Korean Wave stars who are popular in Japan find themselves in a fiendish dilemma as tensions rise between Seoul and Tokyo over Dokdo. A case in point is comments by Japan's Vice Foreign Minister Yamaguchi Tsuyoshi about actor Song Il-gook, who took part in a relay swim to Dokdo on Aug. 15, which marks Korea's independence from Japanese colonial occupation.
"Unfortunately, it will not be easy for him to come to Japan from now on," Tsuyoshi said on a TV program on Friday.
The head of a talent agency who manages a Korean star who has made it big in Japan said, "There has been some fuss involving Dokdo before, but this is the first time the Japanese government actually named a particular Korea star, so we believe the situation is getting serious." He added the agency worries about the fallout for a promotional event in October where hundreds of Japanese fans have been invited to Korea.
Part of the Japanese press are already criticizing Korean entertainers who have made a lot of money in Japan. The weekly News Post Seven singled out actor Bae Yong-joon for posting the slogan "Dokdo is Our Land" on his website in 2005, and the dance group Girls' Generation for singing a song of that title in a concert three years ago. The weekly said it was "brazen" to behave in this way while making lots of money in Japan.
But Koreans are calling on stars who have become popular in Japan to be more vocal in supporting Korea's case. When girl band Kara, asked at a recent press conference in Japan what their stance was on Dokdo, they dodged the question, provoking the ire of patriotic Korean fans. "The atmosphere in Japan is getting bad, but we're also concerned about being labeled as traitors in our own country by failing to speak out about Korea's sovereignty over Dokdo," said a talent agency executive.
Some in the industry say it would be best for Korean stars to steer clear of politics, since Korean dramas and songs are gaining a global audience buoyed by their popularity in Japan. Although some Korean singers and actors have made inroads into the U.S. and European markets, 70 percent of their overseas proceeds still comes from Japan.
Korean management agencies such as SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment have grown hugely successful due in large part to a solid fan base in Japan, whose music industry is worth W6.8 trillion, 15 times larger than Korea's W450 billion (US$1=W1,135).
"The increase in the number of young Japanese fans played a huge role in getting Korean stars to make profits," said the head of another talent agency here. "We still rely on Japan to tap broader markets."
But experts say it is better for Korean stars to say how they feel since the issue is unlikely to go away any time soon. "At a point when the Japanese government is making groundless claims, concerns of any impact on the Korean Wave are secondary," said Yoon Jae-hong at Sungkyunkwan University. "It would be better for Korean stars who wield a lot of influence in Japan to clarify their position on Dokdo and help do their bit to correct misconceptions among the Japanese."