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Winning hearts one plate at a time

Feb 07,2018
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[KIM HOE-RYONG]
You may think Twice and cheese dakgalbi, or spicy stir-fried chicken, have nothing to do with each other. However, they are actually fulfilling a similar mission in Japan — the mission of reviving Hallyu, or the Korean cultural wave, which has withered there due to anti-Korean sentiment.

Twice is already the most sought-after musical group in Japanese media. Last year, the girl group appeared at NHK Kohaku Uta Gassen, a special year-end show in Japan. The last appearance of Korean artists there was six years ago, when TVXQ, Girls’ Generation and Kara performed.

Twice’s first Japan tour began in January, and concerts are already sold out. Since Feb. 2, Twice has become the face of SoftBank’s television commercial. SoftBank’s ad campaign is known to feature top stars, including boy band SMAP and popular actor Ryoma Takeuchi.

Japanese media recently began highlighting Korean idols such as Twice and BTS. Close-up Gendai Plus, a current affairs show on NHK, discussed the rise of Korean idols, opening with a dance from Twice’s hit song “TT” and praising the way young Korean musicians are dominating the global music market. They also discussed how BTS is doing well on the U.S. music charts.

The show emphasized the importance of strategic PR through social media and aggressive auditioning across nationalities, in addition to artistic skills, as secrets to their success. About 400 young Japanese are now training at a K-pop class in Osaka, the show reported, and one high school girl said in an interview that, even if a Japanese agency scouted her, she would only aim to debut in Korea.

Cheese dakgalbi is just as widely popular. Shin-Okubo, Tokyo’s Koreatown, was hit by growing anti-Korean sentiment from 2012 to 2016 before cheese dakgalbi came to the rescue. Since 2016, the dish has become exponentially popular among middle and high school girls in Japan, and by the end of 2017, cheese dakgalbi had become one of the country’s buzzwords of the year. Thanks to young people visiting Shin-Okubo to taste cheese dakgalbi, the area is now bustling on weekdays and weekends alike.

Thankfully, Twice and cheese dakgalbi have proven that great talents and cuisine can overcome even the most absurd forms of discrimination.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 6, Page 33

*The author is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo Japan.

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