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Complicated Currents

Chapter 2



Chie Yamanaka, (Jin’ai University)

Chie Yamanaka has a PhD from Osaka University in Humanities (popular cultural studies). She is a lecturer in Communication Studies and Comparative Culture at Jin’ai University, Fukui, Japan. Her research interests include Korean manhwa culture and depictions of otherness in Japanese manga. She has published extensively on the transnational reception of manga and on the Korean Wave in Japan.


In this paper, I examine shifts in popular Japanese discourse on Korea (kankoku-ron), and reassess the relation between the Korean Wave and anti-Korean Wave discourse. In order to do so, I trace a body of popular literature from the 1980s up to the emergence of the Korean Wave (hallyu) and the 2005 manga Hating the Korean Wave (Ken-kanrykanryu).1

In Japan there is a large body of popular literature on Koreans and Korean culture that includes such items as travelogues and personal accounts. These non-specialist writings are used as a handy introduction to Korea, and are the source of much popular Japanese discourse in the understanding of Korea; often they have a greater influence than specialist academic writing. The themes commonly found in these writings are the predecessors of the manga Hating the Korean Wave and various stances on the hallyu phenomenon.

A key expression in tracing this genealogy is ‘ignorance of Korea’. In Japan, discourse on the Korea boom, and the analysis of this discourse, tends to stress this ‘ignorance’ (e.g. Hayashi 2005; Mizuta et al. 2006). For example media journalism researcher Kaori Hayashi (2005: 201–202), in analyzing the audience of Winter Sonata – broadcast by NHK and perhaps the most notable product in Japan’s Korea boom – pointed out that one reason for the excitement surrounding this drama was that ‘it was the first time a Korean drama had been popular in Japan. Korea as a signifier was completely new to female audiences, and aroused their curiosity. As a result this drama was more than just a TV drama’. Further, ‘[The Korea boom] was formed on the basis of audience ignorance’. Therefore, through this drama women skillfully constructed their own image of Korea, albeit a politically and socially naive one. Hayashi is here claiming that audience ignorance of Korea and the lack of any pre-existing image greatly influenced the reception of the drama.

However, is it really the case that Japanese ignorance of Korea was as great as the Korean Wave discourse suggested? If so, how does this claim of ignorance relate to the anti-Korea phenomenon typified by Hating the Korean Wave? (Certainly, the main character in this manga is made to realize ‘that he knew nothing’ about Korea.) What is more, both stances of heightened attention to Korea, whether pro- or anti-Korea, presuppose something that ‘must be known’. What, then, ‘must be known’, and what has been forgotten?

Global media culture does not simply broaden people’s awareness of the world, it also redraws the borders of a community’s knowledge. Japan’s Korea boom not only promoted the circulation and consumption of media products, but generated a desire to know the background of media products. This desire radically accelerated the reconfiguration of ‘what should have been known’ about Korea and Korea–Japan relations. In noting shifts in narratives that satisfy the popular desire to know, we can discover some of the dynamics involved in the redisposition and reconstruction of knowledge of the Other, caused by globalization.

In selecting representative examples of Korean discourse for discussion, I have been guided by the research of Chung Daekyun (Jeong Dae-gyun; J. Tei Taikin), and Hwang Seongbin. Chung is a zainichi Korean, a prominent academic at Tokyo Metropolitan University, and a prolific writer on ethnicity, nationalism and zainichi issues. His 1995 Images of Korea: Post-War Japanese Views of its Neighbour (Kankoku no imeeji: sengo Nihonjin no rinkoku-kan) discusses a number of books on Korea that attracted attention in Japan. Hwang is a Korean-born media studies researcher at Rikkyo University, whose co-edited volume Hallyu Inside and Out: Korea’s Cultural Power and East Asia’s Collective Response (Han-ryHan-ryu no uchi soto: Kankoku bunka-ryoku to Higashi Ajia no yyugog hannhanno) introduces the books that he regards as having provided the basic material for the anti-Korean discourse of Hating the Korean Wave (Hwang 2007). I also deal with works by non-academic ‘Korea hands’ in Japan, pointing out the new perspectives that have emerged over the period from 1984 to 2005, that is, up to and including the Korea boom. In what follows, however, I limit discussion to books that are still readily obtainable and being read, and which thus maintain an ongoing influence.



The unprecedent ed scale of Japan’s recent Korea boom may make it seem that postwar interest in Korean culture has emerged only in the last few years, and many point to the significance of the two nations’ co-hosting of the 2002 FIFA Soccer World Cup in generating interest in Korea. The apparent suddenness of the boom has had a role in convincing Japanese of the premise that ‘we knew nothing about Korea’ previously.

