Kpop in Between Tensions of Two Nations

I wanted to end this year’s blog with what sparked my interest in Korean history and culture in the first place, K-pop. South Korean pop music one of South Korea’s most significant export and currently breaking into the worldwide market and a surprisingly fast rate. I wanted to combine my love of K-pop with my love of Korean history; I wanted to explore a question that has been on my mind for quite a while. Why do Korean K-pop idols promote in Japan, learning, producing and singing in Japanese, performing long tours stationed in Japan? While there are many reasons idols, perform and promote in Japan, diplomatic reasons to strengthen Korean and Japan ties, promote a friendly relationship between the two countries but the wounds from Japan are pretty recent, the scars are still fresh, and the period of Japanese occupation still remembered in the minds of many. There is also censorship that occurs in Korea within certain broadcast companies that censor songs that have Japanese lyrics/words. SHINee member Jonghyun whose album, titled ‘Artist‘ which was released posthumously one of the songs on the album ‘Rewind‘ has been deemed inappropriate to put on broadcast because the lyrics contain the Japanese language. This is not the first time this has happened. As an outside looking inward with limited knowledge of the history, I still wonder, if the past is forgotten or are they trying to move forward?

During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945) The Japanese forced their own culture onto the Korean peninsula, forcing Koreans to take Japanese names, worship at Japanese styled temples and learning Japanese. (Tudor) These while all a part of the colonial process to strip the colonized of their identity and culture to make them conform to their colonizers. Being forced to learn and speak Japanese, having their Korean name taken away and given a Japanese one instead is nothing short of traumatizing and stripping them of identity that is dearly needed in times of colonization. This dark time in both Korean and Japanese history had led to many years of tension between the two counties, due to dispute on the events that took place during the occupation. “Ties deteriorated again…. when South Korea undermined an agreement of 2015 that was supposed “finally and irreversibly” to have settled the thorniest dispute of all, over the “comfort women”(The Economist).  This does not seem to phase the Korean youth as “the young do not care as much about colonialism.” It is shown that young South Korean and Japanese view each other more favorable than the older generation and even the two countries’ politicians. (The Economist)

Image result for big bang performing
Kpop BoyBand Big Bang

“K-pop entered Japan with the breakthrough of Korean singer Boa with her debut album “Listen to My Heart” which topped the Oricon Chart in 2002.”(Kozhakhmetova 37) This was the first time a Korean singer had topped the charts, and many companies later tried to follow and emulate the success in the Japanese market, “In BoA’s wake, Korean boy bands TVXQ and Big Bang achieved similar success.”(Mitchel) Now “According to Korean experts, Japan is the biggest overseas market for K-pop, and now it is expanding to Europe and America as well.“ (Kozhakhmetova 37) However, the Japanese nation seems to be hostile and disapproves the “Korean wave” as “ In August 2010 there was a six thousand people demonstration against Fuji TV because they were “airing too many Korean dramas.”(Kozhakhmetova 38) Korean artist now learns Japanese to cater to their Japanese audience; they create albums specifically in Japanese to easily breaking into the charts. Many idols groups stay for months at a time touring and performing in Japan instead of their home nation, while that may be due to their lack of popularity in Korea. It strikes me as strange and almost parallel to when Koreans were forced to learn Japanese under the rule of the Japanese. While there is not much force in the choice to learn and promote in Japanese, it is also surprising how little choice there is for many Korean idols when it comes to many aspects of their lives which the companies they are under strict control. There is a dark side to “Korean entertainment industry such as suicide, bribes and sex service.” (Kozhakhmetova 37)

Image result for kpop performing
Kpop Girl Group Twice

While the two countries are tense and in dispute of facts and the Japanese population, for the most part, seems to reject the “Korean wave” while still consuming a lot of Korean entertainment. It makes one wonder why exactly do Idols promote in Japan given the history and the current hostility been the two countries. It could be to facilitate a friendly relationship despite the past but in reality, “the simple answer as to why K-pop groups go to Japan – there’s money to be made there!” (SBS)

Sources Used:
“Despite Diplomatic Rows, Japan and South Korea Are Growing Closer.” The Economist, 18 Jan. 2018,

Kozhakhmetova, Dinara. “Soft Power of Korean Popular Culture in Japan: K-Pop Avid Fandom in Tokyo.” Lund University Publications,

Patrick St. Michel. “How Korean Pop Conquered Japan.” The Atlantic, 13 Sept. 2011,

“SHINee JongHyun’s Song ‘Rewind’ Faces Broadcast Censorship Ban.” Kpopmap, 25 Jan. 2018,

Tudor, Daniel. Korea: The Impossible Country. Boston: Tuttle Pub, 2012.

“Why K-Pop Groups Go to Japan.” SBS PopAsia, 28 Mar. 2017,

Images Used:

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