Hallyu’s popularity breeds new wave of protests in Japan

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Hallyu’s popularity breeds new wave of protests in Japan

When Jang Keun-suk, a 24-year-old Korean singer-actor, announced a three-city concert tour for late October, the 60,000 available tickets were sold out in five minutes. This happened in Japan, not Korea.

Jang is one of the many Korean celebrities in Japan joining and promoting the phenomenon called the Hallyu, or the Korean Wave.

Sunny, of leading girl group Girls’ Generation, said in an interview that the wake-up call for her was hearing the group’s songs in cellphone ring tones on Japan’s streets. “I thought, ‘Wow, we are big here,’” she said.

But apparently, the Hallyu phenomenon has rubbed some Japanese the wrong way.

Starting on Aug. 7 in Tokyo, Japanese nationalist groups have held regular demonstrations against Fuji Television and its sponsors, demanding that the television company stop “excessively broadcasting Korean TV series and other Korean entertainment,” according to a Web site made by one of the protest organizers. Following that demonstration, more protests were held throughout September and October, with more participants, spreading to other cities.

The checkered history between Korea and Japan has created animosity between some people in both countries. Some believe that it is this animosity that is behind the anti-Hallyu movement in Japan, causing those who perceive the Korean Wave as an invasion to take to the streets.

The greater Japanese public has noticed these protests and, while many do not support the anti-Hallyu movement, they are at least aware of the reasons why it has taken off.

“The strong patriotism caused them to [participate] in this movement,” said 24-year-old Mariya Saito of Saitama, Japan, in an e-mail interview.

Saito added that while Korean media content and the Hallyu are good ways of deepening the friendship between the two countries, too much Korean culture makes the protesters uncomfortable, “because Korean culture is not the main culture in Japan.”

Minami Goibuchi, 23, also of Saitama, disagreed, saying that the protesters were not really against the Korean Wave itself, they were against a television station that they think is giving more exposure to Korean celebrities and dramas than native ones.

In the past, Korea-related protests in Japan have mainly been populated by people ranging from the middle-aged to the elderly, but the demonstrators against Fuji Television have a broad age range. Some protesters are in their teens, with the bulk of participants in their late 20s and 30s.

“This demonstration isn’t just people with outdated thinking from the older generation. It seems like they just don’t like the sudden increase of Korean presence in Japanese media,” said Sunao Tabunoki, 23, of Kawasaki, Japan.

The Korean Wave gained momentum in Japan shortly after the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by Korea and Japan. After the Korean drama “Winter Sonata” was broadcast in Japan, its stars Choi Ji-woo and Bae Yong-joon became household names, the latter becoming an idol for Japanese women on a scale that few celebrities have ever been able to achieve, even in their home countries. Shortly after that, the Korean government began to take notice and has attempted to take a hands-on approach to the Korean Wave, with government-sponsored promotion of Korean cultural exports.

Goibuchi, a travel agent, said she and her mother are huge fans of Hallyu stars. “Korean actors and musicians are very sexy,” she said.

But despite being the object of her fantasies, she said she also realizes the good that these celebrities have done for Korea’s image.

“Korean pop idols are the key element to attract international attention to other commercial sectors,” she said. She also noted that the Korean Wave has caused an increase in tourism to Korea, especially amongst middle-aged Japanese women.

Amongst some Japanese, there is a perception that the way in which the Korean media handles these protests might cause anti-Japanese sentiment among Korean viewers.

“Korean people will be led to believe that this is the way that all Japanese feel about Korea and feel more negative toward Japan,” said Sasuke Tanaka, a 26-year-old Japanese student in Korea. “They focus too much on interviewing the people in the protest and not enough interviewing normal people about Korean media.”

Tabunoki pointed to what she called Japan’s insular nature in discussing anti-Hallyu protests. Such nature, combined with the history of the last century, turns some Japanese people into strong nationalists who cannot accept a former colony having increased exposure in Japan. She stressed that not all Japanese feel this way. She was also somewhat critical of the anti-Hallyu protesters, saying that Japanese pop culture is exported to many other countries and is not met with protest.

Tabunoki also has doubts that Koreans themselves would be as open to increased Japanese cultural presence in Korea. “I don’t think a Japanese Wave in Korea would ever be possible, as many Japanese have tried to make it in Korea [and] have failed,” she said.

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