Korean Wave Slops Back into Japanese Affections

  • By Lee Dong-hwi, Lee Ki-moon

    January 23, 2018 12:22

    Korean pop and soap operas are worming their way back into the affections of the Japanese, who turned cold amid the endless patriotic spats between the two countries flared up again five years ago.

    The Koreatown district of Tokyo's Shin Okubo is coming back to life after suffering from a huge drop in visitors since 2012. At one point in 2015 there were just 330 Korean-owned stores, but now there are 440.

    Rents have risen from 30,000 yen per 3.3 sq.m to 50,000 yen as visitors are returning due to the resurgence of the Korean Wave, according to one estate agent in the area.

    Shin Okubo used to draw legions of Japanese fans but became a go-to destination rightwing Japanese groups who often blared their hate speech through the streets and scared away visitors and businesses. Daily visitor numbers dropped from 41,017 in 2012 to 37,996 in 2013, causing many Korean shops to close down.

    But many young Japanese in their teens and 20s are less political, and they love K-pop and all the rest. The Yomiuri Shimbun said the Korean Wave suffered because older Japanese are more patriotic, but "this tendency is weakening among the younger generation."

    Takashi Shimakawa at Toyo University said, "For a new generation of Japanese, spending on cultural activities is not affected by diplomatic or political factors."

    People line up at a Korean restaurant in Tokyo on Saturday.

    Younger people get their information online. Fads arise that benefit restaurants that sell Korean food and are responsible for drawing up to 20 percent of the visitors to Koreatown.

    A staffer at "Seoul Market," a restaurant that started a craze for spicy fried chicken with cheese, said, "When you get in line at 11 a.m., you can sit down at a table only after 2 p.m."

    At Qoo10, Japan's No. 4 on-line shopping mall with 7.5 million subscribers, a combo of seven assorted platters including Korean-style pancake mix power and spicy noodles ranked first in sales in the food segment.

    Korean cosmetics are also high in demand. Etude House, an Amore Pacific brand, as well as Stylenanda.com, an on-line vendor of apparel and cosmetics, are especially popular among young Japanese women.

    Emu Sato (20), who was shopping at a cosmetics shop in Shin Okubo, said, "I come here every month, because there's such a variety of cosmetics and they're cheap. I think I can look more like a Korean pop star if I put this on."

    Exports of Korean cosmetics to Japan fell until 2015, but grew 33 percent in 2016 and 23 percent last year.

    K-pop is popular again as well. One department store in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district did not display any large posters of Korean singers since 2010, but now posters of EXO and Black Pink decorate the wall. Bangtan Boys and Wanna One are also hugely popular in Japan.

    Exports of Korean music contents to Japan rose from W71.2 billion in 2010 to around W300 billion in 2016 (US$1=W1,071). Masayuki Furuya, a TV celebrity and expert on Korean pop culture, said, "K-pop has become a part of mainstream culture."

    CJ E&M said Monday it will hold an annual Korean Wave festival dubbed KCON in Japan starting on April 13.

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