“Winter Sonata” (Gyeoul Yeonga, 2002) — starring Bae Yong Jun and Choi Ji Woo — was the groundbreaking Korean drama that catapulted the genre beyond South Korea and into the heartlands of Asia, where it attracted an army of enthusiastic, dedicated and largely female fans that found what they had yearned for for a long time in broadcast entertainment and hungered for more.

“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.

Vivi wrote in Winter Sonata is a deeply moving story that became one of the most popular Korean television series of all time. Bae Yong Joon stars as Joon Sang, the brilliant but introverted son of a famous musician who moves to rural Korea to start a new life with his troubled mother. Painfully withdrawn, Joon Sang gradually makes friends with Sang Hyuk and Yu Jin. Just as Yu Jin and Joon Sang begin to connect, an abrupt twist of fate cuts Joon Sang off from everything he loves, seemingly forever. [Source: Vivi,, October 22, 2015]

Winter Sonata was a driving force in bringing the Hallyu wave abroad, starting with Japan. This series was so popular overseas that it aired twice in one year in Japan due to popular demand. Thirteen years later, Japanese fans still love Bae Yong Jun so much that hundreds of fans flew to Korea this year in hopes of catching a glimpse of him on his wedding day!

See See Separate Article on WINTER SONATA

Winter Sonata Story and Cast

The story starts with Joon-sang as he moves to a new high school in a small town outside of Seoul in search for his biological father. On a trip together with other high school mates, Oh Chelin, Jin-suk and Yong-kuk, Yu-jin is saved after an accident by Jun-sang. They become close and until they became more than friends. However, circumstances and fate dictate that their love is not something that will last forever. Sadly, Jun-sang is supposedly killed is a car accident.

Flash ahead, 10 years later, Ten years later, the old High School buddies gather to celebrate Yu-jin and Sang-hyuk's soon-to-be wedding. Yu-jin, who was deeply in love with Jun-sang, still has a fire in her heart for him. But at the party, Oh Chelin's new boyfriend arrives, who appears the same as Jun-sang. [Source: Mare-sensei,, September 28, 2016]

Yu-jin is an interior designer. Here company has recently signed a contract to work at a ski resort. The company heading the resort remodeling project is managed by Jun-sang’s look a like. Jun-sang supposedly died in a car accident 10 years ago. Yu-jin can't believe her eyes when she attends a business meeting and sees him. She is even more stunned to find out the man now known as Lee Min-hyeong doesn't remember her. Yu-jin, who never really got over her first true love, is confused and torn between the man who looks so much like Jun-sang and her current boyfriend, Sang-hyoek. Wanting to live in the past, Yu-jin often talks with Min-hyeong about her first love and the wonderful times that they had together. Min-hyeong is dating Chae-rin at the time he meets Yu-jin, but decides to separate from her as he finds himself falling in love with Yu-jin.

Bae Yong Jun as Kang Jun-sang/Lee Min-hyung
Choi Ji Woo as Jung Yu-jin
Park Yong Ha as Kim Sang-hyuk
Park Sol Mi as Oh Che-lin
Lee Hye Eun as Kong Jin-suk (Yu-jin's best friend)

Winter Sonata Production and Broadcast

Winter Sonata was s the second part of the popular Endless Love series. When it first aired in Korea — on KBS2, from January 2002 to March 2002 — it was a modest hit but it didn’t really became mega popular until it arrived in Japan, Philippines, and other countries in Southeast Asia.

Winter Sonata was produced by Ho Yunseok, the same man responsible for immensely popular TV drama, 'Gaeul Donghwa' (Autumn in my Heart). This director has begun a seasonal theme of TV dramas. The third in his series is 'Yeoreum Hyanggi' (The Scent of Summer), which aired in the summer of 2003 in Korea. “Winter Sonata” was released first in Hong Kong audience and later released in China and Japan. Broadcast on NHK BS2 television in Japan, it was first shown in from April to September of 2003. Due to popular demand, it was aired again in December 2003. By this demand was growing and it was shown in many countries. [Source: Korea Tourism Organization ]

"Winter Sonata" turned Bae and Choi into household names and director Yoon Seok-ho received the TV production award at the 38th Baeksang Art Awards in 2002 as well the prestigious Person of the Year award in 2004 by UNESCO. The composer Lee Ji-soo-II worked with Yoon, who directed "Autumn in my Heart", "Winter Sonata", "Summer Scent" and "Spring Waltz".


