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Title A Third Hallyu Boom in Japan
No 73 Inquiry 539 Date 2018.05.20

Korean cosmetic products on a special “Korea” issue of fashion magazine ViVi in August 2017. (Source: ViVi)


The area around the ticket gate of Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo metro station, or Koreatown, is always bustling with people. Okubo-dori Street, dotted with Korean restaurants, is especially packed with foodies queueing at popular eateries. I recently visited Shin-Okubo and saw teenagers in school uniforms waiting in front of a Korean restaurant selling stir-fried chicken topped with cheese. To my surprise, they said the waiting time was over 90 minutes. A Korean cheese hotdog place across the street also had long queues. Young women in Korean-style makeup were busy taking selfies with sweet Korean pancakes. What is going on, I wondered, in this neighborhood which had been rather quiet after the second Hallyu boom passed.


The first Hallyu boom in Japan took place around 2002 when the hit Korean drama Winter Sonata starring Bae Yong-joon was aired. The Hallyu-themed shops that opened at the time enjoyed a second Hallyu boom between 2010 and 2011 as K-pop artists such as TVXQ, BigBang, and 2PM grew popular in Japan. Business was slow in Koreatown when Korea-Japan relations soured over their territorial dispute over the Dokdo Island. But with the advent of the third Hallyu boom, Koreatown has regained its fame. Starting with fashion magazine ViVi’s special issue on Korea in August last year, fashion magazines that cater to teens and people in their 20s began featuring Korean-style makeup and fashion, starting a “K-style” fad. K-pop group Twice was named as the top buzzword in 2017 on a buzzword list by Japanese female middle and high schoolers. In the food segment, cheese dakgalbi, or stir-fried chicken, ranked number one.


Cheese dakgalbi—type “cheese” into a web search in Japan, and “dakgalbi” instantly appears as an autocomplete suggestion. (Source: Park Ha-young)


Fashion magazines such as Classy and Brutus continue to publish Korea specials. Sadai, a fashion editor well-versed in Hallyu, said, “The Hallyu craze first started among middle-aged women smitten by Bae Yong-joon and other K-drama actors. The women’s visits to the sites where the drama series were shot became a social phenomenon, leading to the proliferation of Hallyu. The popularity of K-pop musicians such as TVXQ, BigBang, and 2PM marked the second Hallyu boom. A third Hallyu boom is happening now among teenagers.” “[Hallyu] is now leading young people for the first time ever. If you search “#IwanttobeKorean on Instagram, you will find more than 10,000 posts, and those Instagram users seem to perceive Koreans as fashionable people. One can easily sense that many young Japanese women want to imitate the makeup and fashion of Twice, go out with a cute Korean boyfriend, and take photos at ‘hot’ places. What is more surprising is that learning hangeul has become a fad among Japanese teenagers. They use Korean when texting their friends and write their names in Korean on their pens and other belongings,” Sadai said.


The K-pop stars at the forefront of the third wave of Hallyu are Twice, BTS, and Seventeen. Twice, a group formed through a televised audition program, is widely recognized for their talents in Japan. Three of the nine members of the girl group—Mina, Sana, and Momo—are Japanese, making many K-pop idol wannabes in Japan hopeful. BTS won the US Billboard Social Artist award last year, but they grabbed attention in Japan even earlier. The boy band’s dance performances famous for their meticulous choreography and strong vocal skills make their top celebrity status unshakeable. Seventeen are newly rising Hallyu stars in Japan. The boy band, which produces their own music, creates their own choreography, and selects the songs for their albums, drew attention even before their Japan debut. Most Korean idols begin promoting themselves in Japan through the country’s large record companies. Seventeen, however, had the Yokohama Arena and the Saitama Super Arena fully packed, without any big promotional events.


Koreatown is full of energy these days. Having observed and reported on the local Hallyu trends for the past few years, I can sense a breath of fresh air lately. It looks like we will see Hallyu making history again.


Park Ha-young (Correspondent of KOFICE in Japan)