TOKYO - Nippon TV, a cable network for the greater Kanto area in eastern Japan, originally expected the Korean wave to end earlier this year. In part, the broadcaster was convinced of the Korean wave's staying power last October when a deadly earthquake slammed the Niigata region and a breaking news bulletin interrupted the final episode of a popular Korean drama, "Hotelier
", starring Bae Yong-joon
. The station was overwhelmed by a deluge of calls from cliff-hanging viewers, fervent to see the outcome of Yonsama's character.
"Four thousand two hundred and fifty confused and anxious ladies called our station to find out why the last episode was stopped, despite the earthquake - each call was emotional and long. One caller even said, 'I've never met such a lovely guy,' in reference to Bae Yong-joon
on TV", smiled Kikko Kamiyama, of the PR department, in an interview with The Korea Herald.
Because of the recent JR Railway crash in Osaka, NTV received 800 calls from Korean-drama fans whose viewing was interrupted.
Scenes from "Attic Cat" (left) and "Sad Love Story
", two of the Korean TV dramas being aired in Japan
NTV had to discontinue its interactive online voting and message board for Korean dramas - their Internet server was paralyzed by thousands of messages. Even now, 2 out of 3 regular calls to their station are from Korean drama fans.
"Our target audience is women between the ages of 35 and 49 years. They have the time and the energy to get so involved in the drama, and then call us to follow up", said Suzuko Fujimoto, of the acquisition and programming department.
Junko Nishizawa, a middle-aged career woman living in Tokyo, has plans to visit Seoul in the near future. Why do women in her age category enjoy these programs.
"Korean dramas are great because we can learn about Korean culture, and we see Korean cities. We feel nostalgic about how Japan used to be", she said.
Fujimoto explained that Japanese dramas are bland in comparison, because they don't incorporate the same conflicts and challenges that exist in Korean society. "In Korea, there are taboos such as marrying outside of your class and extra-marital affairs, which the main characters must overcome. These taboos are not so big in Japanese society anymore, so it's not realistic to use them in a Japanese drama".
But this fan base is not limited to middle-aged females: a growing minority of male viewers of the same age group are also tuning in. "The men are mostly curious of why their wives or girlfriends are into these shows, but the time slot is focused for housewives", Fujimoto explained.
Major Japanese broadcasters, NHK, Fuji TV and Nippon TV are closely eyeing their ratings, hoping their success will continue. At Nippon TV, steady viewers for their current drama lineup, Secret
and "Attic Cat", comprise 4 percent ratings. Already broadcasting its eighth Korean drama so far, NTV has no plans to pull the plug anytime soon.
Currently, nationwide broadcaster Fuji TV is airing "Sad Love Story
", starring kwon Sang-woo
and Kim Hee-sun, every Saturday at 4 p.m. The station revealed that viewer ratings were 10 percent, and this is the second Korean drama to air since "Stairway to Heaven
", which attracted 12 percent ratings.
By Krista Kim Contributing correspondent