[ENTERTAINMENT]Roots and a Rhythm From Across the Sea

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Roots and a Rhythm From Across the Sea

These days, many pop music groups in Korea say that they've achieved success in Japan, which is rarely true. But one trio, To-ya, actually kicked off their careers in the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan, with 20 percent of world's music sales, is the biggest music market in Asia and a tempting ambition for Korean up-and-comers.

Perhaps too ambitious in the case of To-ya. "We had plans," Ryu Eun-ju, 18, told the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition. The group was left in Japan alone, first to learn Japanese, then to get voice training and to release a single. "I had to work part-time at a local restaurant," said Ahn Jin-kyung, 18, who joined the group after stiff competition with 1,000 applicants.

Though living in Japan for two years was tough, the members think it was worthwhile. "Through the vocal training that was available in Japan, I came to learn that different vocal styles can come from the subtle movement of a single facial muscle," said Ms. Ryu, also known as Unju in Japan. It takes at least three years to master the vocal training, and Ms. Ryu was disappointed that with only one year of training, she had not even learned the basics. Although To-ya may not be perfect singers or Japanese superstars, they did succeed in getting noticed in Japan, with regular profiles on Nihon TV. Also, To-ya staged a live concert in front of 1,500 Japanese people at Shibuya in February.

Back in Korea, To-ya is considered a new group. They released their first album in July, an 11-track debut that covers a range of styles such as soul, rap and hip-hop, but is mostly based on dance music. Kim Ji-hye, 21, the oldest of the members, said, "Since rhythm and blues is popular in Japan, we had to be R&B singers. In Korea, dance music rules. Regardless, we are supposed to do everything we are asked to do; we are new here and have no other choice."

The album, titled "Bwa" ("Look") has sold more than 150,000 copies to date. To-ya is planning to stage a concert in China in October, go back to Japan and then work on a new release later this year.

There are striking differences between the Korean and Japanese music scenes. Ms. Ryu said, "Korean TV program producers tend to assume all singers lip-synch, while 90 percent of Japanese singers perform live." The band's members don't hesitate to criticize the Korean music market: "The Japanese would like to actually buy the CDs and have them as their own collection," Ms. Kim said, "while in Korea, many people just illegally copy an original CD. And there are CD rental shops in Japan, just like video rental shops in Korea, also with a pop chart of their own." Ms. Kim cautiously added that she can understand other Korean singers of dance music who lip-synch on stage.

"I really miss those times we performed live in clubs in Japan," Ms. Ryu said. "The audience did not care about what we wore, whether we looked pretty or not or where we came from. All that mattered was our songs."

by Chun Su-jin

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