However, a boom of interest in Korean culture had occurred in the 1980s as well. The 1985 Publication Almanac (Shuppan Nenkan 1985) listing of the year’s top-10 best-selling items, for example, points to the popularity of Hanguru KKozaza (the monthly NHK textbook accompanying the Korean language teaching program on radio and television) and a spate of other books on Korea. The 2002 version of the almanac notes ‘an increase in books and special journal issues on North Korea due to the abductee issue’, and in 2004, that ‘the television drama Winter Sonata caused a Korean culture boom’. Surely, though, the 1984 boom should not be ignored. Why was the surge in Japanese interest in Korea only two decades earlier totally forgotten by the time the latter kanrykanryu boom occurred? In order to answer this key question, we need to scrutinize the historical context in which Japanese writings about Korea appeared, beginning with the 1980s boom and the manner in which it approached Korea. Chung (1995) argues in Images of Korea for three periods in Japan’s recent imagining of Korea:

1. 1945–1965: a period of indifference and avoidance after Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War and its withdrawal from Korea.

2. 1965–1983: a period of political interest in Korea dating from the normalization of diplomatic relations.

3. 1984 to the present: a period of cultural interest.

According to this periodization, Japanese interest in Korean culture started to develop in the 1980s, and this process is still continuing. Chung selects 1984 as a starting point because of a boom in interest spurred particularly by anticipation of the 1988 Seoul Olympics (Chung 1995: 18).2

Prior to the Olympics, in 1986, the Asian Games took place in Seoul. In 1987, a decision to hold democratic elections was proclaimed, essentially ending the military dictatorship. Up until then, the flow of capital, technology, information and tourism from Japan to Korea had been essentially monodirectional, but from that time flows began to move more freely in both directions. After the liberalization of overseas travel for Koreans in 1988, Korean tourists started to visit Japan, and the presence of Korean manufactured goods in Japanese markets increased. All of these things led to heightened Japanese interest in Korea. Already by April 1984, as a result of the growth in the number of Japanese who wanted to learn the language of their neighbour, the NHK Korean language program Annyeong hasimnikka? Hanguru kKozaza (Learning Korean) commenced broadcasting on both television and radio.

Significantly, in this period many popular travelogues recounting intercultural experiences were published, from which I select for discussion Sekikawa Natsuo’s Practice Drills in Seoul: X-ray Notes on a Different Culture (1984), and Kuroda Fukumi’s Seoul, My Heart (1988). Both have gone through multiple printings and are still widely read.

According to Chung, a key challenge early in this period of cultural interest was for writers to establish discursive space by distancing themselves from the preceding years (1965–1983) in which interest was largely politically driven. This earlier period, especially from 1973, was coloured by such incidents as the abduction of Kim Dae-jung,3 after which claims surfaced that Korea had violated Japan’s sovereignty. The media criticism of the Korean dictatorship was reinforced by the 1974 Tachikawa incident.4

In this period, debates about references to Korea in Japanese history textbooks also began to appear,5 as did protest movements over institutional discrimination against zainichi Koreans. Chung, however, remains highly critical of Japanese views of Korea in this period:

In the 1970s it was a cliché of those concerned about Korean politics to say ‘the issue of Korea is the issue of Japan’, or ‘we shouldn’t be silent about dictatorship in Korea’, or ‘take a strong position towards Korea’. This implies a lingering consciousness of a state that seeks to control another in international affairs, and believes that a neighbouring country is an area subject to its control. (Chung 1995: 17–18)

As what Chung defines as ‘the period of cultural concern’ began, this mood remained, reflecting Japan’s inability to regard Korea as an independent Other. The leftist slogan of solidarity ran the risk of blurring boundaries between Korea and Japan. In that context, cooperation potentially denied Korean agency. Or, conversely, solidarity could lead to recognition of Korean agency but at the expense of abandoning prudent Japanese judgment.

Given the contemporary context in which Sekikawa and Kuroda were operating, what kind of understanding of Korea were they trying to achieve? Sekikawa is a popular novelist, non-fiction writer and manga artist. In the Afterword to Practice Drills in Seoul, he wrote: ‘Something about Korea seems to incite a psychological ossification of sorts on the part of the Japanese. Regardless of what it is, it is utterly unproductive ... My intention in writing this book has been to report honestly on my own intercultural contact with Korea’.

