When a teacher explained the meaning of woe", the Korean word for "why", some 10 middle-aged Japanese women said, aha.
This was in the beginners class at Sejong School, a school teaching Korean, on the fourth floor of the Korean Cultural Center in Tokyo. The women said this because they finally understood the meaning of a word that they heard a lot in Korean dramas.
One of the students was veteran Japanese actress Kumiko Akiyoshi, 57. She asked a lot of questions to the teacher whenever she could not understand. After the class, she and a Dong-A Ilbo reporter moved to a room next to the class room.
When the reporter said, Its an honor to meet you, she said, Its my honor, sir in Korean.
Dong-A: Why do you learn Korean?
Akiyoshi: My mom strongly urged me to watch (the hit Korean drama) "Winter Sonata" with her. In Korean dramas, a man cries with a woman. This was also true in Japan. After yakuza movies grew popular from 1970s, women had to follow men. Today, women go first and men follow suit. My mom died happily with Korean dramas about five and a half years ago. Recently, I spoke to Korean media professionals about the (Korean) movie "Crossing". I`d never shed tears watching a movie or a drama, but I cried after watching this film. It encourages people think about where we are now not with ideology but with family issues. Its a tragic movie that captured even a small detail beautifully. When I said so, they asked me to learn Korean. When I think Ive got to do something, I do it right away.
Dong-A: You are learning Korean. What do you think?
Akiyoshi: I learned how to read and write the Korean alphabet in just one month. Its a miracle. Ive never thought that I could do it. Learning a language brings history, culture and everything. I think its like opening a door. The Korean and Japanese languages are similar but Korean is more like an English alphabet and digital-friendly. It's a way of thinking in the era of information and communications. Korean is also a future-oriented alphabet. I guess this way of thinking makes Koreans stand at the center of the global stage.
Dong-A: As an actress, what do you think about Korean movies and dramas?
Akiyoshi: I love Yi San on NHK. It shows history, politics and academia. For example, its quite interesting to see people go to a foreign country on foot. That never happens in Japan. Its also interesting that the king studies really hard and holds a meeting with his subordinates at a library. Japanese historical dramas have never had such a scene. I was so touched by the scene when Park Dae-su's old neighbors called his name without his title, even after he became King Jeongjos royal guard. I couldnt wait for the next episode. I bought the book and read it right away.
Dong-A: What about anti-Korean sentiment in Japan?
Women are pretty tolerant of it. They quickly learn new languages. Men want to keep their identity. Thats why the Japanese are behind in English education. Many Japanese like Korea, so some raise questions about Japans identity. But I think its better to interact with a neighboring country much more. Adults have confidence in themselves while interacting with others. It`s childish to do ones own thing with a narrow mind. This applies to relationships, too.
Dong-A: Do you have plans to join a Korean-Japanese movie?
Akiyoshi: Im learning Korean too hard to get an opportunity (laugh). My name is Kumiko. In Korean, its a child that attracts attention. Im curious and attracted to relationships with Korea. I want to play an attractive role.
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