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.

When Bae Yong Jun visited Japan in April 2004 about 5,000 fans went wild as soon as they saw him at Haneda Airport. 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 US$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 and 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."

Filming Locations of Winter Sonata

Namiseom Island is the location where many scenes were shot. A leisurely walk around the island will take approximately 2~3 hours. Many visitors opt for biking part way. Bicycles can be rented at the administrative office located near the center of the island. There is a small farm area on the island with many ostriches, which are free to roam the island on days when there aren't many visitors. It's fun to race the ostriches while riding bicycles. Summer tourists can enjoy boating around the island, but fall is certainly the loveliest time of year here.

Winter Sonata Café is the cafe where 'Winter Sonata' was first announced. There are clips from the show, souvenirs, and pictures of the cast. The famous Polaris necklace, that Min-hyeong (Jun-sang) gave Yu-jin, is for sale: Polaris necklace: silver 18,000 won / gold 150,000 won; Winter sonata scarf: 25,000 won; two: 40,000 won. Former style lunch box: These lunch boxes can often be seen during the scenes shot at the high school. At the cafe you can enjoy the lunch box experience. Rice, kimchi, and an assortment of other foods are all packed into one of these tin boxes. The boxes are set on top of a furnace to stay hot, so be sure to use oven mitts when picking up the tin. One Lunch box: 4,000 won The authentic way to eat a Korean lunch box.

Jungdo Island is where Jun-sang and Yu-jin rode their bicycles. This sign has been placed here for fans to find the location with ease. Gongjicheon (road with the white fence) is the spot where Jun-sang and Yu-jin get off the bus together after they realize that they have missed their stop. They return to the same location 10 years later in a retrospective journey.

Chuncheon Station is the station that the high school classmates gathered at after finishing a group trip. This is the view when exiting the train. There is a tourist information office in front of the station. Famous shopping street in Chuncheon. Yu-jin and Jun-sang promise to meet here on New Year's Eve. Yu-jin waits outside in the cold not realizing that Jun-sang was in a car accident. The two return to the scene 10 years later.

Yongpyong Resort: Yu-jing's company, Polaris, and Min-hyeong's company sign a contract to work on the same design project at the Dragon Valley Ski Resort. The two main characters spent much time here working and falling in love again.

Choongang High School was established in Seoul in 1910. This school is the set for the scenes during the cast's high school days. In actuality this school is an all boys' school. The show was filmed here during the school's winter break.

Daehangno: 10 years after the supposed death of Jun-sang, Yu-jin is on the way to her engagement party when she sees a man who looks just like her first love, Jun-sang. She tries her best to follow him around the streets, not realizing that so much time had passed, she end up missing her own engagement party.

Seoul Plaza Hotel: Min-hyeong (Jun-sang) checks into this hotel for an extended period of time. It is just outside this hotel where Min-hyeong is in his second car accident which brings back all of his memories.

Oedo Island: The two lovers are reunited for the final time at the house that Min-hyeong built for Yu-jin. The house is on the picturesque island of Oedo.

Winter Sonata Triggers "Korean Wave" in Japan

Sakagami Yasuko wrote in “A Korean Wave is sweeping Japan like never before. The "wave" is part of a rising interest in the music, drama and other modern cultural aspects of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), which have intrigued people in different parts of Asia since the late 1990s. In the case of Japan, the boom was triggered” by Winter Sonata.The acting is captivating, and the story revolves around something ignored by most Japanese movies today—sweet, innocent love. Many Japanese were won over, especially those middle-aged and older. The public broadcaster, NHK, began satellite TV broadcasts in April 2003, then launched re-runs via its more widely viewed terrestrial broadcasting system a year later. The series was an instant hit, and by the last episode TV audience ratings stood at 20.6 percent in Greater Tokyo and 23.8 percent in Greater Osaka. These are exceptionally high ratings for a program broadcast after 11 p.m. [Source: Sakagami Yasuko,, December 15, 2004]

