[ENTERTAINMENT]Japanese songs bridge troubled water

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Japanese songs bridge troubled water

Ever since the Japanese first invaded Korea centuries ago, Koreans have had mixed feelings about anything related to Japan. After the colonial period, a ban was slapped on almost all Japanese cultural products, such as music and movies.

The prohibition against Japanese films was lifted in stages, beginning in 1998. The decision angered and frightened some people in the local movie industry. But the first Japanese films to be screened in local theaters since the colonial days didn't do so well at the box office, easing concerns.

That reassured the government enough for it to decide in 1999 to also crack the door open to the local music market. Japanese musicians would be able to play concerts on the peninsula, as long as the venue was indoors and had a capacity of fewer than 2,000 people.

In 2000 more barriers came down: Japanese animation films were allowed, as were Japanese albums - as long as they didn't have Japanese lyrics. That restriction still exists. That has created mutations like "X Japan on Piano," an album by the Japanese hard rock band X Japan. The group's regular studio albums are illegal to play on the radio or sell here.

Further opening-up to Japanese pop culture was halted last July when a controversy about a Japanese textbook boiled over. Now, with the World Cup soccer games approaching, the Korean government is trying to get the process moving again. President Kim Dae-jung recently said he would seek to boost cultural exchanges between the two countries.

But an official at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Lee Woo-seong, said it would take some time before that could happen. "Considering the national sentiment against Japan, no change is planned on the established policy regarding Japanese pop culture," Mr. Lee told the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.

But the World Cup may prove Mr. Lee wrong. An official album for the soccer games, "Voices of Korea/Japan," is in the works. It will contain songs by Korean and Japanese musicians, and some, naturally, will be sung in Japanese.

The Culture Ministry's answer? All right, but just this once. Three songs with Japanese lyrics from the album will get the minister's sanction until the end of July. They will be included on the locally-released album, available in record stores, and radio stations will be allowed to play them.

Meanwhile, across the East Sea (Sea of Japan), no restrictions are placed on the World-Cup-heralding album. The Japanese version of the disk is climbing the pop charts, according to its distributor, Sony Music.

By contrast, in Japan, Korean musicians are doing a good job, especially a 16-year-old Korean pop diva, BoA. Now based in Japan, BoA recently had an album, "Listen to My Heart," at the top of one of the Japanese pop charts.

Though the Korean music scene is frowning at the idea of only a temporary lift on those designated songs in Japanese, the government is standing firm. "No further opening to Japanese pop culture is in the foreseeable future," said Mr. Lee at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

by Chun Su-jin

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