Tear-Jerking Love Stories Enthrall Japanese Women (October 14, 2004)
Japanese women are being swept up in an unprecedented craze
for jun'ai (pure, innocent love). A South Korean TV drama series titled Winter
Sonata and the novel Sekai no Chushin de, Ai o Sakebu
(Crying for Love at the Heart of the World) by Katayama Kyoichi are among the
catalysts for this boom. Middle-aged women are said to be the most passionate
devotees of Winter Sonata, while middle school and
high school girls are the most hardcore fans of Sekai.
Both have earned abbreviated nicknames, a sure sign of popularity in Japan: Winter
Sonata is familiarly referred to as Fuyusona, and Sekai
as Sekachu. Why are people so hungry for "pure" love? Discussions about
why this theme has struck such a chord with Japanese women have been filling the
columns and airwaves of Japan's media.
|Bae has won legions of fans in Japan. (Jiji)
Winter Sonata Draws Unusually High Ratings
Winter Sonata (Fuyu no Sonata
in Japanese) was produced in South Korea in 2002. It was aired on Saturday nights
at 11 pm on the NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) General terrestrial channel
from April to August 2004, and despite being shown at such a late hour it quickly
became a hit, achieving viewer ratings of over 20%. Such was the show's impact
that when the star of the series, Bae Yong-joon, visited Japan, hordes of mostly
middle-aged women crowded the airport to greet him. Nicknamed "Yong-sama"
by his fans, the actor's extraordinary popularity has become known as the "Yong-sama
NHK actually first began broadcasting Winter Sonata
in April 2003 on its Satellite 2 channel. But seeing the show's popularity gradually
rise, it decided to put the series on its flagship terrestrial channel, a move
that ignited the Fuyusona frenzy. Fans have been snapping up videotapes, DVDs,
and books about the drama, and this demand helped NHK to reverse the decline in
sales and profits it experienced in fiscal 2002 with an increase in both of these
indicators in fiscal 2003 (April 2003-March 2004). NHK's operating revenue (excluding
subscriber fees) rose ¥4.6 billion ($41.8 million at ¥110 to the dollar)
over the previous year to ¥105.4 billion ($958 million), of which revenues
from Winter Sonata accounted for ¥3.5 billion
The book Sekai no Chushin de, Ai o Sakebu has sold
more than 3 million copies, becoming the bestselling Japanese novel of all time.
The film version of the book drew 5 million people to theaters, and a TV adaptation
aired from July to September 2004 registered high viewer ratings as well.
Both stories are about pure and innocent love. In Winter
Sonata a young woman meets a man who looks just like her first love, who
died years before in an accident. Sekai, meanwhile,
is the tale of a man who for 17 years cannot overcome the loss of his sweetheart,
who died of an illness in his high school days.
Reminders of Yesteryear
Other novels dealing with pure love, such as Wasure Yuki
(Snow of Oblivion) by Shindo Fuyuki and Ima, Ai ni Yukimasu
(I'm Coming to See You Now) by Ichikawa Takuji, are also enjoying brisk sales.
NHK earlier aired another South Korean romance series starring Choi Ji-woo, who
played the heroine in Winter Sonata, on Satellite
2. In the hope of recreating the Winter Sonata boom,
NHK broadcasts the program on terrestrial TV starting in October.
So, why pure love, and why now? Katayama Kyoichi, the author of Sekai,
has this to say: "Romantic affairs are fundamentally about committing oneself
to another person with one's heart and soul. It may be that my novel reached the
hearts of young people who are not content with superficial relationships."
In regard to South Korean drama series, one critic observes that "the characters
use beautiful language, are polite, care about their families, and maintain platonic
relationships. Perhaps they remind today's Japanese of something they have left
As Japanese women increasingly enter the workforce and build careers, it may be
that some have found they have little time for the ultra-romantic pursuits portrayed
in jun'ai TV series and books. These refreshing stories
appear to be providing a welcome outlet for their romantic feelings.
Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
(April 25, 2003)
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(July 4, 2002)
BARGAIN HUNTING, KOREAN STYLE
(January 18, 2001)