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“Ally McBeal” , known as “Ally My Love” , is popular in Japan, especially among young women in the early 2000s. “Beverly Hills 90210" is popular with young adults in the late 2000s, some of who spend thousands of dollars for "Beverly Hills 90210" tours that include short visits with some of the show's stars. “24 Hours” had a big following in the mid 2000s.

Among the other shows that have done well in Japan are “ER, Star Trek, Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman, Little House on the Prairie, West Wing, Sex and the City, JAG, Third Watch, CSI, The Sopranos, Roswell, Friends” , and “X-Files” . “Knightrider” was popular in the late 1980s. “Bewitched” is one of the most enduring favorites. Many Japanese think that the name of Samantha’s husband in Darling. In one episode of “Friends” Joey does a commercial for a Japanese company for lipstick.

The most popular show about Japan overseas was “Shogun” , a 1980 miniseries based on the James Clavell novel starring Richard Chamberlain and the Japanese film star Toshiro Mifune. The series featured long sequences shot entirely in Japan and was not shy about depicting the racism that no doubt existed at that time the story took place.

“Shogun” was more than nine hours long and was shown in Japan in ridiculously cut down movie version. Based on the real-life story of Will Adams, it is the story of an English sailor who is shipwrecked in Japan in the 17th century and falls for the wife of a powerful samurai and then becomes a pawn the quest of Lord Toranaga, played by the great Toshihiro Mifune, to become shogun. The show sparked a strong interest in Japan in the United States.

Japanese television programs cost ¥2 trillion annually to produce but bring in only bring in ¥10 billion from exports. They are not widely shown abroad; they are not sought after in Europe and the United States and are not marketed with much enthusiasm in Asia because the prices are too low.

The cable channel Spike-TV airs Japanese comedy programs such as “Takeshi’s Castle” and” Hey: Spring if Trivia” .

South Korean Dramas in Japan

South Korean dramas have become very popular in recent years. One called a “Winter Sonata” was so popular that it spawned fanzines, websites and tours to places in South Korea where scenes from the drama were shot. It drew huge rating and an unprecedented number of calls, e-mails and letters. DVDs and almost any kind of merchandise associated with the show sold well.

Other popular South Korean dramas included “All In” and “Beautiful Days” . These and “Winter Sonata” revolved around a virtuous but misunderstood young women and and the men in their lives. The dramas were also big hits in Taiwan, Thailand and other countries in Asia. These days, increasingly, Japanese and South Koreans are collaborating on producing television dramas.

The Korean period costume drama “Kyutei Jokan Changumu no Chikai” — about a woman doctor named Chan Gum who rose to a position of considerable influence in the 17th century Korean royal court — was also very popular. It starred South Korea actress Lee Young Ae in the title role and was surprisingly popular with Japanese men. The show was very popular in South Korea where it earned rating in excess of 57 percent and triggered a boom in the cooking of court cuisine,

Large numbers of Japanese watch South Korean dramas on satellite station that specialize in them. The sales of niche magazines that are oriented towards South Korean drama watchers sell well. The popularity of the satellite station is so high that Japanese television stations are losing viewers to them in significant numbers.

In April 2010, a South Korean drama was aired for the first time in prime time on a major Japanese network. The drama — a spy series called “IRIS” with Lee Byung Hun — was aired by TBS on Wednesday night at 9:00pm.

Winter Sonata

“Winter Sonata” is the story of a young woman architect, played by the actress Choi Ji Woo, who can not forget her first love, who dies when they are in high school. After she becomes engaged her life changes when she meets a man who looks just like here lost boyfriend. The way the series mixed a love story, strange plot twist and beautiful locations proved to be very appealing with Japanese audiences.

“Winter Sonata” and other Korean dramas inspired Japanese to take Korean conversation classes and children to learn some basic Korean phrases in school. The Korean craze caught everyone by surprise. In the past Koreans had mostly been looked down and discriminated against in Japan.

Korean dramas gave birth to a specialized tour industry. In 2004, after “Winter Sonata” became popular, tourism by Japanese to South Korea surged 40 percent with about 300,000 Japanese going on “Winter Sonata” tours in South Korea that year. The success of the dramas was partly attributed their emphasis on old-style, wholesome Asian values. One 75-year-old fan told the Daily Yomiuri, “I’m struck by a sense of nostalgia when watching South Korean dramas because I can see the “gold old Japan” in them.”

A stage musical version of “Winter Sonata” is very popular. Many changes were made in the complex love story to shorten it for a 2½ hour stage version.


Bae Yong Joon, the main actor in a “Winter’s Sonata” , became a big star in Japan, where he is known as “Yon-sama.” The suffix “sama” added to his name is usually reserved for Japanese royalty.

Thousands of Japanese women, many of them over 40, came out to see Yon-sma when he visited Japan in November 2004. Ten women aged 43 to 65 were injured when they rushed his car. Three were carried away by ambulance. One 51-year-old woman from Oita had her foot run over by a car.

There are special in Yon-sama tours to South Korea that include a stops at his favorite barbecue meat restaurant. Some fans have gone to Yon-sama’s alma mater to study Korean.

