Mehak Sharma, New Delhi
Music is not restricted to languages or boundaries. Over the past few years, K-Pop has grown remarkably by not only capturing the Asian markets, but has also established its recognition in the West as well. K-Pop has never restricted itself to the Korean language either since many K-Pop groups release multiple versions of their songs in different languages as well, such as in Chinese, Japanese, and English. Looking deeper into this, Japanese releases have by far captured significant spotlight being one of the biggest music markets in the world, accompanied by an interesting Korean-Japanese history.
Majority of the K-Pop groups have come up with the Japanese versions of their songs, or release new Japanese songs and Japanese albums to cater to their Japanese audience and fans as well. It is not a recent trend; rather has been an integral part of K-Pop for a very long time now. Japanese debut used to be a dream come true moment for K-Pop artists, and even today, it has become a standard for K-Pop groups to have Japanese releases in their discography.
A brief history of Korean-Japanese relationship
Let’s take a brief look at the history of Korean-Japanese relationship. Korean peninsula was colonialized by the Japanese from 1910 to 1945 and this was a period when the Korean government put an official ban on Japanese culture, keeping little to no scope for any cultural exchange between the two nations. In 1965, the situation seemed to improve a bit when Japan and South Korea established diplomatic relations under the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, and South Korea was recognized as the only true government of the whole Korean peninsula however, the ban on Japanese culture was maintained.
Moreover, other East and South-east Asian countries like Thailand, Philippines, Singapore etc., faced financial crises, also known as the 1997 Asian Financial Crises where Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia were among the worst-hit countries. This crisis had millions of Koreans losing their jobs and locals going out of business. To recover from this damage, more cultural-focused strategies were implemented by the government. Finally, in 1998 South Korea president, Kim Dae-jung, lifted the 53-years-old ban on Japanese culture, opening the door to the imports of J-Pop in the country. The government removed the ban in many stages between the years 1998 and 2004, and side by side started working on its own music and TV industry which slowly and gradually gained attention of Japanese audience.
The Japan-Korea relations became fierce when in 1996, it was declared that the two countries will host the FIFA World Cup of 2002. After lot of discussions, it was decided that both countries were to co-host the event, and finally coming together as one, both of the nations invested billions to provide the best infrastructure and built several stadiums. For Korea, some thought that it may hamper the relation between the two countries but, many thought it could be a great opportunity to revive itself from the past damage that Korea went through.
The Spread of Hallyu-wave in Japan
The first Korean drama to gain extensive popularity in Japan was Winter Sonata in 2003. The program was aired twice in the same year due to high demand from viewers. SM Entertainment, which is now the part of Big-3 entertainment companies, sent their 2-years trained artist – BoA (has been credited as queen of K-Pop), to an unknown market of Japan. BoA debuted at the age of 13 in Korea and was an immediate success followed by her Japanese debut in 2001 along with some TV commercials.
Surrounded by the hype of FIFA World Cup, her album, Listen to My Heart went straight to #1 on Oricon charts which showed the possibility of expansion of the Hallyu-wave in Japan. It also helped in lifting up the barriers that had restricted the import and export of entertainment between the countries. After BoA’s remarkable success, SM sent their boy group – TVXQ, and were successfully able to attract the Japanese audience. They were the first K-Pop group to perform at Tokyo Dome, which is one of the biggest stadiums in Japan.
After TVXQ, various other K-pop groups, including Super Junior, SHINee, Kara, Big Bang, Girls’ Generation, etc., made their debuts in Japan and magnificently contributed to the rebirth of the Hallyu-Wave in Japan in its very initial years. At present, Japan is the second largest music market after the US in the world and it is significantly bigger than the Korean music market. That means being successful in Japan would really help a group to gain more recognition and boost their income. Japanese people are known for having great taste in music. They accept a variety of music genres which can be easily seen by analyzing the charts. Just like Gaon charts in Korea, Japan has Oricon charts where the songs of different genres are seen on #1 making it easier for a group or solo artist to enter into the J-Pop market.
Artists like BoA and TVXQ have helped in bridging the gap between the two nations by keeping the initial step of Hallyu-wave in Japan. Still holding a major part of their fandom in Japan, they are one of the most respected artists of all the time. Currently, groups like BTS, Twice, Seventeen, and Astro are among the Third generation groups that have shown praiseworthy performances on the Oricon charts. Even though groups like TXT, Enhypen, and Treasure are new Korean acts, yet they have successfully captured the Japanese market. All of these groups are of one of the best-selling Korean acts in the Japanese music market so far.
What is your favorite Japanese track by a Korean group or artist? Tell us about it in the comments below!