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(Yonhap Feature) Anti-Korean Wave divides opinion in Japan

By Eugene Hwang
Contributing writer
SEOUL, Nov. 4 (Yonhap) -- When Jang Keun-suk, a 24-year-old South Korean singer-actor, announced a three-city concert for late October, the 60,000 available tickets for the shows were sold out in five minutes. This happened in Japan, not Korea.

   Jang is one of the many popular Korean celebrities in Japan, joining and promoting the phenomenon widely called "hallyu," meaning Korean Wave in Korean.

   Korean pop, known as K-pop, wrote a new piece of history when the 50,000-capacity Tokyo Dome was packed to capacity for each of the three-day joint concerts in September.

   Sunny, a member of the hallyu-leading girl group Girls' Generation, said in an interview that the wake-up call for her was hearing the group's songs in cell phone ring tones on Japan's streets. "I thought, 'Wow, we are big here,'" she said.

   But apparently, the hallyu phenomenon has rubbed some Japanese the wrong way.

   Starting on Aug. 7 in Tokyo, Japanese nationalist groups have held regular demonstrations against Fuji Television and its sponsors, demanding that the television company stop "excessively broadcasting Korean TV series and other Korean entertainment," according to a Web site made by one of the protest organizers.

   Following that demonstration, more protests were held throughout September and October, with more participants, spreading to other cities.

Anti-hallyu protesters rally outside Fuji Television in Tokyo on Aug. 21, 2011. The photo was taken by a Japanese citizen.

The checkered history between Korea and Japan has created somewhat of an animosity between some people in both countries. Some believe that it is this animosity that is behind the anti-hallyu movement in Japan, causing those who perceive the Korean Wave as an invasion to take to the streets.

   The larger Japanese public has noticed these protests, and while many do not support the anti-hallyu movement, they are at least aware of the reasons why it has taken off.
"The strong patriotism caused them to (participate) in this movement," said 24-year-old Mariya Saito of Saitama, Japan, in an e-mail interview.
Saito added that while Korean media content and hallyu are good ways of deepening the friendship between the two countries, "too much Korean culture is uncomfortable to the protesters, because Korean culture is not the main culture in Japan,"

   Minami Goibuchi, 23, also of Saitama, disagreed, saying that the protesters were not really against the Korean Wave itself, they were against a television station that they think is giving more exposure to Korean celebrities and Korean dramas than native ones.

   In the past, Korea-related protests in Japan have mainly been populated by people ranging from the middle-aged to the elderly, but these demonstrators against Fuji Television have a broad age range. Some protesters are in their teens, with the bulk of participants in their late 20s and 30s.

   "This demonstration isn't just people with outdated thinking from the older generation. It seems like they just don't like the sudden increase of Korean presence in Japanese media," said Sunao Tabunoki, 23, of Kawasaki, Japan.

   The Korean Wave really gained momentum in Japan shortly after the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by Korea and Japan. Korea's success in the World Cup was instrumental in elevating the image of Korea amongst Japanese, and importers correctly predicted that the Japanese were ripe to consume Korean culture on a large scale.

   After the Korean drama "Winter Sonata" was broadcast on Japanese TV, its stars Choi Ji-woo and Bae Yong-joon became household names, the latter becoming an idol for Japanese women on a scale that few celebrities have ever been able to achieve, even in their home countries. Shortly after that, the Korean government began to take notice and has attempted to take a hands on approach to the Korean Wave, with government-sponsored promotion of Korean cultural exports.

   Goibuchi, a travel agent, said she and her mother are huge fans of hallyu stars. "Korean actors and musicians are very sexy," she said. But despite being the object of her fantasies, she realizes the good that these celebrities have done for Korea's image. "Korean pop idols are the key element to attract international attention to other commercial sectors," she said. She also noted that the Korean Wave has caused increased tourism to Korea, especially amongst middle-aged Japanese women.

Minami Goibuchi, a hallyu fan, believes the protesters were not against the Korean Wave itself but against giving more exposure to Korean celebrities than native ones.

Amongst some Japanese, there is a perception that the way in which the Korean media handles these protests might cause anti-Japanese sentiment among Korean viewers. They say the protesters are not representative of general Japanese feeling toward Korea, and the Korean media should be more careful about the subject.

   "I am afraid that because of the way that Korean media is reporting about these demonstrations, Korean people will be led to believe that this is the way that all Japanese feel about Korea and feel more negative toward Japan," said Sasuke Tanaka, a 26-year-old Japanese student in Korea.

   "They focus too much on interviewing the people in the protest and not enough interviewing normal people about Korean media."

   Tabunoki pointed to what she called Japan's insular nature in discussing anti-hallyu protests. Such nature, combined with the history of the last century, turns some Japanese people into strong nationalists who cannot accept a former colony having increased exposure in Japan.

   She stressed that not all Japanese feel this way. "I think this is only one tiny segment of Japanese people," she said. She was also somewhat critical of the anti-hallyu protesters, saying that Japanese pop culture is exported to many other countries and is not met with protest.

   Tabunoki also has doubts that Koreans themselves would be as open to increased Japanese cultural presence in Korea. "I don't think a Japanese Wave in Korea would ever be possible, as many Japanese have tried to make it in Korea; many have failed," she said.

   Saito also agreed, saying, "I don't think that a Japanese Wave in Korea can ever happen because Koreans are proud of their own culture."

   Tanaka said that he believed that Japanese culture is not enjoyed by the mainstream in Korea. Regarding the popular Japanese drama "Boys over Flowers," he said, "instead of importing the Japanese version, Koreans just used the story and remade it with Korean actors."