Here Sekikawa was trying to demonstrate the significance of ‘sincere intercultural contact’ as an antidote to ‘psychological ossification’. He made a practical attempt to treat Korea as a separate culture and escape from the usual blurring of borders between the two countries in the Japanese mindset. In a postscript to the 2005 edition of the book, he further clarified his stance:

When I wrote Practice Drills in Seoul in 1984, it was fairly widely read, perhaps because it was the first book on Korea by someone other than a newspaper reporter or a member of the so-called Atonement Faction [shokuzai ha]. Readers at the time were apparently tired of the stereotypes being purveyed about Korea in the media. (Sekikawa 2005: 282)

Sekikawa described Korea as a different culture, based on his own personal experience. By doing so he sharply criticized mainstream interest in Korea, according to which ‘the Korea problem is a Japan problem’. Nonetheless he was equally critical of the ‘Atonement Faction’. Although it might seem as if Sekikawa was taking a right-wing position critical of the left, in my view, opposition to the Atonement Faction in the 1980s would have meant distancing oneself from a political discourse of Japan–Korea relations altogether.

This discomfort with Japanese political attitudes to Korea, and the attempt to move away from it, can also be seen in Kuroda Fukumi’s Seoul, My Heart (1988), which she also wrote based on her personal experience of Korea. Kuroda, a film actress who had developed an interest in Korea through her interest in Korean volleyball players, grew angry about the discriminatory treatment of zainichi Koreans, and wished to report on Korea.

She tells us that while reading to increase her knowledge about Korea, she was shocked upon coming across the statement ‘we must begin by recognizing that Korea is a foreign country’ in an academic book on Korea:

Historical circumstances oblige us to start anew from the proposition that Korea is a foreign country, which for me is a given. I could understand someone having made such a statement immediately after the war, but surely not now after such a long time. (Kuroda Fukumi 1995: 41)

Kuroda had a burning desire to talk to the Japanese about Korea, and in her account of her travels there she writes that she related this desire to every Korean she met:

I believe we need vivid reportage on contemporary Korea and Korean culture to enable Japanese people to understand Koreans better ... I want to report on neither politics and economics, nor ancient culture, but the Korean culture of today. I want to investigate what sort of people live in Korea, its actors, singers, and baseball players, the wonderful things that exist there. (Kuroda Fukumi 1995: 45)

For Kuroda, Korea’s foreignness is self-evident; although she is critical of discrimination against Koreans resident in Japan, and she ardently wishes to improve Japan’s understanding of Korea, she feels no need to internalize the ‘Korean problem’ as a ‘Japanese problem’. Her interest in Korea is personal, and has nothing to do with Japan as a state. She tries therefore to understand Korea from the perspective of Korean daily life.

Sekikawa and Kuroda both attempt to depict Korea as having its own particular logic and stress that their discovery of the Other is part of a personal rather than collective Japanese project. In groping towards a narrative that does not pit Korea against Japan, they each settle on travelogues narrated in the first person.

It should be emphasized here that neither Sekikawa nor Kuroda use the phrase ‘I did not know Korea’. Indeed, they relate that they felt uncomfortable about ‘knowing too much’ in political terms and were consciously trying to overcome the ‘knowledge bias’ surrounding Korea. In conveying their own experience of everyday life in Korea, they neither belabour ‘what should be known about Korea’ nor shrink from the history of the Japanese historical gaze towards Korea. Rather, they attempt to diversify this gaze.


The cultural interest of the 1980s started with a discourse, based on an understanding of Korean everyday life that developed from the domains of travel and language study, which invoked the discovery of Korea as Other. In order to understand how this discourse changed in the 1990s, we must look first of all at how changes in Korean society itself became the object of a new Japanese discursive understanding.

As noted above, after Korea began its democratization at the end of the 1980s, movements of people, goods and information between Japan and Korea became increasingly bi-directional. The 1990s saw the production in Korea of Japanese-style television dramas, so-called ‘trendy dramas’, portraying the lives of fashionable and well-off young people in a consumer society. Dance music and hip-hop also began to take hold as Korea’s popular culture industries burgeoned.

At the same time, however, debates arose about how popular culture from other countries was to be controlled. Korean intellectuals frequently criticized the commercialism of popular culture and its manipulation of the masses as problematic tendencies against which mobilization through education was necessary. Intellectuals have had an influential voice in Korea and at that time propagated the view that popular culture’s commercial basis meant that it lacked value. As a result, it took time for such intellectuals to recognize that Korean popular culture could be an export item. At last from the mid-1990s, in the wake of rapid economic growth, the fashion for postmodern thought and cultural studies, and the swift development of a consumer society, Korean intellectuals started to show interest in the power of popular culture. At the same time, however, they turned their critical gaze toward global cultural industries. Japanese popular culture became, of course, a major object of such criticism.

