By Kang Hyun-kyung
Makgeolli, Korean rice wine also known as “drunken rice” in English, has been a big hit in Japan with its consumption soaring three times this year, compared with that of a year ago.
The domestic liquor became popular among Japanese, a century after Japan annexed Korea by force.
Now Korea has conquered Japanese taste buds with its cuisine and won their hearts and minds with dramas and K-pop.
“One of the distinctive trends shown in Japan after the Korean wave or hallyu was that women in their 40s and 50s have become active Internet users,” Maki Tsuchida, a journalist based in Seoul and long-time watcher of the Korean wave, told The Korea Times.
“These women, mostly housewives, explore the World Wide Web to find information about when and where they will meet with their idols. Before the Korean wave, these women were considered inactive Internet users because they were busy with household chores and support of their family members,”
But now, he added, they became active bloggers posting their messages and finding information on forthcoming fan meetings and other schedules.
Yasushi Hatta, a freelance journalist and food columnist contributing Korean food columns for Asahi.com, said Japanese people’s growing interest in Korean cuisine was partly caused by hallyu there.
“Korean restaurants have popped up here and there in Japan since 2005. Now, many Japanese enjoy a variety of Korean foods from cold noodles to bibimbap to Korean barbeque,” Hatta said.
Tsuchida said the popularity of Korean dramas reached their peak from 2003 to 2005, calling the period the golden days of the Korean wave.
“The hit drama `Winter Sonata’ was first aired in 2002 and Japanese women in their 40s, 50s and even 60s were mesmerized by the lead actor Bae Yong-joon called Yonsama in Japan, after that,” the Japanese journalist said.
Tsuchida said they were the fans of pop idols when they were in their 20s and Japanese pop music was popular.
“Now these women fans play a key role in sustaining the Korea boom in Japan,” he said.
In the early 2000s when hallyu drew attention from the Japanese media, most fans were middle-aged women.
Now, young Japanese show up at K-pop artists’ concerts or performances.
Hallyu experts say the shift in the age of fans from middle-aged housewives to young people in their 20s was made after the five-member boy band TVXQ gained popularity in Japan.
This year, several Korean girl groups, including Girls’ Generation and Kara, have made their debut there. Girls’ Generation made its official debut Wednesday.
Five-member dance group Kara performed in downtown Tokyo on Aug. 11 to promote its debut album. They were originally scheduled to perform for 30 minutes but they had to end the performance five minutes later, as thousands of young people flocked to their street concert.
Police asked them to stop performing for the safety of the audience.
Asked if these Korean girl groups can be successful, Kim Eun-joo, a publicist for Kara, pointed to the sales record of their first album, instead of giving a direct answer to the question.
“For the first week after Kara made its debut, approximately 30,000 albums were sold in Japan. I think this is a pretty good start,” she said.
Tsuchida was cautious about the prospect for Korean girl groups’ continuing popularity in Japan.
“The secret of TVXQ’s success is that young women in their 20s like them very much for they are handsome and their dance skills are awesome. To be successful, those girl groups will have to secure male fans,” he said. “It remains to be seen if they can be as successful as TVXQ because the girl groups have made their debuts lately.”
Nationalism-driven territory claim
Jin Chang-soo, a senior fellow of the Sejong Institute, a think tank, said the past century saw both positive outcomes and negative fallouts.
He said people in the two countries came to have improved impressions of their counterparts.
“Japanese people came to have a better understanding of Koreans after they watched Korean dramas. I think that probably now is the time when the reputation of Koreans is most positive among Japanese,” the scholar said.
The Korean wave in Japan prompted a sharp increase of Japanese tourists coming here.
Amid growing human and cultural exchanges, Jin said a feud between the neighboring nations has deepened over history since 2000.
Japan stepped up its territorial claim over Dokdo in school textbooks and the defense white paper.
In response, the Korean government has stepped up its effort to spread the fact that Dokdo is part of Korea.
Chung Jae-jeong, president of the Northeast Asian History Foundation, called the intensifying territory claims between the two sides since 2000 “a war over history.”
The historian said the end of the Cold War probably prompted the two nations to step up territory claims.
“During the Cold War when the two blocs ― one led by the United States and the other spearheaded by the former Soviet Union ― were in conflict, the history issue had been `sealed’ for the sake of the greater common interest ― security,” Chung said.
“In the post-Cold War era, a growing number of nations, including China, opted for nationalism. Intensified territory claims in Korea and Japan should be understood in the context of nationalism.”
한국, 문화로 일본을 점령하다
100년 전 일본은 군사력을 앞세워 한국을 강제 점령했다.
100년이 지난 현재, 한국은 막걸리, 드라마 그리고 가요 같은 경쟁력 있는 문화상품을 통해 일본을 문화적으로 점령하게 되었다.
일본 한류전문가들은 과거 한류의 주요 지지층들이 4-50대 가정주부였다면 동방신기 등 한국의 가수들이 일본진출을 한 이후에는 20대의 젊은층들이 한류팬으로 가세하는 새로운 현상이 생겼다고 지적한다.
한편, 한류를 통해 한일관계가 개선되는 가운데, 영토분쟁은 2000년 이후 심해지는 현상이 생겼는데, 전문가들은 탈냉전이후 민족주의 경향이 강화되면서 한일간 영토분쟁이 가속화되고 있다고 분석한다.