Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Social Gatherings, residual Korean anti-sentiment, and Korean Popularity

Food food and more food

Here is one of three large platters brought out after the Shinto ceremony was over. At the house dancing and praying commenced and then we were allowed to eat. Basically you had your pick of anything sea-food-ish. I still don't know whathalf of what I ate was, and whenever I asked Sayaka what this thing was I was chewing on she wisely replied, "Meat." That's the best way to answer a land locked meat lover... If I knew I was eating fish testicles and sea urchin stomach pouches I probably would have spit it up. I liked the crabs little claw poked out of the deep fried batter looking like the little guys desperately wear trying to get out of the biscuit. I laughed out loud and everybody looked at me funny. I wish I could have gotten a photo of everyone for you, but I was being hogged as the focuse of discussion and everybody wanted a little bit of my time. I tried to sneak my camera to Sayaka at one point but it ended up getting lost under the table somewhere.

From above

One of the more shocking moments of the evening was listening to some of the Anti-Korean sentiment that still exists among some of the more traditional thinking Japanese people. For the most part, they were all cordial and polite about the issue, but a couple of the older generation (as Sayaka's dad is one of the youngest in the family of 9 siblings) were still heated on he subject.

On my being there one of the middle ages aunts stated, "We are all brothers and sisters on this planet which we call home." She was sincere and wise with her words, to which one of the men stated, "Except for Korean and Chinese." There were some nods of agreement and some sighs of shock. Leave it to the stupidity of men to keep silly personal grudges against political misdeads of their own nation. Anyway, that same guy turned to me right after and told me, "But you're okay. You're American, you are my brother."

To me this was extremely hypocritical. Why am I to be excluded from your prejudice, I thought? Perhaps it was because my country beat the hell out of yours and won the War? But that wouldn't be fair either, because China was our Ally too.
However, the modern political climate with China and the rest of the world, especially Japan, is a tricky one. China as of late has been trying to tell Japanese what to do, and how to live. As the Chinese government wants Japan to be obediant to their new economic dominance, luckily, Koizumi is stubborn and strong minded to not listen to Chinese politicians try to dictate how he should run Japan. This tension has been making Japan and China stand nose to nose on certain sensative key economic and political issues.

Bae Yong-jun

However, by watching Japanese television you woudn't be able to tell that there was any anamosity towards Korean people, as there has been a huge Korean drama boom. Over half the shows on Japanese television which aired this year were Korean drama's, and of the other half that aired several of them were Japanese/Korean high-breed dramas consisting of actors from both sides. The tension which still exists in Japan makes sure that the tension in the dramas are felt as well, but the Korean dramas do extremely well.
Among the biggest figures in television today is Bae Yong-jun, who has about 100 times the popularity as Tom Cruise in all of the Asian countries. That's over 3/4 the worlds population folks! Not only do more people like him than any other actor who ever lived, he does a slew of television ads for various companies, including Japanese ones. He's the new male face in Japan, and he's not even Japanese.

The talented and lovely Jeon Ji-hyun

There of course are many other Korean stars who are gaining in mass appeal and popularity daily. Of the most globaly recognize stars is the adorable Jeon Ji-hyun from the hit film "My Sassy Girl." Of course this movies is the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time, dwarfing "Titanic," and a bad comparison at that. Part of the charm of Korean television and film is that the women are represented as free, independant, and powerful... but what's more they are put on the same level of equality as the men. These is no having to prove themselves, no serving damn tea, and no taking abuse, and so they represent the ideal woman, one who is strong willed and beautiful. Whereas Korean women actresses have this kind of appeal, the males are marketed as kind, loving, and willing to take the abuse of cute spit fires like Jeon Ji-hyun, who any guy would be so lucky to recieve abuse from. Currently Jeon Ji-hyun is enjoying the Korean drama boom as well, and is marketing cellular technology like crazy in China. She is the poster girl plastered on every major cell phone ad across the largest country on the planet.

This friendly and fun image of people having relationships in which both parties treat each other equally is something rarely seen in Japanese television -believe it or not. At least this has been my observation, and it's not always the case. There are some really decent Japanese dramas, on ocassion. Recently I watched an excellent drama called "Engine" staring Kimura Takuya (from SMAP) and Koyuki, best known for her role in the blockbuster film "The Last Samurai" alongside co-star Tom Cruise. Another favorite Japaese actress of mine, Matsushita Yuki, also co-stars in "Engine." Both Matsushita and Takuya show that they have hard core acting chops in this enticing drama about an ex-formula 1 racecar hero Jirou (Takuya) who loses his racing job after a horrible wreck, and becomes a washed up nobody. Getting work as a bus driver at an orphanage he manages to befriend troubled children and his own depressed and angry self manages to lighten up and from new bonds. When the orphanage faces financial hardships and the threat of closure, Jirou starts racing again in hopes to save the orphanage and the people he has come to love. Only three episodes of this show have any real racecar racing, and the main focuss is on the children and Jirou's relationship with them. The cast of kids was amazing, and they bring so much heart to this wondeful drama. I really like the imaginative side to Japanese dramas, even though they can be more traditional at times when it comes to hot topic gender issues & equality, shows like "Engine" show that there is something other than "Sex and the City" or "CSI" to look forward to.

Whereas Japanese dramas often play on the social stereotypes which people adhere to, such as business stress, love triangles, men cheating on girls, girls finding a sweet prince in the end, the unrealistic nature of the dramas don't do it for the average viewer. All the bored house wives don't like condesending dramas, and since Japan still has a more traditional familial system residing in many households today, the bored house wife makes up the majority of the television viewers. Between condesending Japanese dramas which view women as domestic care-takers (house maids) or sex objects, or on the ohter hand Korean television whichs depicts women as being a free spirited, strong willed, independant woman, which do you think the majority of female viewers in Japan will pick? Japanese girls look up to this new female image sponsored by Korean dramas, and aparently so do the television networks who wish to cash in on the success of Korean stardom.


Yet these Korean actoresses and actors are idols at best, because none of them even come close to the most amazing and fanatic obsession sense Elvis. This is the hit television drama called "Changumu" based off the real life story of the woman of the same name. She was a Korean nurse who became a legend in the field of medicine, but she had an uphill battle to face the entire way. Talk about strong women characters, Changumu takes the cake every time. She genuinely cares for her patients, constantly wants to better herself, and ontop of all of that there is the highest dramatic tension I have ever seen in a TV series. And as I'm an avid "E.R." fan, that's saying a lot! Top that off with gorgeous cast members with actual tallent, and you can say goodbye "Friends" there is a new hit show in town. The popularity of "Changumu" is so hot in Japan right now that it has spawned a spin-off show, but not the kind you would expect. The spin off show is much like the suplimental features on a DVD. You have your standard behind the scenes, makings of, interviews with cast and crew, and something I thought was interesting -a cooking portion which shows you how to create the same classic recepies as the meals seen in the show itself. Now if that isn't obsession for you, I don't know what is.

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