[OUTLOOK]A yen for Korean tourists

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[OUTLOOK]A yen for Korean tourists

“Bae Yong-joon, the protagonist in the Korean television drama ‘Winter Sonata,’ is called ‘Yon sama’ or ‘My Honorable Yong’ by Japanese women and is more popular than Japan’s prime minister.”
With this joke, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi recently made his audience laugh during a dinner speech at an international conference on “The Future of Asia,” hosted by Nikkei Shimbun, a Japanese business newspaper.
Mr. Koizumi said that above all, people understand each other better when they travel extensively, and added that he expected more Koreans to come to Japan to enjoy golfing and hot springs. He also talked about cultural exchanges with Singapore and Vietnam.
These remarks by the Japanese prime minister were no exaggeration. Not only do bookstores in the Ginza arrange special booths on the street to sell Bae Yong-joon’s picture albums, but also the time seems to be ripe for a warm reception of Korean movies, with “Silmido” getting ready to be released in Japan. TV commercials also frequently trumpet the coming release of about 38 Korean movies.
Korean-language maps and brochures abound at airports and at tourist attractions, which was not the case before, and in the trains on the Kyushu Shinkansen line between Fukuoka and Kagoshima, which opened this year, announcements are also made in Korean.
Korean signboards are increasing rapidly everywhere. On the maps of the Tokyo subway, Korean directions have been added to Japanese and English wording. I was surprised to hear a recorded message, “We will wake you up at six in the morning. Good night!” in Korean from the answering machine for a wake-up call service at the Daikoku Hotel where I was staying. The hotel had astutely prepared Korean messages for Korean guests. That was not all. While the Korean government was passive in the process of opening a new route between Gimpo and Haneda airports, the Japanese government has been very active in working it out.
Why is all this so? Some said this was a sign that the Japanese version of “Korea fever” has started in earnest. It could be true. But in a way, this kind of Korean fever is perhaps being made by the Japanese people.
Prime Minister Koizumi seems to have praised “Winter Sonata” probably because he meant to ask Korea not to hate Japan; Japan loves Korea so much, and please visit Japan often to increase its tourism revenues. Also, Japan’s local governments and business owners may have made Korean announcements and Korean signboards because they would be helpful to earn money.
The Japanese market gave Korean movies or Korean dramas a wild reception because the Japanese thought them great fun. To give special significance to “Korea” regarding this phenomenon would be nonsense.
Even Japan’s prime minister promoted the strategy to attract Korean golfers because he judged that Koreans are the best customers to break through the slump at 2,400 golf courses, more than 10 times the number in Korea. So menus are provided separately in Korean versions at restaurants at fairly good golf courses, golfing expenses are less than here and even membership is offered to Korean golfers at bargain rates.
How are we doing? When a rich country like Japan is making such efforts to make Korean tourists spend in Japan, what efforts and how actively is Korea trying to attract Japanese tourists?
How many road signs and signboards for guides in downtown Seoul have Japanese directions, and how many hotels offer wake-up call service in Japanese for Japanese guests?
Also, if advertisements ― that a Japanese movie of staggering fun is about to be released ― were repeatedly broadcast on the televisions in Korean homes every day, what response would Koreans make to them?
When Japan advertises Korea fever to draw Koreans into the country, shouldn’t we try to make up the sensation of Japan fever, which is a rare thing here? Contrary to the saying that a thirsty person will dig a well, our situation is unfolding more like contented people digging the well before getting thirsty.
When we can feel the lack of even a person’s job, I don’t know how hard we are trying to make money from Japanese people. The entire city of Busan should desperately put all of its energy into earning Japanese money. It would be absolutely insufficient to have some Japanese signboards sporadically only in famous tourist attractions like Haeundae beach. Above all, Japanese signboards should be increased drastically so that Japanese people who don’t know the Korean language could freely thread through the streets of Busan.
Where on earth is Busan? Isn’t it the closest city to the rich country, Japan? What in the world is Busan doing when the city of Kyushu broadcasts Korean announcement in the trains?

* The writer is the chief economic correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Chang-kyu
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