Capitalizing on hallyu

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Capitalizing on hallyu

Tens of thousands of fans gathered at the Tokyo Dome at the end of last month to celebrate the publication of Bae Yong-joon’s book “A Trip in Search of Korea’s Beauty.” This latest move by the actor, who gained fame for his role in the drama “Winter Sonata,” reveals new possibilities for harnessing the power of the Korean wave, or hallyu.

The book is expected to boost Korea’s tourism industry and promote the country’s brand image. It is a prime example of a well-made television drama being given new life as multiple forms of cultural content. Bae traveled to various places across the country to research the book, which features descriptions of traditional Korean culture, food and historical sites. The first edition, of which 50,000 copies were printed, sold out on the first day it was released.

Since Winter Sonata was first broadcast in Japan in 2003, the Korean wave has swept across the Asian region, to the degree that its economic effect over a two-year period is estimated to exceed more than 2.3 trillion won ($1.94 billion). We are also witnessing the tremendous effects that the preference for Korean dramas and Korean actors and actresses has generated outside of the economic realm. There is an increased affinity for Korean pop culture, Korean companies, Korea and Koreans in major sectors of society.

Ikko, a Japanese makeup artist and transgender TV personality, is said to have become fascinated with Korea after viewing Winter Sonata, when she began promoting Korean pop culture. She has since helped bring increasing numbers of Japanese tourists to the Myeongdong shopping area in Seoul.

A few days ago, Japan’s new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama met Korean actor Lee Seo-jin in Tokyo, and the two shared their desire to create a friendly relationship between the countries. According to a behind-the-scenes story, Hatoyama agreed to meet Lee with the encouragement of his wife, who is an enthusiastic fan of Korean dramas.

Unfortunately, it is true that the popularity of South Korean culture has ebbed in the past several years. Exports of cultural content, such as dramas and games, which surpassed 60 percent growth in 2003, grew by only 11 percent in 2006 and 13 percent in 2007. This is because the Korean government and the relevant industries have failed to manage and nurture the Korean wave in a systematic manner.

We should support and build on the popularity of hallyu. In the era of soft power, culture can be a powerful tool, not to mention its enormous economic potential. We need to establish a system for producing competitive cultural content, with and without our hallyu stars.

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