AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

In their heads

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
-Oscar Wilde

THE terminally serious sitting at their cubicle desks of respectable discussion are missing the point with the intellectual skirt chasing of gravitas and erudition. They’d find it more productive to apply some good old-fashioned Buddhist detachment to the goofiness, mythomania, and triple-digit loon factor of the global gutter press and dumpster-dive right into the middle without holding their noses. The immediate benefit would be a wealth of entertainment superior to most vaudeville of either the 20th or 21st centuries. The payoff would be information more useful and an education more practical than that to be found in their learned periodicals of choice better suited to their class prejudices.

If you think I’m red-lining it on the loon meter myself, follow this trail and watch where it leads.

Let’s start with Tokyo Sports, a daily tabloid of the type that prints all the news that isn’t fit to print, extensive coverage of sports news with huge headlines, and speculation on the physical characteristics of the sexual organs of female celebrities.

Here’s an excerpt from their 23 August edition.

“It would be a good idea to ban the Korean Wave, or even K-Pop. That would include Girls’ Generation and Kara. Korean consumer electronics and other products make their way into Japan, but I think there will definitely be a boycott. (Person connected with the Liberal Democratic Party).”

That’s Square One: A solitary unidentified guy in an unidentified party position biting into the red meat of the sort that people chew whenever there’s an uproar between two nations. The Korean Wave is no more likely to banned in Japan than French fries were to be renamed Freedom Fries in the US a decade ago during the runup to Iraq War II.

Now for Square Two: Someone from enews, “The Voice of Korean Entertainment”, read the article and gave it to Erika Kim to translate and Lee Kyung-nam to put into publishable form. Here’s their treatment.

“One official from the leading opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, has even told the Japanese press that Japan should ban any Korean wave related content and K-Pop… According to a Japanese newspaper, Tokyo Sports, the official said, “We need to ban the Korean wave, K-Pop, everything. Girls’ Generation (SNSD) and Kara are also out of the question. Korean electronics make their way into Japan, but a boycott will definitely arise soon.”

See how quickly they upgraded to “an official” telling “the Japanese press” that they “need to ban” the Korean wave, K-Pop, “everything”?

Square Three followed shortly thereafter. MTV Iggy picked up the enews story and ran this headline:

Japan Wants to Ban Korean Media Over Dokdo Islands

We’ve gone from an unidentified someone to the entire country in a virtual blink of the eye. Using the enews story as a basis, Janine Bower reported:

“Right now, Japanese officials are working to place a ban on all forms of Korean media.”

Bower wanted to give the site’s readers some background, but research and reading comprehension do not seem to be her strong points:

“It all comes down to a fierce territory dispute between what are called the Dokdo Islands to the Koreans, and the Takeshima Islands to the Japanese. Japan believes that the islands belong to them because the US government abolished Korea’s ownership of them during World War II.”

Janine must have been playing with her i-Pad during class. In addition to the rules for preposition use, she doesn’t know that Korea never had “ownership” of the islets until they seized them in 1954, so the US government couldn’t abolish anything. After World War II, the Americans upheld the Japanese ownership of the islands that dated from 1905 and rejected the Korean claim through the peace treaty.

And now we fly off the board entirely and into the world of the vernacular South Korean news media, which always has one foot in the gutter and every columnist is Drama Queen for a Day in drag. Lee Jeh-yeong got a whiff of the story and wrote a column for the Korean site Ajunews. Lee is being the pundit, so here’s how he starts:

“I visited Japan in 1990. One evening, I asked a young man in the subway for directions. He was true to the famous Japanese reputation for kindness by giving me very detailed instructions. But he kept repeating the same words in clumsy English two or three times. I thought this was strange, and wondered if he was being too kind. Just then I realized what was really happening. This young Japanese man, who had alcohol on his breath, somehow wanted to show off to his Japanese friends that he was good at English.”

