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Young Japanese and South Koreans Set Gaze on Each Other's Culture

May 19, 2000

Baseball is one channel of Japan-South Korea exchange. (Jiji Press)

Despite their geographical proximity, Japan and South Korea have been called distant neighbors because of past events. With the exception of exchanges in such sports as soccer and baseball, the people of the two countries have had little contact with each other. Recently, however, the trend-conscious youth of Japan and South Korea have begun adopting facets of each other's culture, and the distance between the two countries is rapidly closing as a result. What is behind the new Japan-South Korea relationship being shaped by young people today?

Music that Transcends Borders
Until recently Japanese pop music was banned in South Korea, but Y2K, a rock group comprising 18-year-old Yuichi Matsuo of Japan, his 15-year-old brother Koji, and 20-year-old Ko Jieh Gun of South Korea, is now enjoying phenomenal success there. Their popularity soared after their debut in ? 1999, with young South Koreans ecstatic to see a real-life performance by Japan-based idols. One of the group's songs in Korean shot to number one on the charts, and sales of their album surpassed 200,000 in less than a year, making it one of the country's bestsellers.

Devoted fans are already speculating that the group will perform during the opening ceremony of the 2002 World Cup, to be hosted jointly by Japan and South Korea. Hoping to ride the wave of their popularity, Y2K arrived in Japan in February 2000 with plans to perform for six months under the name "Doggy Bag."

The popularity of Y2K seems a contradiction in South Korea, where anti-Japanese sentiment has run high. However, the stage for its debut was actually set by the South Korean government, which decided to open its doors to Japanese pop culture in October 1998 by lifting the ban on Japanese-language comics, movies, videos, and musical performances meeting certain criteria. Since then, the gates have inched open wider, and today even the influential daily newspaper Chosun Ilbo has created a Japanese version of its Internet web site.

South Korean Pop Culture in Japan
In Japan, meanwhile, South Korean pop music is enjoying a similar boom. Until now, mention of Asian pops evoked images of Hong Kong movie stars singing popular Chinese tunes. However, thanks to the popularity of the South Korean movie Shuri, which opened in Japan at the end of January 2000, the CD set of the soundtrack is being snapped up as soon as it hits the shelves. Other South Korean pop music has also been selling well, with record stores in Shibuya--a mecca for young people in Tokyo--reporting a 30% increase over the previous year.

Importers and wholesalers of South Korean CDs believe that many people are drawn to the strong rhythms of such female groups as S.E.S and Fin.K.L and can picture their dynamic dances, as they listen to the tunes. One twenty-something Japanese fan of South Korean music comments, "I don't really understand the lyrics, but the sense of rhythm is good and the dances are captivating."

Though the boom in South Korean pop music in Japan was ignited by the popularity of Shuri, many point out that the spread of the Internet has also been a key factor. Web sites set up by South Korean artists have been attracting Japanese visitors, and many orders are placed over the Internet.

Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. 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.