Even after the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and Korea in 1965, national sentiment required that the importation of Japanese culture be banned because it evoked the memory of colonization. In particular, given a framework of cultural imperialism and dependency theory, Japanese popular culture was considered a pernicious influence. With ongoing democratization during the 1990s, the opening of vigorous debate over removing restrictions on Japanese popular culture imports strengthened the discourse positing this importation as a threat. These debates occurred in conjunction with discussion of the necessity to protect Korea’s own popular culture. For Korea, Japan had long been a special Other, functioning as the object of a virulent hatred that authorized collective historical memory, and thus the source of a reactive nationalism fanned and manipulated by successive Korean governments regardless of political persuasion.6

As the Korean economy surged and the ardently desired status of ‘developed country’ was achieved in Korea’s accession to the OECD in 1996, attention toward Japanese popular culture grew. Against this background of the growth of Korea’s cultural industries and the acquisition of economic confidence, a unique popular culture was born, characterized by a spate of novels, films, television dramas and documentaries stirring up ‘anti-Japanese sentiment’. For instance, the 1993 novel by Kim Jin-myeong, Mugunghwa kkochi pieosseumnida (The Rose of Sharon Has Bloomed) and the personal memoir by Jeon Yeo-ok, a KBS Japan correspondent, Ilboneun eopda (literally, ‘Japan Does Not Exist’) sold four million and one million copies, respectively. The commercialization and consumption of representations of Japan based on anti-Japanese sentiment boomed in Korea.7

In response to these changes taking place in Korea in the 1990s, involving the simultaneous growth of cultural industries and the packaging of anti-Japanese nationalist discourse, Japanese cultural interest towards Korea moved in two directions. The first involved a trend towards consumption of Korean cultural commodities, as the fashion for Korean popular music (K-pop) and Korean films spread among young Japanese. Japan had already experienced a heightened interest in Asian pop culture, which spawned a fan base for Hong Kong films and movie stars, in the 1980s. K-pop and Korean films were introduced and consumed as a continuation of this trend. By the mid-1990s Japanese midnight radio programs and music magazines were introducing music from around Asia. This growing awareness of Korea through the consumption of media culture was, however, largely limited to younger people.

A second direction involved a fascination with the image of the Self (Japan) as seen by the Other (Korea). Korean consumption of anti-Japanese nationalist discourse in such forms of entertainment as novels, television dramas, film and essays also fostered a new kind of Japanese cultural interest in Korea. The Japanese began to interpret these unfamiliar depictions of themselves in the context of Korean history and Korean nationalism in order to decipher the image of their national self as seen by the Other.

These two trends worked in a complementary way to foster new interest in Korea. However, the themes chosen in Japan’s Korean discourse as a result of the consumption of Korean popular culture led to an understanding of Korean cultural nationalism rather than an absorption of the content of Korean popular culture itself. And while reading this discourse may have been motivated by an effort to gain a deeper understanding of the Other, it actually created an irregular Japan discourse of discovering the Self through the eyes of the Other. The discourse surrounding Japanese consumption of Korean popular culture at that time lacked impact, an issue to be taken up in the context of hallyu.

To sum up: in the 1980s, Japan’s cultural interest in Korea appeared as a rejection of a preceding political interest, and took as its starting point the private realm. Those who propagated this interest aimed at an understanding of Korea that was not entangled with Japan. In the 1990s, Japan’s Korea discourse developed into two layers of reading: one that focused on understanding Korea, and an irregular one that ultimately had a self-reflexive interest in Japan.


Efforts to interpret Korean representations of Japan as Other were already being undertaken before the 1990s in various academic fields in Japan, especially Area Studies, which led to an awareness of the contexts in which anti-Japanese nationalism was put to use in Korea. However, in this paper I wish to draw attention to the increase in the number of books that deal with this theme as a subset of popular culture. Indeed, it is highly significant that an issue which was the object of academic area studies research came to provoke general interest in Japan from the 1990s.

As an example of a text dealing with Korean representations of Japan and images of the Self as seen by the Other, I have selected Kuroda Katsuhiro’s Korean Views of History (1999). The author, who worked for several years from 1980 as the head of the Seoul office of the Kyodo Tsushin News Agency and Sankei Shinbun, became famous in Japan as a Korea expert, and was also well-known in Korea. He is generally regarded in Japan today as leaning towards the right. He has commented frequently on how to interpret anti-Japanese attitudes in Korea,8 emphasizing not only their formation within the context of Japan’s colonial rule and later postcolonial relations, but their reconstruction in the context of contemporary Korean domestic politics. Although Kuroda titles his book Korean Views of History, he focuses much more on Korea’s interpretation of history in relation to its attitudes towards Japan. His table of contents includes topics such as comfort women, Korea’s myth of its own history as resistance against Japan, the necessity for anti-Japanese education in Korean identity formation, and the basis for Korea’s seemingly never-ending demands for ‘apology’. He positions his arguments as follows:

Mainstream postwar journalism in Japan espouses an ‘atonement view of history’, based on ‘apology and self-reflection’ ... To feel the need to atone for the past is not necessarily a bad thing. It is necessary not just out of consideration for the feelings of others but also in order to learn from history. However, to have a view of history clouded by a desire for reconciliation is counterproductive.