That’s one possibility. Another is that alcohol had loosened the man’s tongue at the expense of briskness. We’ve all seen it happen. Yet another is that Lee’s English isn’t very good, and the Japanese man wasn’t sure that he understood. A fourth is that the Japanese man lacked confidence in his own English and was trying hard to convey the information to Lee. Finally, maybe he was just being kind. Everyone else in the world who visits Japan thinks their kindness to befuddled strangers is delightful. Lee complains about it and looks for ulterior motives.

Then again, the idea of being kind to foreigners struggling with the language might be a foreign concept for Lee. I was once lashed with a torrent of verbal abuse from a young female clerk in a Busan supermarket because my very rudimentary Korean wasn’t good enough to understand her instructions on where they stocked the instant kalguksu I wanted to buy and take back home. I have no idea what she said, but she was behaving as if I had tried to slip my hand up her dress. It was all I could do to keep from laughing in her face. Finding similar stories on the Web is easy to do.

After ranting for a few paragraphs, Lee concludes:

“The Japanese themselves will probably never admit it, but they have now developed an inferiority complex towards the Republic of Korea (大韓民国). They’ve added a “Korean complex” to their “White complex”, and Japan’s far right has been overcome by a profound dread. They’re anti-Korean and anti-Korean wave. If they take one more step, they’ll be shouting for all the foreigners to get out of Japan.”

See what you would have missed if you hadn’t gone dumpster diving?

The key passage came in the middle, however:

“Mass culture is like the water of a river. It isn’t possible to stop the flow of the river through artificial means. In the past, we indiscriminately banned Japanese culture, but at the time, many Koreans thought Japan = First Class and were infatuated with Japanese culture. During the colonial occupation, and then until the 1990s, our inferiority complex towards Japan drove a hostile reaction toward Japan, the Japanese, and Japanese culture. Now, however, our national brand is ranked #7 and the Japanese national brand is ranked #27. They fear Korea and are rushing headlong into anti-Korean sentiment and banning the Korean wave.”

I’ve always thought mass culture more closely resembled chewing gum than the waters of a mighty river, but we can let that pass. After all, many people outside of South Korea enjoy their version of disposable television programming and music. More important is the selective amnesia that Lee shares with his readers.

Japanese pop culture was prohibited entirely in South Korean until 1998 — only 14 years ago. Deregulation began that year on 20 October. The government permitted manga to be sold and award-winning movies from international festivals to be shown in theaters, but not on television. There have since been three more deregulations.

* As of 10 September 1999, concerts were permitted in venues with 2,000 seats or fewer, though the prohibition on CD sales and broadcasting remained. More movies were permitted, still in theaters only.

* As of 27 June 2000, international award-winning film manga could be shown in theaters only. The restriction on the number of seats in halls for musical concerts was lifted, but CD sales and broadcasting was still forbidden. Some electronic games were allowed to be sold, except television games such as Nintendo. Some sports, documentary, and news programs could be broadcast on television.

* As of 1 January 2004, the screening of all movies and manga was allowed in theaters only, music could be sold in shops, and television dramas were allowed on cable channels, with age restrictions.

As far as I can determine — Koreans aren’t forthcoming about this — it is still illegal today to broadcast Japanese television dramas, films, cartoons, and concerts on regular television, or Japanese music on the radio.

South Koreans also seem to be as hazy on history as Janine over at MTV Iggy. Even the academics, as Prof. Ishii Ken’ichi demonstrates. He starts by citing a passage in Media Asia:

Japan and Korea, both of which had blocked the importation of each other’s cultural products, have opened their media markets in recent years. Since 1989, the Korean government has gradually lifted the gate for several cultural products, such as Japanese pop music records, limited films and television programmes and animation. Korean television dramas traditionally limited their portrayals of Japanese to those who participated in Japan’s colonization of Korea. Meanwhile, Japan permitted, for the first time, the broadcasting of Korean music on the air in June 2000. (Dal Yong Jin, “Regionalization of East Asia in 1990s”, Media Asia, 29(4), p227, 2003)