“The tourist industry got into the action, organizing tours to locations where parts of the series were shot. The city of Chunchon in the northern part of the country, where the drama was set, saw a dramatic increase in Japanese tourists, from 40,000 to 140,000 per year. DVD versions of the series and the theme song CD jumped up the charts, and continue to enjoy brisk sales. The boom has spread beyond the fantasy world of TV drama to include real-life love stories. Rakuen Korea Inc. helps Japanese women and South Korean men get acquainted, with a view to marriage down the road. When the company advertised for members in October 2003 it attracted only 80 women in the beginning, but that changed after Winter Sonata star Bae Yong Jun visited Japan in April 2004—more than 1,700 women had registered by August. Each year in April, NHK launches a new TV broadcast series for Japanese students of Korean. The textbook for the series issued in April 2003 sold 90,000 copies. A year later, sales per issue were up to 200,000.

“Choi Heup, a correspondent at the Japan office of The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's largest daily newspaper, says this about Japan's Korean Wave: "Over the centuries, relations between the two countries were not very good, but that all changed around the time Japan and the Republic of Korea co-hosted the World Cup soccer tournament in 2002. And then, just when the Japanese were developing a more positive view of my country, along came Winter Sonata, pushing the wave higher."Actually, Winter Sonata was not as big a hit in South Korea. That's another reason why the current Korean Wave in Japan is big news in my country. The wave has certainly improved relations between our two nations, and a great many South Koreans are happy about that." The year 2005 is designated as Japan-Korea Friendship Year, to mark the 40th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea. Sporting and cultural activities will bring the two neighbors even closer together.

Economic Impact of Winter-Sonata-mania in Japan

In December 2004, the Japanese think tank Dai-ichi Research Institute estimated that the economic effect of “Winter Sonata” up to that time was over US$2 billion. The effect covers Japanese tourists visiting South Korea and the sales of products associated with the show and the actor Bae Yong Joon.

The number of Japanese tourist visting South Korea jumped 38 percent to almost 2 million from January to October, 2004, compared with same period in 2003, thanks mostly to Winter Sonata tourism. Korean Air began operating flights between Osaka and Yangyang in the eastern South Korean Province of Gangwon to cater to Japanese Winter Sonata tourists. Yangang, 215 kilometers east of Seoul, is a one hour drive from the location where Winter Sonata is mostly filmed. [Source: AFP, January 2005]

In August 2004, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported: “An extraordinary letter arrived at the Japanese Embassy in Korea in early June. A middle-aged Japanese woman, named Junko, sent this letter in a desperate hope to let the makers of the popular Korean TV drama "Winter Sonata," know how much the hit production had touched her life. [Source: Chosun Ilbo, August 24, 2004]

“The popularity of "Fuyusona," which is the nickname the Japanese have given the show, has spilled into other mediums. NHK's publishing arm has already sold 860,000 copies of the novel that is based on the screenplay as well as 280,000 program guidebooks and 150,000 DVDs and videos. "Japanese women infatuated with the Korean TV melodrama 'Winter Sonata' have caused the number of Japanese group tourists to South Korea to soar by nearly 50 percent since last October. The tourists visit locations in Seoul and the mountainous eastern province of Gangwon where scenes of the drama were shot."

“These organized groups are called "Fuyusona" tourists and their numbers are expected to reach as many as 200,000 by the end of this year. "When I first watched the drama, I only had a mere interest because it was something new and different from Japanese dramas. But now it has moved me so much that I came to Korea with my daughter to have a firsthand experience of Korean culture," one Japanese tourist said.