The Korean Peninsula remains fiercely nationalist. Both North and South mobilize their pre-1945 ‘past’ with Japan to energize ethnic and national identity. If we attune our historical vision with theirs against the background of an ‘atonement view of history’, we will never really understand historical truth. (Kuroda 1999: 229)

Kuroda criticizes the naivety of some Japanese self-proclaimed progressives for their view of Japanese history as it relates to Korea. He claims to detect ignorance and hypocrisy in their blind espousal of atonement as a guiding principle and seeks a discussion that goes beyond the conventional Japanese view of Korea (as he assumes it to be), and incorporates one that understands the ‘Image of the Self as seen by the Other’ and recognizes Korean nationalism. He argues that such discussion is the only method of facing the Korean people honestly, and that it should not be evaded by talk of atonement.

Kuroda bases his argument on his experience of living and working in Korea, and his assertions are reminiscent of the writings of Sekikawa and Kuroda Fukumi in the 1980s, who also relied on personal experience and were critical of progressive calls for atonement. However, his argument about the image of the Self as seen by the Other has a more analytical bent, whereas Sekikawa and Kuroda Fukumi write solely from a first-person viewpoint, drawing entirely from the realm of personal experience, and avoid generalizations. Furthermore, his representation of Korea as Other rescues him from depicting Japan’s self-image as monolithic. Arguments such as Kuroda’s, which centre on an interpretation of the image of the Self as seen by the Other, share with the two earlier writers discomfort concerning Japanese attitudes to Korea, but he simplifies and attributes this dissonance to the culture that has arisen from Korea’s anti-Japanese sentiment.

As a result, the cultural interest in Korea which opened up in the 1980s, instead of broadening into a multi-faceted accumulation of various individuals’ experiences, converged into a single interpretive code by the end of the 1990s; understanding Korea became based on reading images of Japan in Korea as an expression of Korean nationalism.



During the rising tide of enthusiasm for Korea in the period preceding the Korea–Japan co-hosting of the 2002 World Cup, a number of books on Korea were published in which this interpretive code of understanding the image of the Self as seen by the Other became even further popularized, ironically driven by a desire to understand the Other.

In order to see what the popularization of this interpretive code has led to, let us take as an example Kanno Tomoko’s (2000) The Country One Must Not Like (Suki ni natte wa ikenai kuni). This book’s theme is the complex images of Japan held in Korea, especially those that surround an anti-Japanese nationalism. Upon its release, murmurings of ‘we didn’t know’ first made their appearance broadly within Japan.

The book’s author was a young woman who developed an interest in Korea after becoming friendly with Korean students while studying in Canada. Kanno was struck that many young Koreans were fans of such Japanese pop cultural icons as Amuro Namie and the Johnnies. She sensed that they faced a conflict between ‘not liking Japan’, because of their education about history, and ‘liking Japan’, nurtured through listening to J-pop. She subsequently went to study in Korea and carried out extensive interviews with young Koreans. Equipped with this interview data, she describes in meticulous detail the inner conflict felt by Korean fans of J-pop, and enriches this with ethnographic accounts of their everyday lives. In addition, Kanno laments the misfortune that the attitudes of both Japanese and Koreans are dominated by images that are most often not backed up with first-hand experience of each other’s country. Kanno’s essay is significant in that it focuses directly on the consumption of popular culture; she is alert to the presence of an interpretation of history and views of Japan founded on anti-Japanese values, while depicting carefully the feelings of young Koreans in everyday life.

The book, like Kuroda Katsuhiro’s, deals with images of the Self held by the Other. However, it differs in that she does not situate her argument in opposition to an ‘Atonement Faction’, and does not claim that the conventional Japanese view is based on a perspective that demands atonement. Rather, she assumes that there is no fixed pre-existing image of Korea in Japan. For her, a conflict between Japan and Korea ‘did not exist’.

