Korea has always been proud of its culture. Until now, culture has been considered something that required money and efforts to develop and preserve -- not something that could be a source of income. But the country has come to realize that, in fact, culture can indeed be a money-maker for the nation.
That realization came with the emergence of what is now called the "Korea Wave" - the sudden rapid penetration of Korean popular culture into the countries surrounding Korea that began in the latter 1990s.
The term was first used by the Chinese press to refer to the popularity of Korean pop music, TV dramas, movies, fashion, food, and celebrities in China, especially with young people. That popularity also expanded to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
The Korea Wave is currently at a height, with Japan joining in the phenomenon. Japan had stayed relatively cool toward the Korea Wave until recently, but the Korean TV drama "Winter Sonata
", charmed Japanese fans, causing them to view Korea with new interest.
Realizing that culture could be an excellent tool to expand the nation's exports, the government has been taking steps to maximize the profits.
Culture and Tourism Minister Chung Dong-chae said in an interview posted on a government Web site earlier this month that Korea's culture is becoming the core of the nation's future industry.
The government has been adopting new laws to encourage and aid those who are leading the Korea Wave, and also working on ways to improve the environment for cultural creativity.
in efforts to promote the country and push the wave forward, the Korea National Tourism Organization (KNTO) has identified the 2004-2005 tourism season as "The Year for Promoting the Korea Wave".
The fact that Japan has become one of the export markets for Korean culture has an important meaning. Compared with the local culture market, which has been shrinking continuously over the past few years, Japan's market is much larger, presenting Korea with more potential.
One of the attractions of the Japanese market is that it's much larger than korea.
The domestic markets for animation, comic books and music recordings have suffered a sharp decline over the past few years. One after another, various monthly cartoon magazines have stopped publishing due to declining circulation, and thus the animation industry, which is based on cartoons, has also been contracting.
Readers usually read comics by borrowing them from book rental stores rather than buying them. Moreover, Japanese cartoons had grabbed more than 80 percent of the domestic market, which left local comic writers with even fewer buyers.
Ironically, Korean cartoons that have been abandoned by the local readers are gaining popularity in Japan. The animation movie, "Sin Amhaengeosa" (The Modern Secret Royal Inspector), which is based on a comic book written by two Korean writers, will be shown in Japanese cinemas in October.
The comic, which was published first in Korea, was popular in Japan when it was serialized in a Japanese cartoon magazine for three years, and more than 1.5 million copies were sold there in separate volumes.
About 10 Korean comic book writers have signed contracts with Japanese comic magazines this year, and some industry-watchers predict that domestic cartoon and animation exports to Japan can increase sharply in the wake of the Korea Wave currently rocking Japan.
As a result, many local cartoon writers are entering the more vibrant Japanese market. Park Sung-sik, director of the cartoon department at the Korea Culture and Content Agency, said these writers were finding the Japanese market attractive mostly because of its larger size.
Domestic consumers have turned their backs on music recordings due to the popularity of MP3 players and the spread of illegally distributed albums. Because of this, the domestic record market has been declining for some time now.
The Japanese record market is much better off. While the Korean recorded-music market achieved sales of only 100 billion won last year, Japan's totaled 2.5 trillion won. That has attracted attention in Korea.
Last month, Yedang Entertainment announced that it is planning to release in Japan albums of music by Korean artists such as Seo Taiji
, Kim Gun-mo
and Lee Jung-hyun. Yedang has already reaped large profits there from selling "Winter Sonata
" original soundtracks and is expected to continue its success with the soundtrack of the TV series "Areumdaun naldeul (Beautiful days)" which is scheduled for showing in Japan beginning in October.
Domestic movies and TV dramas which have enjoyed high popularity generated large profits through exports to neighboring countries.
According to Korean Film Council statistics, exports of domestic movies generated about $33 million in revenue during the first half of this year, more than twice that recorded in the first half of 2003.
The television drama "Winter Sonata
", a big hit in Japan, generated over 30 billion won in Japan alone.
This year's growth builds on strong growth the previous year as well, when Korea's total exports of TV dramas during the year rose to $28.3 million from, $16.3 million in 2002, according to government statistics.
The popularity of Korean television dramas and movies is also drawing tourists to the country. Bucheon Fantastic Studio has hosted many tourists at the studio set for the movie "Taegukgi
", which was released in Japan in June.
Gangwon Province, the main shooting location for "Winter Sonata
", attracted over 110,000 foreign tourists last year -- more than four times the number of visitors in 2002. Most of the foreign visitors were from Japan, Taiwan and other Asian countries where the drama was broadcast, according to Gangwon Province officials.
Everland Amusement Park in Yongin, which was the main shooting location for the TV drama "Nae Sarang Patjwi" (My Love Patjwi), attracted 80,000 visitors from Taiwan and Singapore, where the drama was broadcast. A marketing official said that Everland was focusing on hosting more foreign tourists by launching tourism packages related to the Korea Wave.
The Korea Wave is making the world look at Korea with new interest. Korean food, clothes, and even the language are drawing the world's attention. A strong bridge has been built for Korean culture to cross over to other countries, but Culture Minister Chung said that cautions remain.
"It is very encouraging that many countries, including Japan, are paying favorable attention to our culture", said Chung, "but we must be careful not to ruin the atmosphere by believing that our culture is the best. Cultures overlap, rather than competing against each other. To keep the wave going strong we must 'communicate' with other cultures rather than 'pass' ours to others in a one-sided way".