Posted : 2012-03-09 21:30
Updated : 2012-03-09 21:30

Aftermath of Fukushima disaster lingers in Korea

A food inspection official checks for radioactive contaminants on imported Japanese marine products. / Korea Times
By Kim Tae-gyu

Korean consumers are still wary about products from Japan due to fears of nuclear contamination in the wake of the massive earthquake and tsunami, and resultant nuclear catastrophe there on March 11 last year.

Interpark, one of the primary domestic online retailers, said Friday that sales of Japanese wet tissues over the past 10 days decreased more than 50 percent from a year before.

By contrast, those of Korean firms jumped 43 percent, which shows that much of the demand for Japanese tissues shifted to Korean goods.

The situation is similar for other items.

According to the country’s top-tier e-commerce company Gmarket, sales of Japanese diapers dipped around 60 percent last month from a year before while those of Korean companies surged 30 to 89 percent during the same period.

``Japanese diapers and wet tissues attracted Koreans during the past several years thanks to their quality. But their popularity seems to have gone down after the Fukushima nuclear disaster,’’ an industry source said.

``I don’t think that people know exactly whether Japanese diapers or wet tissues contain radioactive materials beyond the norm. Yet, they just appear unhappy with the idea of their babies using any of these items.’’

In particular, Koreans are very concerned about eating farm or marine products from Japan since reports continue to hit headlines about radiation issues.

The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said this week that it detected radioactive cesium in Japanese marine products 32 times over the past two months, up from 21 between April and December last year.

The earthquake-stricken nuclear plant in Fukushima suffered meltdowns of its reactors, resulting in hazardous radiation being contaminating the air, tap water, seawater, soil and vegetables.

Experts have struggled with fears that the radioactive materials would keep affecting Japanese products for quite some time.

From the perspective of Korean conglomerates, however, the hardship of their rivals in the neighboring nation can offer opportunities to
them as people in Japan are also worried about nuclear contamination of products from their own nation.

Korea’s top conglomerate Samsung Group recently broke up its control tower there, Samsung Japan, so that its subsidiaries can operate businesses in the world’s No. 3 economy on their own.

Up until now, Samsung Japan has taken charge of all the operations of the group’s affiliates in the belief that its brand has yet to win a firm footing with Japanese clients, who were reluctant to pick the products of a rival of firms Sony and Panasonic.

As the popularity of Samsung has increased of late, however, the group seems to have decided on a new strategy, according to Seoul analysts.

Runner-up Hyundai Motor Group is also thinking of launching its trucks in Japan where the automaker started selling passenger cars in 2000 but left in 2009 in the face of disappointing sales.
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