Note that Dal gives the Koreans credit for lifting some of their restrictions first before the Japanese eliminated their imaginary ones. But Prof. Ishii quickly sets the record straight. The emphasis is his:

“Media Asia” is one of the most prestigious academic journals on media and communications in Asia. Also Dal Yong Jin is a Korean Ph.D. candidate majoring in media and cultures, who will probably become a professor in media and communications. However, the above quoted paragraph is based on a completely wrong belief. In fact, Japan has never prohibited any foreign cultures (including Korean ones) on TV. Thus, it was impossible for Japan to “permit for the first time the broadcasting of Korean music in 2000”.

Prof. Ishii is generous and calls it a misconception. It’s also possible that Dal either made the story up, or took the word of someone else who made the story up.

Why would someone from a country with these Taliban-lite broadcast restrictions, both past and present, foam at the cybermouth about Japan adding to its White Complex with a Korea Complex and being on the verge of driving all the foreigners out of the country?

The likely answer is, to use a common sports expression, that the Japanese and the Japanese presence are “in their heads“ in a way that the Koreans never have been, aren’t now, and never will be in Japanese heads. Articles with this sort of content and language about South Korea do not exist in Japan outside of a dumpster. It’s difficult to find anything remotely similar to this even on the “far right” sites they like to complain about. Perhaps the best explanation is to be found by consulting Stedman’s Medical Dictionary or a psychiatric journal.

Because this is South Korea, there is also the aspect of plagiarism. Keeping the locals from seeing the original enables South Korean industry in general, and the media industry in particular, to snatch it for themselves without royalties or attribution. For example, here’s a comparison of Japanese originals with the South Korean knockoffs. (I’ve seen another in Korean shops myself.) Just yesterday, a thread popped up on the Korean Internet complaining that the opening scene to a music program hosted by the singer HaHa was ripped off from a Japanese commercial for Softbank, a telecommunications and Internet company. Here’s the Softbank ad:

And here’s the HaHa intro:

Finally, a third reason is green old envy. Any Japanese success internationally causes the gnashing of Korean teeth domestically. When the sanctions on Japanese culture were first partially lifted in South Korea in 1998, the Japanese government sponsored a series of events for Japan Week. One was a concert by Japanese singer Sawa Tomoe, whose mother is Korean and who spent some of her childhood in that country. She sang songs in Korean and English, and the South Korean government gave her permission to perform two songs in Japanese. One of those songs, as this article describes, was “’Kokoro’ (Heart), in which she put to her own melody a famous Korean poem that her grandfather–a renowned Korean poet himself–had translated into Japanese.”

Ms. Sawa wanted to sing another song in English, but decided against it after the Koreans made it clear they were displeased with her choice. The song the South Korean government didn’t want their countrymen to hear a woman of partial Korean heritage sing, even in a third language, says all you need to know about how deep the Japanese are in their envious heads.

The lyrics were neither politically nor socially controversial. Rather, they are about a lonely man trying to cheer himself up and give himself encouragement. Here it is in the original Japanese with the original singer.

UPDATE: Reader Avery M took the trouble to translate the Japanese Wiki page on Korean media censorship into English, and sent us the link. Thanks, Avery!

10 Responses to “In their heads”

  1. Ed_BR said

    According to Anholt-GfK Roper Nations Brand Index, Japan is #5 and Korea (neither South or North)doesn´t even appear on the list.
    There are a few other rankings and Japan is always between the Top 10. Again, Korea (neither South or North ) doesn´t show up.
    Here in Brazil, the majority thinks that koreans are actually japanese, lol.
    “look my Hyundai, it´s made in Japan, ha!” That makes them crazy!
    Actually, the tendency is to see Japan increase its rank after the 2011 triple disaster, as the world sees Japan as a country that faces problems with bravery and education.

    ps.: A Korean accusing somebody of inferiority complex?!
    Richard Pryor wouldn´t do better.
    ——–
    E: Thanks for the note. I hadn’t thought to look that up.