If you ask the Japanese about Korea, perhaps a few associate it immediately with barbecue and kimchi. However, the overwhelming majority have no interest in Korea at all, or know nothing about it ... (I) never took an interest in Korea, even though I had a vague interest in ‘Asia’. I only knew that Korea was a geographical neighbour. (Kanno 2000: 1)

Kanno’s narrative uses a first-person perspective and in this respect might initially seem to resemble the writings of the 1980s discussed earlier. However, in her argument, opposition to political concern is effaced and her personal experience begins from a new starting point: it is ‘reset at zero’ from the position of ignorance. Whereas Sekikawa and Kuroda Fukumi had problematized Japanese avoidance of seeing Korea as Other, Kanno’s gaze is imbued with an optimism that states, ‘if you don’t know about Korea, you should find out’.

It is important to consider why Kanno takes this position of ignorance as her entry point into understanding Korea. In the above quotation, she points out that many Japanese would profess ignorance about Korea. However, despite stating that ‘I only knew that Korea was the country next to Japan’, it is clear that her knowledge extends further. For example, she writes that, when listening to her father talk about his memories of living on the peninsula during the Pacific War, ‘I would think that the sound of the Korean language had a countrified flavour’ (Kanno 2000: 2). In other words, she is trying to avoid two things that ‘should be known’ when she states that she ‘does not know about Korea’: first, the existence of negative sentiments towards Korea, which permeate everyday life in Japan; and second, Japanese historical and political debates about Korea. By saying that she ‘did not know’ about Korea, when the things that ‘should be known’ were staring her in the face, her actual knowledge, derived from her father’s memories, and her feelings towards the Korean language, are blotted out. In other words, the simple images of Korea held in Japan’s everyday, whether political or cultural, become obliterated.

On the other hand, her murmuring that she did not know about Korea locates her own experience among ‘things that should be known by those of us who did not know Korea’. What is uncovered among things that should be known by the Japanese is the agonizing experience of Koreans who possess an anti-Japanese nationalism, yet at the same time enjoy Japanese popular culture. Japan’s postwar space in the gaze of the Other emerges: that is, the images of Japan held by Koreans in their everyday lives are regarded as important.

For Kanno, the declaration of ignorance about Korea becomes an attempt to separate her own discourse from an everyday Japanese postwar experience which is continuous with pre-war and wartime experience. Such a statement allows her to forget the historicity buried in everyday life and to attempt to recover it in the Other’s everyday experience. Nonetheless, doing so runs the risk of reducing the Other to a means of representing Self.

As can be seen in Japanese writings of the 1980s, cultural interest in Korea emerged as resistance to oppression unintentionally created by Japan’s postwar democracy. This interest and the way it was written about should have been inseparable from the everyday sense of history in Japan. However, as can be seen in Kanno’s work, the debates after 2000 neither scrutinize the Japanese view of Korea (including Japan’s dismissive view of Asia overall, and its distorted Atonement psychology), nor possess the will to overcome it. Moreover, these latter debates also build on the 1990s discourse about anti-Japanese nationalism as the interpretive code for understanding Korea. In forgetting one’s own history, the catchphrase of ‘not knowing Korea’ becomes reified.

Of course, for the authors the historicity of their intellectual framework may have been self-explanatory. However, that historicity is not necessarily clear to readers. In fact, the more enthusiastically readers desire to understand Korea, the more they turn to these books, and essentialization is accelerated through the de-contextualization and de-historicization of the interpretive code.


Hallyu exploded in Japan with the immense popularity of Winter Sonata from April 2003. Not long after, in July 2005, Hating the Korean Wave was published and became the object of heated public discussion.

Hating the Korean Wave is a polemical story about the members of a university history circle, and their debates with those who hold differing historical views. The main characters describe their opponents as having a masochistic view of history and argue them down.9 Altogether, 780,000 copies, including sequels, had been sold by October 2007.10

The Japanese phrase ken-kanryken-kanryu itself has two possible meanings: one is to hate ‘kanrykanryu’, the Japanese reading of hallyu. A second refers to the wave or faction of people who hate Korea (a more literal translation might be, in fact, the ‘Hate Korea Wave’). Judging by the content of the manga, and the response of readers, the dominant meaning in fact is the wave of those who hate Korea, including hating the Korean Wave per se.

The publication of the manga and the large number of copies sold became the topic of much comment, not only in Japan, but elsewhere, where discussion often focused on a revival of rightist tendencies and Japan’s disdain for Asia. Many attempts to interpret the significance of the text and the reaction it spawned have followed.11

However, as Sakamoto and Allen (2007) point out in their article ‘Hating The Korean Wave comic books: A sign of new nationalism in Japan?’, it is necessary to ask why a rise of patriotism and right-wing tendencies in Japanese society would take South Korea, rather than North Korea or China, as a focus. Sakamoto and Allen note the importance played by the Internet and other communication media in propagating interest in the book, and point out the tendency of young people to try to counterbalance the discourse of mainstream media. They interpret the phenomenon surrounding Hating the Korean Wave as a multi-layered interaction in Japanese society, and do not reduce it simply to an expression of right-wing nationalist tendencies.

