By NATASHA IMAN
AS a die-hard Hallyu wave fan (loving anything and everything Korean), I had spent many nights pondering about how I would be able to “manage” myself once I move to Tokyo, Japan to further my studies.
I was worried about many things – my fluency (or lack thereof) in Japanese; living by myself without family or friends; falling ill or feeling lonely; or even whether I could cope with living a hectic student life in Japan.
However, the more crucial questions that came to my mind were:
Would I be able to purchase my favourite K-pop artistes’ CDs in stores? Will I get to buy Korean magazines and photobooks there? Or will I get to meet other K-pop fans in Tokyo?
But just over six months of staying in the city of my dreams, I am living proof that yes, even us Hallyu fans can survive here.
A few days after arriving in Tokyo, I was taken to Shin-Okubo – just one stop away from Tokyo’s famous Shinjuku train station – an area where as soon as you exit the station and turn right, you instantly get sucked into the Hallyu buzz.
You could hear the latest K-pop tunes blaring from the speakers there and see people from uniform-clad Japanese high school students to mothers squealing over pictures of their favourite Korean idols.
There, you could also find the recently renamed “Gangnam Style” store, which directly imports most of the latest beauty products from South Korea and two large Korean supermarkets which regularly stocks up everything from kimchi to ramyun (instant noodles).
After one too many afternoons spent walking down the alleyways of Shin-Okubo, I could easily proclaim that Tokyo’s Korea Town is no different than the streets of Dongdaemun in Seoul.
It is amusing to note that only two years back, over 2000 Japanese staged an anti-Hallyu protest in Tokyo in front of the Fuji Television headquarters. The protesters had demanded for the television station to give up their broadcasting rights as they wanted to “save Fuji Television from the hands of Hallyu.”
In 2010, Fuji Television had set up Korean Wave Alpha which broadcasts Korean dramas on almost a daily basis.
The protest happened after Japanese actor Sousuke Takaoka’s contract with the station was terminated following his anti-Hallyu comment. The termination of their favourite actor further fuelled the Japan folks’ anti-Hallyu sentiment which had been spreading in the country at that time.
Two years later, it seems that Korean pop has indeed successfully penetrated the Japanese entertainment scene, with many K-pop groups trailing behind well-known Japanese artistes on the local music charts.
Nowadays, Korean artistes are even endorsing Japanese departmental stores, cosmetic companies and beverages and their advertisements are plastered across train stations and inside trains, making them almost impossible to miss.
In 2010, K-pop girl groups KARA and Girls’ Generation broke into the Japanese charts with Mister and Genie respectively and these songs were immense popular in Japan.
The songs, which were translated into Japanese, helped both groups to make a name for themselves in the country and the girls have since been actively promoting their work both in Japan and Korea.
The groups huge popularity was taken as a green signal for other rookie K-pop groups to set foot into Japan’s entertainment scene. And as predicted, many of them attempted to charm the hearts of their Japanese fans.
While I had never believed that Hallyu was ‘invading’ Japan or ‘conquering and destroying’ the Japanese entertainment industry before, I was proven wrong.
Recent headlines showed that Girls’ Generation had emerged stronger than most local artistes, having achieved a triple crown on the Japanese Oricon Weekly Charts on Tuesday.
This marked the first time that any female or foreign artiste had reached number one on three weekly charts (singles, DVD and Blu-Ray) in the same week – a feat that was only previously achieved by Japanese rock band Mr. Children.
This also marked the first time that Girls’ Generation, also known as Shoujo Jidai in Japan, had reached number one in the singles and Blu-Ray chart since their debut in September 2010.
They also received the first place on the DVD the chart for two consecutive weeks.
While that may not be enough proof to support the ‘Hallyu Invasion’ theory in Japan, it has proved that Korean artistes are strong enough to overtake Japanese artistes on the popular music charts without having to constantly be in Japan to promote their albums.
It is possible that we may soon be seeing more Korean artistes ranking higher and higher on local charts as well.
The Japanese music industry may be taking hits from the recent K-pop boom in Japan, but it is highly unlikely that we will see the entire J-pop culture dissipating any time soon with groups such as AKB48 and Mr.Children coming out as strong contenders on the music charts after having gathered large fanbases in their native country.
Like all phases – be it Hallyu or boy-band – nothing is certain and it only takes something new to distract and attract fans from one phase to another.
So while the Hallyu phase is still strong in Japan, I will join in the fun and enjoy the frequent visits from my favourite K-pop groups but, if and when it dies down, a flight across to the neighbouring country would not seem like such a bad idea to enjoy the Hallyu wave after all.