    – A.

  2. Avery M said

    I was amazed by what you wrote, and translated the Japanese wiki article on the subject, for future reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_of_Japanese_media_in_South_Korea
    ———-
    A: Thanks for the note. Good job on the Wiki article, and thanks for sending the link!

    -A.

  3. Robert said

    Please! Don’t bother us with the facts!

  4. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    A: Is it only me seeing two identical videos for ad for softbank?

    This was almost thrilling to read and hard to believe.

    Words can do anything but justice. Wisdom is there to reveal it, but oh how long….how long.

  5. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    Now I see two different videos. But I do not really watch it. I prefer to listen to Leroy Carr. Or, this one?

  6. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    A: “The likely answer is, to use a common sports expression, that the Japanese and the Japanese presence are “in their heads“ in a way that the Koreans never have been, aren’t now, and never will be in Japanese heads.”

    So true. I love this.

    I think the American and other western world precense are in “Japanese heads” in a way that the Japanese never have been, aren’t now, and never will be in American and other western world people’s heads. You may have some rebuttals, but it would end up in picking up exceptions. But my point is that we do not yell out to them for that. We do not have to do that to anybody. We in stead achieve different things and if we are valued fairly (and that is what you do here), we are valued by that acheivement. It would be immensely beneficial if Koreans come to think about it.

    Advertisement is very important. But it does little when there is no real commodity. Yelling out or cursing or reconfirmation of people’s greatness solely within satisfies their soul just for a moment with debris lingering on. Not a wise way to live.

  7. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    A: Having sort of criticized Korean people at length, I am a little curious about reality of life of Korean people now. Are they reading their media like you reported and shivering in anger/glad that they have beaten Japan for some economical indices? Or, they just laugh it away and lead normal, mundange or wonderful, daily lives? What do you know from your experience? You do have the tag called Japanese-Korean amity.

    Finally, I found today what Paul-Louis-Charles Claudel had said about us to the effect that if there is on single people who he wants not to vanish, it is Japanese people. Although during Claudel’s tenure in Japan as the ambassador from France (from 1921 to 1927), there was not much conflict of national interests between two countries, I found it very encouraging, and I wonder if today we are living up to his words.
    ———–
    2: I don’t know. Whenever I talk to Koreans, we never talk about what they think of Japan. Then again, most of the time, that’s been in Japan, and they all seem to be enjoying themselves while they’re here.

    Then again, like we were talking about with Armitage in the US, that’s the water those fish are swimming in. All the Korean newspapers are like that. They feel the need to have Dokdo is our land signs at the London Olympics.

    Saw something about a Japanese actress who likes Korean things, studied Korean, and visits every once in a while. She talked about the unpleasant experiences she had when she was there. For example, a Korean man told her, “You’re pretty for a Japanese. Are you sure you’re not Korean?”

    Also recently saw something about a short homestay by a young Japanese who went to South Korea. The homestay parents took the girl on a visit to the family grandmother. The first words out of Grandmother’s mouth were, “Dokdo is our land.”

    -A.

  8. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    A: http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/sachidai1018/52055238.html

    Paul Claudel’s speech I referred to was given during the war. If this is true, may be he loved Japan too much, but of course there is nothing wrong in doing so.

  9. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    Sorry for my train of comments, folks!
    ————-
    2: Don’t worry about it. Write all you want.

    -A.

  10. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    I saw a few people were mentioning about this vid recently, with positive comments. First, this vid was taken in 2011. Second, had it been the other way round, I would have been impressed much more.
    I am almost certain that there is no other way round because of the potential risk for the person involved.

    So, what’s the big deal? is my comment.

    Oh, I would add that I refrain from speculating anything about what type of people bring out this at this time for what purpose.

    ————
    The type of people in South Korea who would do something like this would rather do it in North Korea instead.

    – A.

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