[FOUNTAIN]Korean stars in Japan have an odd history

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[FOUNTAIN]Korean stars in Japan have an odd history

Korean actor Bae Yong-joon is one of the most popular celebrities among Japanese women these days. When a Japanese magazine asked its male readers to name someone they would like to beat up, Mr. Bae was among those at the top of the rankings.
But some men are now adopting Bae Yong-joon’s style. They are often called “3.5 God” because Mr. Bae’s Japanese nickname, “Yon-sama,” means “Four God.”
However, Yon-sama is not the first Korean star to bring excitement to Japan. Pro wrestler Rikidozan stirred the nation over five decades ago. Japanese fans still dearly call him “Riki,” which in Japanese means power. He was once called the “hero of the nation,” and his popularity was beyond today’s “Yonsama” boom.
However, there’s a critical difference between the two stars. Unlike Yonsama, Riki could not reveal his nationality. He always pretended to be Japanese, and Japanese media concealed the fact although they were aware of it. His Japanese fans never doubted that he was Japanese.
When Jang Hun, a Korean baseball player working in Japan, visited Riki’s home, he tuned into a Korean radio station after making sure the doors and windows were safely shut.
Even when Rikidozan took Korean wrestler Kim Il as a student and trained him, he never used Korean. Instead, he often yelled at Mr. Kim that his Japanese was not good enough. Once in a conversation, Kim Il did not understand “gikyo,” bellflower root. When Rikidozan met Kim in a restroom, he said, “You don’t know what gikyo is? It’s doraji in Korean.” Kim Il later recalled that the only Korean he ever heard coming out of Rikidozan’s mouth was doraji.
When Riki secretly visited his homeland at an invitation of the Korean government in 1963, The Associated Press used an expression, “homecoming.” Tokyo’s Junichi was the only one to cover the story in Japan. Rikidozan was furious and refused to do interviews with the newspaper for some time.
Although the Korean Wave is at its peak in Japan now, Japanese used to refer Korea as “Josen” with contempt at the time. Josen-jin could not become a star in Japan. Japanese used to have very negative perception of Korea and its people. They might have needed over half a century to open their minds to a Korean star.


by Nahm Yoon-ho

The writer is head of the family affairs team at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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