Yon-sama became the biggest celebrity in Japan, bigger than Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise. His appeal to women in their 30s caught the attention of marketing and advertising executives. Yon-sama popped up in television commercials plugging everything from chocolate-covered almonds to eyeglasses. Some placed his value at $2.3 billion — the amount of money and trade between Japan and South Korea generated by his presence.

For the most part South Koreans scratched their head over Yon-sama’s popularity in Japan. In South Korea, he had appeared in a number of dramas and was regarded by many there as past his prime.

Yon-Sama, Korean and Japanese Men

In Japan Yon-sama seemed to have tapped into a strong sentiment for romance that many women seemed to feel had been lost in Japan. One Yon-sama fan told the Daily Yomiuri, “I love him because he looks like a real gentleman with intelligence and you can’t find actors like him in Japan.

Yon-sama’s middle aged fans said he possessed qualities that Japanese men lacked — purity, passion, sensitivity and calm. Kim Eun Shil, a South Korea women’s studies scholar told the International Herald Tribune that in past Korea conjured up image of “dark, noisy, smelly” in Japan but Yon-sama has made it associated with “beautiful things.” His fans she said “are creating a fantasy because they are disappointed in reality.”

A number of websites were opened that were set up for Japanese women looking for Korean men, and they received lots of hits. An e-mail on one site read: “I’m a 17-year-old girl who loves Korea so much. I want to be an international couple in the future, I have an impression that Korean men are very much sincere.” Some Japanese women became disillusioned after meeting some real Korean men. One woman who attended a mixer with 13 Japanese women and 14 Korean men in Seoul set up by the Rakuen Korea matchmaking service emerged, saying “Not everybody is Yon-sama.”

In response to the Yon-sama craze and its implied criticism of Japanese men, director Beat Takashi wrote in the Japanese magazine “Sapio” : Korean men “are supposed to be pure and more sincere than Japanese men. But that’s only in dramas, and naturally, Koreans are the same as Japanese men. They lie, they have affairs, and are sometimes violent.”

Why Korean Dramas Are More Popular in Asia Than Japan Dramas

Korean dramas are more popular in asia than Japanese dramas. On why this is so, Melissa Kok wrote in The Straits Times, Another sign that Japanese pop culture has loosened its hold on the region: Boys Over Flowers is a popular Japanese manga series that started in 1992 which got overshadowed in East Asia, first by the Taiwanese TV adaptation of it in 2001 (Meteor Garden), and in 2009 by the Korean TV series also called Boys Over Flowers. Sandwiched between these two versions was the Japanese TV series which never achieved the same level of interest in Singapore. [Source: Melissa Kok, Asia News Network (The Straits Times), April 26 2012]

Industry veterans say there is another reason why the Korean Wave eclipsed the Japanese mania in the early to mid-2000s: the high cost of bringing Japanese content into Singapore. When Man Shu Sum was the executive director of the Taiwan office of Television Corporation of Singapore (now MediaCorp), he brought in Korean dramas for local television in the late 1990s because they were a cheaper alternative to titles from Japan.According to him, Korean drama serials back then cost around US$800 an episode compared to up to $15,000 an episode for a Japanese drama. "We decided to acquire Korean drama, which looked very primitive in production value but the faces were refreshing and the story lines were quite engaging," he says.

“It worked. Singaporeans became hooked on K-drama. Popular shows would easily attract a viewership of more than 200,000, notes Man, who is now managing director of Raintree Pictures. Some of the memorable Korean dramas that emerged from that time include the love story Winter Sonata (2002), which starred Korean television heart-throb Bae, and the weepie TV series Autumn In My Heart (2001). Currently, at least 24 Korean dramas are airing weekly in Singapore on several cable TV channels such as VV Drama, KBS World, ONE, E City and tvN.

“Liew says of the appeal of Korean dramas to Singaporeans: "With the melodramatic family-friendly scripts in both historical and contemporary soap operas, K-dramas seem to be more universally appealing to local audiences. J-dramas, on the other hand, are more realistic of the portrayal of small family households, and in recent years, seemed to place less emphasis on historical dramas that regional audiences enjoy watching.”

“Marketing communications staff Leow Si Wan, 30, says: "Japanese dramas are too subtle in the way emotions are expressed and the plot development can be slow. K-drama is more dramatic and allows you to immerse yourself in a make-believe world. "Also, for the series Boys Over Flowers, the Korean version of the four guys is also definitely better looking than the cast in the Japanese version.”

“Assistant professor Liew Kai Khiun of Nanyang Technological University, whose research areas include television dramas and popular music in Southeast Asia, partly attributes the Hallyu revolution to the Korean government's push to promote all things Korean abroad.He says: "Unlike their Japanese counterparts, the Korean government and the media industry invest significantly in promoting the K-wave in the world as part of the efforts in strengthening the republic's soft power.”

“In Singapore, the Korean government has previously organized and co-funded Korean pop concerts, and has supported the Korean Film Festival, which has been held here annually for the last five years. In 2006, a website was even set up by the Korea Tourism Organization which combined cast details of popular Korean dramas with information about filming locations to attract visitors.

Image Sources: You Tube, Japan Zone, Japan Sugoi, xorsyst blog, bionic bong, Bright Lights

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2012

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