Bae Yong-joon Still Adored by Japanese for 'Winter Sonata'

Japanese women young and old flocked to a Korean entertainment awards ceremony in Chiba on Saturday despite the current wave of anti-Korean sentiment in the country.

Early in the afternoon, teenagers sporting miniskirts and stickers pasted on their faces were seen pouring out of nearby subway stations en route to the Makuhari Messe convention center to catch glimpses of their favorite stars.

They were accompanied by hordes of middle-aged women brandishing luxury designer bags and harboring dreams of meeting Bae Yong-joon, the 41-year-old Korean actor who the Japanese have affectionately branded "Yonsama."

Saturday's event was hosted by a committee of Japanese broadcasting companies and entertainment agencies in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the hit Korean TV drama "Winter Sonata," which was hugely popular in Japan when it aired there in 2003.

The committee carried out an online survey in Japan to find the most popular Korean Wave star, drawing the participation of 200,000 fans. The organizers initially planned to invite just 3,000 of them to the awards through a lottery system, but due to strong demand it raised the number of invites to 4,800.

Fans cheer as Bae Yong-joon appears on the stage during a Korean entertainment awards ceremony in Chiba, Japan on Saturday. Fans cheer as Bae Yong-joon appears on the stage during a Korean entertainment awards ceremony in Chiba, Japan on Saturday.

From midday, fans started to gather at the venue for the event, which was scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. Many were carrying placards and photo books of Korean stars such as Bae and Kim Hyun-joong.

When video clips of Korean TV dramas that have appeared in Japan over the last decade were shown on a big screen, fans reacted with thunderous applause. Later, when Kim sang on stage, fans shouted his name and waved light sticks. A number of middle-aged women were spotted dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs as they sang along with him from the crowd.

Bae's undying popularity was proven once again. "Winter Sonata" received the best Korean drama award and Bae was given both the grand prize and best actor award. When he stepped on to the stage, fans greeted him with rousing cheers.

Bae, who ranks as one of the first and most successful Korean Wave stars, was visiting Japan in an official capacity for the first time since September 2011. Over 4,000 excited fans greeted him at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Saturday morning, requiring police to cordon off the area to protect him from a potential stampede.

"I thank all of you for letting me stand here today after the last 10 years. I'm sure the future of the Korean Wave is bright as we have many talented young people in the industry," he told fans. The award ceremony was broadcast live throughout Japan on TBS and DATV. Although it finished at 8 p.m., hundreds of fans remained at the venue for hours afterwards.

Nikkan Sports reported, "The Korean Wave syndrome, which took off with 'Winter Sonata,' led to other dramas, films, and K-pop. It showed that despite the current political standoff, Yonsama remains steadfastly in the hearts of Japanese women."

Shim Dong-sub, who heads the Korean Culture Center in Tokyo, said, "We were able to see the power of the Korean Wave phenomenon despite the cooling of bilateral relations between Korea and Japan. We will work hard to expand exchanges between the two countries in the private sector."

englishnews@chosun.com / Oct. 21, 2013 11:14 KST