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Korea-Japan Pop Culture Exchanges Flourish

2006/12/31 | 787 views | Permalink | Source

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With Headphones On, Korean, Japanese Teenagers Discount Animosity

By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Staff Reporter

When Japanese pop group Arashi arrived for a press conference at Incheon International Airport last July 31, about 2,000 screaming teenage girls greeted them. It was hard to tell who was more surprised at the boy band's raucous reception _ the fans, the media or Arashi themselves.

Members of Arashi even admitted during the press conference that they were nervous about coming to Korea because they were not sure how many people actually know about them. It was the group's first visit, but Arashi had managed to win the hearts of Korean fans even before setting foot in the country.

This is no longer a unique case. Thanks to the hundreds of fan sites, blogs and cafes on the Internet, J-pop stars like Arashi, L'Arc~en~Ciel, SMAP, Gackt, Hyde, Namie Amuro, Hikaru Utada and Ayumi Hamasaki have significant number of fans in Korea without the help of promotions, shows or concerts.

On the other hand, Korean pop stars are still seeking a breakthrough in the highly competitive world of Japanese pop music.

This year alone, K-pop stars such as TVXQ, Shinhwa, Rain and Se7en have gone on high-profile promotional tours in Japan and released Japanese-language albums and singles.

While their albums have all managed rank in the top 10 on Japan's Oricon Charts, none of them have managed to even come close to the phenomenal success enjoyed by pop princess Boa.

J-pop Wave

When the Korean government lifted the ban on imports of Japanese cultural products in October 2004, Koreans were finally able to watch Japanese films and dramas, as well as buy Japanese albums.

Japanese pop idols seem to have slowly won over Korean fans as part of the so-called Japanese wave or "illyu".

Japanese performers such as w-inds, Koda Kumi, Goto Maki, Miyavi, Paris Match and Toshi of X-Japan have held shows and concerts in Seoul this year. It was only in 2000 that Japanese stars were allowed to perform in venues holding more than 2,000 people.

More than 18,000 tickets to Arashi's four concerts in Seoul last Nov. 11 and 12 were sold in one hour. Language is apparently no barrier when it comes to music.

During the concert, Arashi performed almost all of their songs in Japanese. They performed only one Korean-language song. While they attempted a few sentences in Korean, the group needed the help of an interpreter to communicate with the audience.

Sales of Arashi's albums in Korea are unprecedented for Japanese artists in Korea. According to data from the Recording Industry Association of Korea, "Arashic" was the top-selling foreign album in July, with sales of 10,675 copies. The group's single "Aozora Pedal", albums "5x5 The Best Collection of 2002-2004" and "Single Collection 1999-2001" also sold more than 20,000 copies combined this year.

Goto Maki, a former member of Morning Musume, attracted many Korean fans after she appeared at the Asia Song Festival in Pusan in November 2005. Since then, about 130,000 Koreans registered with her official fan club. She held her first concert last Nov. 19 at the Melon-AX.

Lee Sou-youn, an 18-year old student, said she started listening to J-pop after a friend gave her a CD of Japanese hip-hop group M-flo. "I really liked it. Also, there are a lot of Web sites about J-pop singers, so I visited the Web sites, heard more J-pop songs and saw Japanese shows and programs from there", Lee said.

Naver, Daum and other sites host fan cafes and blogs of thousands of fans who share a common passion for Japanese idols. Some of the fans discover J-pop as they study the Japanese language. Other fans even go to Japan to attend the concerts of J-pop stars.

The historical animosity between Japan and Korea does not seem to affect young fans. Lee said she simply likes the cool sounds of J-pop music and she doesn't even think much about the fact that it is from Japan.

However, as of now, Japanese performers are still not allowed to appear on Korean television shows. Not that it matters to the fans who get to see performances of their favorite Japanese stars on the Internet.

K-pop in Japan

K-pop, however, has yet to make a dent in the Japanese market. K-pop stars are eager to break into the Japanese market, since it is the world's second biggest music market after the U.S. Several artists have made big announcements about releasing albums or holding concerts in Japan in the past few years, but most have little to show for it.

Boa is undoubtedly the biggest Korean star in Japan today, prompting some Korean fans to complain she is focusing more on Japan than Korea.

Unlike J-pop stars who release their Japanese language songs and albums in Korea, K-pop stars like Rain, Se7en and TVXQ have made the effort to learn Japanese and release Japanese language albums.

TVXQ, known as Tohoshinki in Japan, is being positioned as a J-pop newcomer rather than a K-pop group. Whenever they perform in Japan, the group sings only Japanese songs. The group now has about 10,000 members in its Japanese fan club.

Yoko, a TVXQ fan who lives in Osaka, said she became interested in Korean pop culture after seeing the hit drama "Winter Sonata". She saw TVXQ's performance in one of the Korean TV programs on the Internet and became a fan.

Yoko said K-pop groups like TVXQ and Shinhwa are slowly becoming popular among Japanese women. TVXQ and Shinhwa both held successful concerts and fan meetings in Japan the past year, and many Japanese fans usually go to Seoul to watch their shows.

"Regarding how popular they are compared to SMAP and other groups, I may say that TVXQ's popularity is still budding at this time. But they're becoming popular because they performed 14 concerts in 10 venues where the hall can seat 2,500 people", she said.

Another Japanese fan, who declined to be identified, said Korean media seems to have exaggerated the popularity of some K-pop stars in Japan. The fan, who watched two of the YG Family concerts in Tokyo last October, said not all the YG concerts were sold out as reported in the Korean media.

"The venue was half-empty, and the audience atmosphere was low for the first concert. But on the second night, the show was sold out and everyone was really hyper. Se7en even did some Japanese comedy gags, which everyone loved", the fan said. However, the fan said most of the fans were interested only in seeing Se7en perform.

K-pop stars are getting noticed for their talent and earnest efforts to learn Japanese. Yoko said she likes K-pop performers because they have higher quality songs and performances than some J-pop stars. She even thinks it is only a matter of time before TVXQ and other Korean stars equal J-pop stars' popularity.

It is however tough to predict the future of K-pop stars in Japan and J-pop stars in Korea. But it is significant to see that Japanese and Korean pop stars are helping bridge the gap between the two countries, whose complicated history has always been a source of conflict.

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