The Granite Tower
Tranguil yet Influential Japanese Wave in Korea
Bae Mi Seon  |
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승인 2013.03.27  20:25:22
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Since the 1980s, exchanges be­tween Korea and Japan have become active. These are significant especially in the entertainment fields, includ­ing drama and film, music, food, and games. Nowadays, the phenomenon of exchanges influencing another country is known as the Korean wave and the Japanese wave.

The form of what currently is called “the Japanese wave” appeared in the 1980s when exchanges and import of cultural products became livelier. One of the top reasons how the Japanese wave became so wide-spread in Korea is due to geographic and cultural similarities. Moreover, “Until the late 1990s, Japan was the leading country for its fast-growing cultural diversification and well-developed industry,” said Kim Hyo Jin (Humanities Korea Assistant Professor at the Center for Japanese Studies). “Before simply talking about the similarities between Korean and Japanese culture, we cannot leave out the worldwide popularity of the Japanese mass culture after the 1990s,” he added.

▲ Japanese “Boys Over Flowers.” Provided by Naver Images

▲ Korean “Boys Over Flowers.” Provided by Official Website

Japan, Entertain Koreans!

The first thing that pops up in your mind when you think about Japan’s influence on the Korean entertainment market is its dramas and films. Before the official opening, films could be seen around university theatres in the 1990s and were issued in many film magazines. Love Letter is the representative example.

Japanese dramas, unlike today’s Korean dramas, are shorter in length and in the number of episodes. There exist many popular Japanese dramas; Hanazakari no kimitachi e (For You in Full Blossom) and Hana Yori dango (Boys Over Flowers), to name a couple. People loved to watch them, and this led to a phenomenon wherein Koreans became willing and start to learn Japanese. Moreover, storylines were imported and remade into Korean versions, which became so popular that they were exported back to Japan.

Many Korean television programs and entertainment programs show evi­dence of the Japanese wave. Chung Ye Bynn (’11, Japanese Language and Lit­erature) commented, “The subtitles on entertainment shows started in Japan. The reactions of the audience were so good that Korean entertainment shows adopted it, too.”

J-Pop is another market that had a great influence on the Korean music industry. For example, Arashi, Kat-tun, and AKB48 are popular among teenagers. Taking into consideration the fact that the current popular idol singers are mostly from Korea, the wave seems to go in cycles, taking turns.

▲ Drinking Sake. Photographed by Bae Mi Seon

Satisfy the People and Their Tongues

“What do you want to have for lunch?” asks a student. Another would immediately go, “Donburi? Ramen? Nippon Curry?” Because Japanese and Koreans both rely on rice for their meals, Koreans can easily become a fan of the Japanese dishes. There are many Donburi restaurants even around Korea University (KU). The introduction to Japanese food started after the mid 2000s when people going on tours to Japan boosted the Japanese food boom.

Moreover, Sakkamai becomes Sake, which is the traditional Japanese drink. It is the correspondent to Makgeoli, which is the Korean traditional rice drink. One of the most famous Sakes in Korea is Kanbare Ottosan, which is one of the cheapest and costs about 38,000 Korean Won for each package. Yet Sake is rather expensive compared to other drinks. It is mostly sought by people over the age of 30.

▲ Playing Wii. Photographed by Bae Mi Seon

Just a Game? Exercise!

Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii are entertainment games widespread in Korea. You have to simply put a packet into the game console. Even though each package costs a lot, people buy the newest packet to try out what is new. Nowadays, it is considered even a rival to sports equipment since the yoga game works well as an indoor exercise kit.

More to the surprise, there are Wii-rooms or multi-rooms where people can play Nintendo Wii. The fee for renting a room is different from place to place but usually, two people have to pay 20,000 Won for two hours on average. “Japan is the leader in the video games or PC package games market and it will not change for a fairest chance,” said Kim.

Where Are We Heading Now?

“When something becomes fa­mous, we cannot deny that some peo­ple say bad things about it. It is important to think such bad words are just the opinion of someone, not everyone. Maybe some people say bad things about Japan because of some historical issues, but the Japanese wave should not be stopped because of a political thing and the cultural thing is differ­ent,” commented Kadokura Haruka (’12, International Studies).

Kent Nobuta (’12, Linguistics) high­lighted the positive outcomes of the Japanese wave in Korea and vice versa; “I think this is a good opportunity for solving many problems between the two countries. Mostly, students are just interested in the bright side rather than the dark side, such as histori­cal problems. Now it is a really good chance to look at these problems to­gether.”

“Even though historical problems are on-going issues today, cooperation of Japan cannot be left out as a North-East Asian partner. There still is a need to be concerned about Japan. From now on, we need to look at this relationship between Korea and Japan on a bigger scale; the Korean-Japanese relationship in North-East Asia, and further on, in the world,” Kim added.

Not all political and international issues can be solved directly through culture exchange. Nevertheless, “Look­ing in the long-term perspective, cul­ture exchange is affecting the Korean-Japanese relationship in a positive way and constantly. Unfortunately, what the culture exchange has built up is brought to naught due to sudden incidents such as political and interna­tional issues,” said Kim.

Yet, it is questionable if Korean wave and Japanese wave in each other’s countries are appearing in the same way. The period of the wave showing an effect or result has an undeniable large gap. The Japanese culture seems to have permeated into the Korean cul­ture silently, while the Korean culture seems to have formed a boom in Japan recently. In other words, if we were to say the Korean wave is turbulent, the Japanese wave is tranquil yet influential. There is a need to watch how Koreans are affected by the pre-existing and on-going Japanese wave to understand the Korean-Japanese relationship better.

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