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….

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2 Responses to Seoulmates

  1. Justin says:

    It’s not just Japan or simply Korean guys. One of the most popular TV shows in China recently has been a long-running Korean soap opera (dubbed in Mandarin) about a nurse in 18th or 19th century Korea.
    It’s led to a Korean boomlet of sorts (as well as the predictable hand-wringing by Chinese social scientists and propaganda aparatchiks about the shame of having a foreign TV show be so popular).
    My Chinese girlfriend whose hometown borders North Korea returned from there with a traditional Korean dress that she’d bought for about US$25 and sold it on consignment at a local women’s clothing store for about US$100. The store wants her to bring more…
    There’s also a Chinese stereotype regarding Korean women as subservient, loving, graceful, good tempered etc (all the cliches attributed to Asian women in general by westerners, of course). When I tell some Chinese men that I have a Korean ex-wife they always say “How lucky! Why did you divorce her? They are so (fill the blank .. sweet, loving, subservient blahblah).
    I just laugh and don’t tell them about her insane rages, weird mood swings and the time she went at me with a butcher knife.

  2. Dennis says:

    I’d love to hear move about how each Asian culture views the other. While we obvioulsy want to break down the stereotypes, I’d like to understand more about the layers of the onion that are between our broad bush of Asian steretypes as you mention and the differences that each has from the perspective of an Asian.
    For example, do the Japanese see cultural differences between the Taiwanese and the Chinese. Or between northern and southern Chinese. What about differences between northern and southern Japan? In Europe and America there seems to be a general trend of southerns are more open, engaging, friendly, relaxed, etc. does the same phenomenon hold is Asia.
    I kow the Janpanese and Chinese have been rivals and adversaries for centuries. Are the Koreans looked down upon by both?
    So Gil, I was actually wondering if you had any recommendations on books, websites, etc. that might help me get a better handle on some of these subteties of cultural generalizations.

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