I prefer to locate the reason for the appearance of Hating the Korean Wave in the confluence of the (positive) interest in Korea that had been fostered in Japan, and a desire to understand the Other. By placing the theme and development of the manga in the lineage of ‘understanding Korea/Other’, we can see why only South Korea, and not the peninsula as a whole, became an issue. Japan’s efforts towards understanding Korea as Other has in fact always been directed only at South Korea and its anti-Japanese tendencies. There has been no awareness of any bias in privileging South Korean attitudes, even if the peninsula as a whole is discussed. This is only the logical outcome of the Japanese popular interest in the Korean Peninsula since the 1980s.

Let me summarize the old and the new in the manga: Korea’s anti-Japanese view of history touched on in Hating the Korean Wave is also a theme in Kuroda’s 1999 book. The manga inherits Kuroda’s method of criticizing the Atonement Faction. (In Hating the Korean Wave, however, such people are referred to not as the Atonement Faction, but as anti-Japanese Japanese.) The characters cast their gaze on anti-Japanese nationalism in Korea, and castigate especially those Japanese who apologize to Korea. The author expresses the opinion that ‘true friendship with Korea’ can in fact best be created by criticizing Korean nationalism. There is nothing new in this viewpoint as a Japanese understanding of Korea: it simply repeats Japan’s Korea discourse up to that time.

What, then, is new or different here? To start with, this manga is not based on the author’s personal experience of Korea and handles only information that is readily available in Japan. Such an account of Korea could indeed be formed at the height of Japan’s Korean boom (2003–2005) while relying only on secondary sources, and thus the work becomes a successor to pre-existing Korea discourse; however, there is no longer a sense that the author (and, therefore, the Self) has encountered the Other.

Therefore, any pleasure (or discomfort or conflict) arising from ‘understanding Korea’ through this book is not an outcome of either facing the Other or experiencing contact with something different. After describing Korea’s distorted image of Japan, Hating the Korean Wave points to Korean nationalism as the cause of this image and allows the reader a cathartic ‘correction’ of the distortion. In this way, the reader finds pleasure in semiotically tracing an understanding of Korea, and in the very consumption of this knowledge.

Another difference is that the manga appeared with the Korean Wave. Despite the appearance of other discourses, like this manga, that lost sight of Korea itself, they were overcome by the Korean Wave, and Japanese interest in discourse about Korea achieved more than a niche following. Thanks to the increased attention paid to both the Korean Wave and Hating the Korean Wave the number of new contributors to Japan’s discourse about Korea grew conspicuously, and included media researchers and gender researchers. While acknowledging the Korea expertise of earlier writers, these latter authors produced voluminous writings on Korea from the perspective of their respective academic fields. Throughout this period the phrase ‘we did not know Korea’ exerted a powerful influence.

The Korean Wave gave rise to a practice whereby individuals could enjoy Korean media products without thinking particularly of any national identity at all, and this experience had the power to transform their everyday lives. For this reason, the narrative of hallyu should have involved the pleasurable act of consuming Korean popular culture and the creation of an audience culture that shared this pleasure. Indeed, such a narrative did appear in blogs and in an essayistic manga (Murata 2005), and could have been further propagated as an extension of the interest in Korean music and film that arose in the early 1990s. However, as I have argued above, the language of the consumption and enjoyment of Korean popular culture neither entered the mainstream of Japan’s Korea discourse, nor found a sophisticated form of expression.

Therefore, merely telling of the consumption and production of Korean popular culture did not complete the hallyu narrative. Rather, an atmosphere was produced that implied that such pleasure had to be linked with ‘knowing Korea’, and a discomfort similar to that expressed by Sekikawa and Kuroda in the 1980s was evoked.12 However, the context of their Korea discourse had been totally forgotten.

To repeat, those who spoke about hallyu did not at first want to do so in terms of a ‘Korea discourse’. However, it was impossible for them to ignore the pre-existing discourse, and the catch-phrase ‘we did not know Korea’ became indispensible once such people started to write about the Korea boom and the phrase was repeatedly invoked, especially in the analysis of the Winter Sonata phenomenon, possibly to obscure the contradictions implicit in their discussion.

Hallyu in Japan was taken to promote a ‘new understanding of Korea’ from the position of prior ignorance. In this way, the historicity and continuity of Japan’s understanding and image of Korea were forgotten. It seems to me that, as a result, Japanese discourse about Korea in each period lost its temporal continuity and was instead interpreted synchronically, and classified as either coming from the right or the left.

