[FOUNTAIN]What’s in a label? Ask the Japanese

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[FOUNTAIN]What’s in a label? Ask the Japanese

The phrase “Made in,” followed by the name of a country (“Made in China,” for instance), is how products are generally labeled in America to indicate their country of origin. The term is so widely known these days, even in non-English-speaking countries, that one could consider it one of the first examples of Globalish ―that is, English altered by Internet use, or by regional characteristics. The fact that Globalish gets laughs on Korean comedy shows is an indicator of how far it has spread. Seeing a Korean comedian make a pun out of “Made in” leads one to wonder whether Globalish might be the final destiny of English.
After the Korean War, when necessities were scarce, the labels “Manufactured in USA” and “Manufactured in Japan” were symbols of the highest quality. Black-market dealers in goods from the U.S. bases made their rounds in the well-off neighborhoods. Even today, the “goblin market” within Namdaemun Market is still known as the place where you can find anything American, short of tanks and missiles. The curious trend of undervaluing Korean goods and worshipping imports still casts its shadow in our society.
For a while, the “Made in Korea” label seemed to be catching up. But it looks as though our neighbor across the East Sea is making noise in an effort to pull ahead. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has come up with a new label for its products: “Neojapanesque,” which it wants to develop as a replacement for “Made in Japan” over the next three years.
Considering the Japan situation these days, it’s worth taking note of this. The recent declaration by Toyota that it plans to surpass General Motors as the world’s top automaker by 2007 is just one example of Japan’s economic ambition. Its pledge to drop the American “Made in” label gives us a glimpse of its political ambition, too.
The late designer Kamekura Yusaku, who came up with the logo for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, said his people have the ability to start out with an imitation and turn it into something uniquely Japanese. Witnessing the transformation of “Made in Japan” to “Neojapanesque,” one cannot help but think about the direction in which “Made in Korea” will go.

by Chung Jae-suk

The writer is a deputy culture news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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