|Anti-hallyu protesters march through the Shin-Okubo district in Tokyo, waving Japanese flags and holding signs with offensive messages against Korea in the left photo taken on May 19, 2013. / Korea Times files|
‘Hostility will continue while Japan's economy in bad shape'
By Park Si-soo
From Bae Yong-joon to Ryu Si-won and Jang Keun-suk, many Korean stars have enjoyed heartthrob status in Japan for nearly a decade.
K-pop musicians have swept major charts and their concerts there always burst at the seams with local fans. In addition, several Korean TV dramas and entertainment shows are broadcast in primetime with high ratings.
Yet all of these seem to face grave challenges sparked by chauvinistic right-wing politicians and activists in Japan whose voices against the boom, known as the Korean wave or "hallyu," resonate widely amid a sluggish economy.
The anti-hallyu sentiment is said to be fueled by Tokyo's diplomatic friction with Seoul over Dokdo and World War II legacy issues, including "comfort women."
Dozens of anti-Korean rallies are reportedly staged every weekend across Japan. Protesters used to march through streets bustling with Korean restaurants and shops selling Korean pop-culture goods, waving Japanese flags and chanting hate messages in unison, the Wall Street Journal reported in May. Offensive messages they shout or carry on signs include "Go Back to Korea" or "Let's Kill Koreans," language that passersby told local television stations they found startling, the daily reported.
|Taken on Aug. 22, 2011, the top photo shows right-wing activists staging a rally to denounce Japan's Fuji TV for airing Korean entertainment shows and dramas.|
Experts and observers in Korea and Japan say while attendance at the rallies is still small and such extreme actions are far from entering the mainstream of Japanese politics, the hostile demonstrations have grown in size and frequency in recent months.
"My business in Japan is in a moribund state," said a Korean film promoter with his name withheld. "I've signed no deal in Japan so far this year because of the anti-Korean sentiment. But this is not a problem I alone face. I think this is a problem for all Korean businessmen selling cultural products in Japan."
In fact, restaurants, cosmetics and gift shops in Tokyo's Korea Town have suffered sharp drops in sales since January of last year when the anti-Korean sentiment resurfaced in nearly two years.
Citing a survey of some 900 Japanese citizens, the Korea Economic Daily reported in December that nearly 10 percent of them said they are satisfied with the quality of Korean products in general, but won't buy them because they were made in Korea. The daily added that major Japanese websites that promote Korean culture have seen the number of their visitors plunge dramatically.
For instance, WK, the biggest Japanese website of this kind, which used to draw 40 million visitors a month, saw its number slashed by a quarter in the wake of the flare-up of anti-hallyu sentiment, according to the daily.
|A Japanese citizen looks at anti-Korean books displayed at a bookstore.|
Such animosity against Korea is also felt in Japanese bookstores. Three out of 10 best-selling nonfiction books discuss Korea's "problematic" approach to wartime history shared with Japan and other thorny issues between the two countries, Japan's influential Asahi Shinbun newspaper reported on Feb. 11.
One of the three has sold more than 200,000 copies since its release in December, Asahi reported, while another book, published in 2005, has sold one million copies on the back of the recent anti-Korean sentiment.
"This sales hike reflects the deep-seated frustration of (Japanese) people against Korea," Asahi quoted a publication expert as saying in the report.
No breakthrough in sight
Opinions vary when it comes to the potential for a breakthrough in the conflict. A Japanese public servant living near Tokyo told The Korea Times in an email interview that the ongoing conflict can been seen as a backlash of conservative Japanese people against Korean pop culture that earned massive fame in Japan in a relatively short period of time.
"In times of a sagging economy, the Japanese have solaced themselves with the belief that Japan is still superior to any other Asian counties in terms of culture content and related business," the 30-year-old official said with her name withheld. "But the steep rise of K-pop and Korean dramas in Japan shattered that belief. I think the broken self-confidence played a crucial role in prompting anti-hallyu sentiment."
Professor Jo Yang-hyeon at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy said he assumes there are many kinds of political forces that instigate the public and fuel the anti-Korean sentiment for various reasons.
"We need to pay attention to why the anti-hallyu sentiment resurfaced shortly after Shinzo Abe took office (in December 2012)," Jo said. "Abe took office with the primary mission of reinvigorating Japan's economy. Everything he does and says is aimed at fulfilling the mission."
He went on, "Japan's conservative figures have strong nostalgia of the times when Japan wielded powerful influence as the world's second biggest economy. For them, the rise of Korean culture is obviously an annoying event."
Making a foe of everyone helps enhance the feeling of unity of the Japanese people, the professor said, adding Abe may make full use of the scheme to press his political opponents and push forward with policies meant to realize his slogan of "Strong Japan."
Professor Lee Gun-chang of Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul predicted that the anti-hallyu sentiment will continue to exist as long as Japan's economy is in the doldrums.
"Perhaps there is some emotional stuff behind the ongoing animosity, but I think what's playing a bigger role is the economic situation," Lee said. "During good economic times, people become generous to others."
If his analysis is accurate, the anti-hallyu sentiment seems very unlikely to subside sooner or later since Japan's economy slowed to a crawl in the last quarter of 2013.
Data showed while Japan's economy grew 1.6 percent over last year — its best performance in three years — it slowed to 0.3 percent in the October-December period, presenting a major challenge for Abe and his much-touted policy blitz, dubbed "Abenomics."
The lackluster fourth-quarter growth was far lower than the 0.7 percent widely expected by economists, according to a Nikkei business daily survey.
Against this backdrop, Kimura Kan, a professor at Kobe University and president of the Pan-Pacific Forum, argued in a column titled "Why can't Seoul and Tokyo get along?" at Nippon.com on Jan. 30 that Japan is left with just two possible courses of action.
"One is to work for a solution of the historical and territorial issues and seek to reduce their importance. The other is to enhance Japan's importance to South Korea in other areas. If Japan's domestic circumstances make the former difficult, the only option we have is the latter," Kan wrote.
"We must not forget that Japan is still a major country, with the world's third-biggest economy. So there are surely many things we can do."