Web Japan > NIPPONIA No.31 >  In Japan Today
NIPPONIA No.31 December 15, 2004

In Japan Today
TV Drama Triggers a "Korean Wave" in Japan
Written by Sakagami Yasuko, Photo credits: The Mainichi Newspapers Co.

Left: Bae Yong Jun, the male star of the Korean TV drama Winter Sonata, visited Japan in April 2004. About 5,000 fans went wild as soon as they saw him at Haneda Airport.
Right: The DVD version of Winter Sonata, which launched the current "Korean Wave." The DVD was released by NHK Software, Inc. and marketed by VAP.

A Korean Wave is sweeping Japan like never before. The "wave" is part of a rising interest in the music, drama and other modern cultural aspects of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), which have intrigued people in different parts of Asia since the late 1990s.
In the case of Japan, the boom was triggered by a South Korean TV series starring Bae Yong Jun and Choi Ji Woo, called Winter Sonata (also known as Winter Love Song). The acting is captivating, and the story revolves around something ignored by most Japanese movies today—sweet, innocent love. Many Japanese were won over, especially those middle-aged and older. The public broadcaster, NHK, began satellite TV broadcasts in April 2003, then launched re-runs via its more widely viewed terrestrial broadcasting system a year later. The series was an instant hit, and by the last episode TV audience ratings stood at 20.6% in Greater Tokyo and 23.8% in Greater Osaka. These are exceptionally high ratings for a program broadcast after 11 p.m.
The tourist industry got into the action, organizing tours to locations where parts of the series were shot. The city of Chunchon in the northern part of the country, where the drama was set, saw a dramatic increase in Japanese tourists, from 40,000 to 140,000 per year. DVD versions of the series and the theme song CD jumped up the charts, and continue to enjoy brisk sales.
The boom has spread beyond the fantasy world of TV drama to include real-life love stories. Rakuen Korea Inc. helps Japanese women and South Korean men get acquainted, with a view to marriage down the road. When the company advertised for members in October 2003 it attracted only 80 women in the beginning, but that changed after Winter Sonata star Bae Yong Jun visited Japan in April 2004—more than 1,700 women had registered by August.
Each year in April, NHK launches a new TV broadcast series for Japanese students of Korean. The textbook for the series issued in April 2003 sold 90,000 copies. A year later, sales per issue were up to 200,000.
Choi Heup, a correspondent at the Japan office of The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's largest daily newspaper, says this about Japan's Korean Wave: "Over the centuries, relations between the two countries were not very good, but that all changed around the time Japan and the Republic of Korea co-hosted the World Cup soccer tournament in 2002. And then, just when the Japanese were developing a more positive view of my country, along came Winter Sonata, pushing the wave higher.
"Actually, Winter Sonata was not as big a hit in South Korea. That's another reason why the current Korean Wave in Japan is big news in my country. The wave has certainly improved relations between our two nations, and a great many South Koreans are happy about that."
The year 2005 is designated as Japan-Korea Friendship Year, to mark the 40th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea. Sporting and cultural activities will bring the two neighbors even closer together.

   Special Feature*    Sumo(1)    Living In Japan
   Japanese Animals and Culture    Wonders of Japan
   Bon Appetit!    Cover Interview    In Japan Today