Winter Sonata and Nami Island Tour

The Winter Sonata and Nami Island Tour offered through Expedia by Seoul City lasts for nine hours and cost US$103. According to Expedia: “Enter the world of Winter Sonata on this full-day tour to Nami Island. At the scenic area where Winter Sonata was filmed, get a glimpse of roaming deer, ostriches, and lanes lined with soaring pine trees and then savor a delicious Korean lunch. [Source: Expedia]

“Leave Seoul behind and make your way to the famous Nami Island. Stroll past the same towering pine trees that form a beautiful boulevard where Junsang and Yoojin were in Winter Sonata. Here, enjoy the romantic atmosphere and a chance to see ostriches, rabbits, and deer that roam free. Then, replenish your energy with a delicious Korean lunch. Choose from 2 routes.

“Route A: At Nami Island, see the popular Chuncheon Myungdong Street and Chuncheon High School where Yoojin and Junsang went to school together. Visit Junsang's house, where Winter Sonata was filmed, which looks almost exactly as it was on the day of the shoot. Then roam through Gongjicheon Sculpture Park to admire the many decorative works of art. Stop by a duty-free shop before you return to Seoul.

Route B: After a stop at Nami Island, continue to Petite France—themed after The Little Prince book's flowers, stars, and young prince—and explore a decades-old residence with a gallery of works by Saint Exupery, the celebrated author of The Little Prince. Marvel at the beauty of antique music boxes at Orgel House, visit a souvenir shop that sells herbal and aromatic products and a duty-free shop, and then rest on the ride back to Seoul.”

In February 2004, complaining about being exhausted by the legion of fans, a 62-year-old owner of a house used in the filming of “Winter Sonata” notified Chuncheon city to close the house to the public. The owner was paid about US$1,000 a month to let the residence, in the same compound as the home of the complainant, to open the house to the public. In late 2003 and early 2004 about 500 people, mostly middle-age Japanese women, visited the residence. As of February 2004, 100,000 people, 90 percent o the Japanese had visited it. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]

Winter Sonata Musical

In 2006, Satoshi Tabata wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The popular South Korean TV drama Fuyu no Sonata (Winter Sonata) is now being performed as a stage musical in Sapporo with actors, actresses and backstage staff all from South Korea. The show is due to be performed again during this year's Sapporo Snow Festival in February, and then every year until 2010 as part of the popular annual event showcasing snow and ice sculptures. The performance is in Korean with Japanese subtitles. [Source: Satoshi Tabata, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 12, 2006]

Im “Tae Kyung, a well-known South Korean opera singer, and Go Young Bin, who performed at Shiki Theater Company in Japan for two years, will alternate playing the lead role that Bae — known as Yonsama to his legions of Japanese fans — made famous in the televised version. Im, who had been to Hokkaido for skiing in the past, said it immediately made sense to him when he heard the musical was to be staged in Sapporo. I think the town's snowy image sits well with Winter Sonata, he said. Speaking of the great popularity of the television series in Japan, Im said he wanted to use the pressure of stepping into such a famous role to produce his best-ever performance. I want to put on the perfect musical, unhindered by the popularity of the original, Go concurred.

“The musical was created at the suggestion of Yun Seok Ho, who directed the television drama. Yun told the Sapporo Junior Chamber Inc. about his pet idea of making the drama into a musical after he was asked by the chamber to make a film with Sapporo as the backdrop. The chamber made the request as part of a drive to attract film and stage productions to Sapporo.”

The "Winter Sonata" musical opened in Korea in December 2016. Hancinema reported: The musical's producer White Company said the musical adaptation of the 2002 hit series "Winter Sonata" will run at Busan's Citizen's Hall in December 2016 and then at the Chungmu Art Hall in Seoul in February and March 2017. The "Winter Sonata" musical first made its premiere in several cities in Japan including Sapporo, Tokyo and Osaka in 2006, receiving favorable reviews as a well-made production. [Source: Hancinema, June 6, 2016]

The Korean production of "Winter Sonata" was helmed by Lim Do-wan, director of "Woyzeck" at the Edinburgh Fringe in London. The composer Lee Ji-soo-II worked with Yoon, who directed "Autumn in my Heart", "Winter Sonata", "Summer Scent" and "Spring Waltz".

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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