japanese claims to Korea's Dokdo islets and Japan's World War II atrocities, but Kan stressed his government's desire to overcome these issues through cultural exchanges. But far away from the official statements, young Koreans and Japanese already share their cultures in Japanese-style bars in the trendy Hongik University area of Seoul and Korean-style barbecue restaurants in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, as well as in countless numbers of Internet chat sites.

      Nobody in Korea nowadays worries about the so-called threat that came from Seoul's decision back in 1998 to allow imports of Japanese cultural products such as music and movies. The "invasion" of Japan by Korean music, which is taking place in the 100th year of Japan's military occupation of Korea, is actually deepening understanding among the people on both sides.

      By Jeong Woo-sang from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

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