With this new ahistorical disposition of knowledge, Hating the Korean Wave, rather than being connected with previous writings on understanding Korea, converged mainly with the controversial Textbook Reform Society (Tsukuru kai) and the craze for Kobayashi Yoshinori’s manga about Japan’s colonial past and war of aggression (such as Gormanism Sengen and Senssensoronron).

Hallyu in Japan disseminated a discourse of ignorance about Korea, giving rise to an obliviousness of the historicity of the nation’s images of Korea, and a loss of awareness of Korea as an Other whose historical experience differed from Japan’s. There can be little doubt that Hating the Korean Wave depicted Japanese people as lost in the midst of that obliviousness.


After 2007, Japanese discourse on Korean popular culture including hallyu decreased considerably. Observers have interpreted this decrease variously as meaning that hallyu is either over or has become normalized as part of everyday life. The current state of affairs can be called a post-hallyu phase.

In this phase, exchange between Japan and Korea is unprecedented in its bilateral and continuous nature, and spans the movements of people, increased export and import of media software, increased co-productions, and vigorous academic exchange. Such a phase indicates a normalization in Japan of not only Korean popular culture, but also of a discourse of mutual understanding between the neighbouring countries. Furthermore, this discourse is being interpreted and debated on a global level. It is time now for Japan to reconsider what it means to understand Korea.

Hallyu caused many people to murmur that they ‘did not know Korea’. However, academic research in the post-hallyu era is no longer able to start with surprise about such ignorance. Rather, a re-statement is necessary: ‘In spite of the fact that we knew something about Korea, why did we think we did not?’ Our debates should be positioned once more within a forgotten history. In this paper I hope to have taken a step towards aiding recognition of that history.


1   Translator’s note: The Korean Wave is the commonly accepted translation for the Korean term hallyu. The Japanese reading of the same Sino-Korean elements is kanrykanryu, but the word is pronounced hanryhanryu by some commentators, in deference to the Korean pronunciation without the elision. In this chapter, Korean Wave, hallyu, hanryhanryu and kanrykanryu have all been used depending on the context. It should also be noted that in this chapter, unless otherwise indicated, Korea refers to South Korea.

2   Translator’s note: Another major factor in this periodization is Prime Minister Nakasone’s state visit to South Korea in April 1984, his first state visit after taking office. Usually this first visit was reserved for the United States. At least as striking was his delivering one-third of his speech in Korean.

3   On 8 August 1973, future president Kim Dae-jung, then the leading critic of the Park Chung-hee government, was abducted from the Tokyo hotel at which he was a guest. Although he was released five days later near his home in Seoul, the abduction was suspected to have been the work of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.

4   In April 1974, several people involved in the democratization movement were arrested for plotting to overthrow the Park government. Those arrested included two Japanese, Hayakawa Yoshiharu and Tachikawa Masaki, who were then studying in Korea.

5   On 26 June 1982, all major Japanese newspapers reported that history textbooks authorized by the Ministry of Education had changed the sentence ‘invaded Northern China’ to ‘advanced into Northern China’, which led to a major diplomatic impasse.

6   Cf. Epstein elsewhere in this volume.

7   See Kim (1993); Jeon (1993).

8   For example, Shin Nikkan Shin-kShin-ko [New Thinking on Japan–Korea], Sankei Shinbun News Service, Tokyo, (Kuroda 2002); South Korea’s Anti-Japanese Syndrome, Tokyo: Aki shobshobo (Kuroda Katsuhiro 1995).

9   The Textbook Reform Society applies the term ‘masochistic view of history’ to history influenced by Marxism, and emphasizes postwar Japan’s guilt.

10  Sequels appeared: part 2 in February 2006, and part 3 in August 2007.

11  For example, Onishi 2005.

12  For example, at a symposium on the theme ‘A Gendered Reading of Hallyu Culture’, the organizers (Mizuta, Noriko; Kitada Sachie; and Josai International University Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies) presented a number of interpretations of Winter Sonata, and discussed the attractions of the drama. However, it was apparently felt that the symposium should deal with more. Political scientist Kang Sang-jung was invited as a specialist on peninsula issues. This suggests that the organizers tried to link the pleasures of popular culture with statements about the future of Japan–Korea relations.


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Cite this chapter as: Yamanaka, Chie. 2010. ‘The Korean Wave and anti-Korean discourse in Japan: A genealogy of popular representations of Korea, 1984–2005’. In Complicated Currents: Media Flows, Soft Power and East Asia, edited by edited by Black, Daniel; Epstein, Stephen; Tokita, Alison. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 2.1–2.14.


©Copyright 2010 Chie Yamanaka

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Complicated Currents

   by Daniel Black, Stephen Epstein and Alison Tokita