Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Seoulmates
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Daniel Dae KimThe Washington Post ran this fascinating story today, about the ascendence of all things Korean, especially (South) Korean men, in the world pop culture, especially Asia, and double-especially in Japan. The irony is that Koreans for a century have been treated with racist disdain in Japan, and the country still hasn’t officially acknowledged atrocities committed throughout Asia before and during World War II, including its use of Koreans as “comfort women.”

That isn’t stopping the “Korean Wave” from engulfing Japan and other Asian countries, though, with ripples felt here in the Western hemisphere. Everything from Korean goods to K-pop music and Korean soap operas are hitbound. The Times story (which, by the way, used the excellent “Seoulmates” pun) takes a bemused look at the phenom
and focuses on how Japanese women are now signing up for dating services that hook them up with Korean men.

Why Korean men? The article explains it thus:

“Entertainment industry leaders in Seoul credit the phenomenon to good marketing coupled with an uncanny response throughout Asia to the expressive nature of the South Koreans — long dubbed the Italians of Asia. A hearty diet and two years of forced military duty, industry leaders and fans insist, have also made young South Korean men among the buffest in Asia. Most important, however, has been the South Korean entertainment industry’s perfection of the strong, silent type on screen — typically rich, kind men with coincidentally striking looks and a tendency to shower women with unconditional love.

“‘It’s a type of character that doesn’t exist much in Asian movies and television, and now it’s what Asian women think Korean men are like,’ said Kim Ok Hyun, director of Star M, a major star management company in Seoul.

“‘But to tell you the truth,’ she said. ‘I still haven’t met a real one who fits that description.'”

Oh well, so these Japanese women may be headed for heartbreak.

I find this trend interesting for a couple of reasons:

First, that the expressive Asian is suddenly, after centuries of stoicism as the principal character trait, particularly for Japanese, is the desired type. This gives me hope that all my American-style cussing has finally become acceptable behavior… maybe.

Second, that this is actually an extension of a trend from about five or six years ago (which was reported, I think, in Time magazine), of Asian men becoming romantically attractive to European-American women. That one sort of bubbled along to the side of the American pop mainstream until now.

Hey, it’s cool by me that Daniel Dae Kim, who played a host of character roles (often as a stoic cop, as a matter of fact, is how I kept seeing him) before landing the high-visibility role in ‘Lost,” was named one of People magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive” last year. All of this is good for my self-esteem, after all.

I’m not deluding myself to think I’m sexy, but it’s great to know that people like me are finally being judged by mainstream culture as something other than a geek, or geisha, or the occasional character actor added for a touch of color and a taste of diversity. We can be bland Hollywood celebrity fodder like Mel and Bruce and Britney and Madonna.

Hmmm, we may be sorry we got what we wanted….