[FORUM]Expansion of Korean cultureThree Korean singers who are getting immensely popular in Japan are scheduled to have concerts in Budokan, Tokyo: Park Yong-ha on Aug. 22. Rain on Sept. 2 and 3. Ryu Si-won on Nov. 22 and 23.
While it is easy to overlook this as a mere piece of entertainment news, it is actually very meaningful, if you think about it. It is not because Korean stars are returning to the Budokan stage 22 years after Jo Yong-pil held a concert there. After all, Budokan is a very special cultural symbol to the Japanese.
What is Budokan? Budokan is known as the largest concert hall in Japan, also called “the Carnegie Hall of Japan.” While the reputation holds true, it fails to explain the essence of Budokan.
Originally, Budokan was not intended to be a concert hall. Budokan literally means a martial arts hall, and it was built to promote traditional martial arts, enhance physical and mental discipline of the youth and establish a national sport.
The foundation of Budokan was led mostly by conservative politicians of the time. The most notable one was Matsutaro Shoriki, founder and owner of Yomiuri Shimbun and a member of the House of Representatives. In 1962, he proposed a resolution to build Budokan. The construction cost was covered by a government grant and donations from companies.
When Budokan was completed in the following year, Mr. Shoriki was named its first president. Before he began a career in newspapers, he had been a police official and heading Budokan was a fitting job for Mr. Shoriki.
At his suggestion, Budokan was used to host judo matches during the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964. The facility has since housed various martial arts competitions, calligraphy contests and classical music concerts. On Aug. 15 every year, the government-sponsored service for the war dead is held there. The service is to mourn the 3.1 million Japanese who died during World War II. Again this year, the service was held at Budokan with the emperor and prime minister of Japan attending.
Budokan is on a carefully chosen site: One side leads to Yasukuni Shrine and the other is connected to the Royal Palace through Kitanomaru Park. The site was where they assembled the officers who were to be sent out to the front lines during the Pacific War. According to Japanese nationalists, the site is full of the guardian spirits of the nation.
However, Budokan also has a cultural code opposite from nationalism. Since the Beatles performed there in 1966, Budokan has opened the door to rock concerts.
Of course, hosting the Beatles concert at Budokan was not smooth. The legendary British band had asked for a concert venue with a capacity of 10,000 people, and Budokan was the only place big enough at the time. When the Beatles’ concert at Budokan was announced, the conservative public was stirred with anger.
Then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato opposed the concert, saying that the Beatles were not suitable for Budokan. Mr. Shoriki, who had never heard of the Beatles until then, furiously said, “I cannot let those ‘battles’ guys in Budokan.” His Yomiuri Shimbun was the one that invited the Beatles and sponsored the concert, but Mr. Shoriki insisted that he would not allow the band to play there.
When it was confirmed that the Beatles concert would be held in Budokan, rumors of terror attacks by the rightists began to spread. Even a few weeks before the concert, a score of propaganda vehicles of rightist groups gathered around the hall and criticized the concert. Budokan received threatening letters and the police increased the number of guards at the site. The controversy and aftermath well illustrate the social influence of Budokan at the time.
However, once the Beatles set an example, Budokan opened its doors to popular musicians. A series of world-class rock stars held concerts there, from Led Zeppelin to the Eagles to Bob Dylan to Duran Duran. Especially after Dylan released the live recording of his concert in Japan titled “At Budokan” in 1978, American musicians began to see having a concert at Budokan as an honor.
Today, the hall serves both as a martial arts hall and a concert venue. It is the rare place where the contradictory codes of tradition and openness, and the centripetal and centrifugal forces of culture, coexist.
The concerts of Korean stars at Budokan are examples of the latter. It also means that Koreans have the power to accelerate the centrifugal force of Japanese culture.
Although it seems unlikely, Japan is a diverse society. Some Japanese intellectuals argue that the anti-Korean sentiment should also be understood as an element of diversity. The Korean stars’ concerts at Budokan can be yet another sign of diversity that might be enough to offset the anti-Korean sentiment. For this reason, I hope that more and more Korean musicians become “Budokan-brand” stars.
* The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s media planning team.
by Nahm Yoon-ho