Japan from the inside out

The Korean hue in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 2, 2012

ONE of the guilty pleasures this website provides is the chance to contribute to the disappointment of those people overseas, particularly in the West, who think it is a matter of received wisdom that the Japanese hate Koreans. It would be more pleasurable to think it contributes to their enlightenment, but that would assume they’re interested in being enlightened.

Page 38 of the 1 January edition of the Nishinippon Shimbun (which runs to 40 pages, with page 40 being an advertisement) has an article about the popularity in the Kyushu region of a Busan vocal duo known as Hue. The article reports that the duo, Kim Ji-hyeon (she) and Ryu (or Yu) Mu-yong (he), will make a concerted effort to extend their popularity throughout Japan this year. They’ll start with their first solo concert in the country in Fukuoka City on 6 March.

Once members of the Busan Municipal Chorus, they formed their duo in 2005 to perform what they call popera. Their repertoire seems to consist of pop music that requires sophisticated vocal technique, as well as some opera selections.

Hue’s first Japanese appearance was in Fukuoka City at a Fukuoka City – Busan Friendship Commemorative Concert in 2009. They’ve since performed here more than 10 times, mostly in Fukuoka City. That’s easily arranged, because the city is accessible from Busan by a three-hour jetfoil ship service, or dozens of daily flights that take less than an hour.

They were encouraged to step up their activities in Japan after Yoshida Fumi (56) formed a fan club for them in Fukuoka City. Ms. Yoshida cried when she heard them perform the Japanese song Sen no Kaze ni Natte with Korean lyrics. That’s a translation of the line “I am a thousand winds that blow” from the English-language poem Do not Stand at my Grave and Weep. The song, a tear-jerker suited to a semi-operatic performance, was originally released by the Japanese composer on only 30 privately-produced CDs. It became a national phenomenon in slow motion, however, and eventually inspired a special television drama with that name.

Ms. Yoshida’s fan club, which consists mostly of junior high and high school girls, turned out for Hue’s three Fukuoka City concerts last year, as well as a performance in Busan. Hue returned the favor with an expression of thanks to the club on their newest disc, which was released last fall. They also printed all the lyrics in Japanese and recorded the song Prologue, the lyrics of which are by Ms. Yoshida’s favorite poet, Yun Dong-ju.

Poet Yun studied English literature at two Japanese universities in 1942, but was arrested as a thought criminal by Japanese police and sentenced to two years in jail in 1943. He died in prison in 1945 in — get ready for it — Fukuoka. There’s plenty of information available about him on the Japanese-language part of the Web.

The newspaper report notes that the duo is almost unknown in South Korea.

Now roll all of the above information around in your head one more time and marvel at how amazing life its own self can be.

Here’s a YouTube clip of an appearance they made on Kumamoto television promoting a concert in that city in December 2009. The interview before and after the song consists of the pleasantries you might expect; Ms. Kim (who now has red hair) says she looks forward to seeing the local tourist attractions, such as Kumamoto Castle and Aso. It’s easy to understand why they’re popular. They’re quite talented, though the style of music won’t be to everyone’s taste. But that isn’t the point, is it?

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: They sing in English.

When they’re not singing in Italian, that is:


Speaking of those in the West who either can’t be bothered or are too thick to get it, BBC introduces a Roland Buerk report this way:

South Korea’s K-pop music has overtaken Japanese music as the industry’s most popular genre in the country.

Relations between the two countries have been difficult after Japan’s colonisation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century.

But with the growing popularity of Korean culture, will attitudes to people of Korean origin, who make up a large ethnic minority in Japan, soften?

Let’s see…in the first paragraph, someone writes that South Korean pop music is more popular in Japan than Japanese pop music, but in the third paragraph asks if Japanese attitudes towards the Koreans living in Japan will change. Spit out that gum before you try walking, son.

Buerk even mentions the growing popularity of Korean restaurants in Japan, but still can’t see beyond the end of his nosenetwork’s pre-packaged narrative.

Further, he fails to provide actual statistics for his claim about K-pop dominance. Taking a mass media report on faith has been a suckers’ proposition for decades. Korean music could very well be the Top of the Pops in Japan, but he has to show us the numbers to be credible.

Finally, he still can’t competently pronounce Japanese place names, despite having lived in the country three years this month. Any native English speaker can learn proper Japanese pronunciation in a matter of minutes. Buerk’s failure to do so demonstrates his level of commitment to his assignment.

If you’re interested in seeing the clip, please hit the search engine of your choice. Links around here are reserved for serious journalism.

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3 Responses to “The Korean hue in Japan”

  1. toadold said

    I’d say something about the BBC’s mono viewpoint on everything but most main stream media these days is that way. The term I think of most often is Parachute Journalism and the old Saigon Commandos who never got out the bars but reported with great authority about what was going on. East Asian news sources, at least the ones in English translation seem to show a more varied viewpoint on things. I’ve come to the conclusion that the more I read the less I know. I sometimes think that media writers don’t read which explains a lot.
    T: Drive-bys works too (g). I’ve compared articles on Japanese domestic politics between the BBC and China outlets before, and the Chinese were better. Your last sentence is the key, I think.
    – A.

  2. yankdownunder said

    after Japan’s colonisation of Korea

    Western media usually use the phrase
    after Japan’s brutal …
    and talk about “comfort women”.

    There is no reason to make such comments
    except for the writers racism or hatred of Japan.

    “But with the growing popularity of Korean culture”

    A few Kpop singers are popular and Korean culture is overtaking Japan? Ok.

    I watched it. He talks to an imprisoned Korean
    woman in Tokyo and tells how she was forced to
    use a Japanese name. Maybe the US/UN should
    send forces to liberate these oppressed people
    and let them return to their homeland.

  3. Get A Job, Son! said

    Love your Beurk commentary, and in particular the ‘level of commitment to the assignment’. Perhaps he and McCurry are regualrs at the FCCJ bar.

    Another news item this season is the whaling in the southern oceans.
    Seen this?

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