Posted : 2013-06-23 18:33
Updated : 2013-06-23 18:33

K-pop agencies draw foreign fans

Foreign fans wait at the Dunkin Donuts shop across the JYP Entertainment building in Cheongdam-dong, Saturday, for several hours hoping to get a glimpse of their star. / Korea Times photo by Kim Ji-soo

By Kim Ji-soo

Miyu Karakawa, 29 and Hitomi Kuwabara, 29, are two friends from Tokyo. On a three-day visit to Seoul, they were spending and killing time at a café run by Cube Entertainment.

"We are fans of BEAST and BTOB," said the two friends Monday at the café in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul.

They didn't exactly expect to see their favorite stars but visiting the Cube Café adorned with BEAST and 4minute paraphernalia has become a ritual. On the second floor of the café is the training space for Cube artists and trainees; perhaps it's the feeling of vicinity that pulls the visitors. The agency recently decorated the outside section of the café with pop art images of the two groups' members.

For Karakawa and Kuwabara, it was their eighth visit to the café; ninth visit to Seoul. The two fans of K-pop said that while there is J-pop, they found the K-pop groups good-looking and good singers as well.

Less than 500 meters away is the JYP Entertainment building—home to such top K-pop stars as 2PM, 2AM and miss A. JYP Entertainment doesn't own a café, but maybe it needn't. The Dunkin Donuts shop located just step across for JYP thronged with fans and visitors.

The headquarters of JYP Entertainment is home to K-pop groups 2 PM and 2 AM. / Korea Times photo by Kim Ji-soo

Yi LunYun, 23, was among them. Yi was an exchange student from Henan Province, China, who was waiting at the donut store for three hours to get a glimpse of 2PM. A Korean language major said she really liked 2PM members Nickhun and Woo-young, and that she was going to the group's concert Friday. But prior to the concert, she was waiting and determined to get a peek at her favorite star.

"I live around here, and I see fans from all over the world Thailand and Germany come here because they like the Cube musicians," said Kim Myung-sook, a 53-year-old Korean resident in the neighborhood.

Not far away are also buildings for SM Entertainment and FNC Entertainment. SM is home to Super Junior and Girls' Generation while FNC Entertainment is home to FTIsland and CNBLUE.

The clustering of these leading entertainment agencies mean that tourists of varying nationalities will flock to the area. In a 2012 survey of 3,900 French K-pop fans by the Korea Tourism Organization, 76 percent said that they would definitely visit Korea. The hallyu-related fans are among the 11 million foreigners who visited Korea in 2012, and are reportedly spending about 1.5-fold more money than the average tourists.

To meet these demands, the Gangnam District Office at times works with the agencies to promote "hallyu" or Korean wave. The boy band 2PM, in conjunction with the Gangnam district office, opened a 2PM-G+ STAR ZONE on Rodeo Station in Apgujeong-dong on May 2.

Visitors to the zone can view 2PM members' photos, their stage performances, have their hands printed and even donate.

There is no denying that hallyu or at least "K-pop" part of it is going strong. Entertainment agencies seemed to be struggling to meet the demand and provide content as much as possible. K-pop stars reportedly suffer from hectic schedules that leave them not much time for sleep.

There is skepticism that there could be more content for visiting K-pop fans to enjoy when they actually come to the land of K-pop. A K-pop festival is planned in September in Wonju, Gangwon Province, which is however about three hours away from Seoul. The government has announced the construction of K-pop arena in Goyang, but it is looking for completing in 2016.

Top K-pop groups have planned concerts in summer, but the tickets are limited in terms of capacity and time for the traveler. The BEAST is holding a concert on July 20-21 at the Olympic Park's Gymnasium in Seoul, where an estimated 25,000 fans are expected to take part. Shinhwa will perform in Seoul on Aug. 3-4 at the Seoul Olympic Gymnasium. The rookie group BIA4 will take the smaller stake at Uniqlo-Ax in Gwangjang-dong, Seoul from Aug. 7 through Aug.11.

Yet the tickets are already hard to get a hold on, as Cube is selling them to fans first and then releasing the remaining tickets to the general public.

Karakawa and Kuwabara, the two Japanese friends at Cube Café, will be coming back to Korea again in August. They tried to get tickets for Beast's July concerts, but couldn't get them.

"I am going to try to get the tickets on site on the day," said Kim Myung-sook, the Korean K-pop fan, advising the two Japanese friends to do the same.

Entertainment agency official said that fans should also look out for last-minute cancellation tickets.

In the meanwhile, the number of tourists trailing to the entertainment agency-cluster in Cheongdam-dong tripled over the weekend, fans just happy to be near their stars'home office.

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