Why are people more fascinated with Japan than Korea?

There is little point in talking about the fundamental appeal of the countries as they are now, but I’ve come up with some possible historical explanations:

- Japan opened up to the world just as Chinoiserie was getting old hat, making Japanisme a sure fire hit. By the time that Korea also opened up, the last thing people wanted was yet another Asian fashion boom

- Like it or not, military success (even of your enemies) has a certain appeal. Just as the Nazis are much more interesting for the Hitler Channel (“affectionate” nickname of the History Channel) than the sufferings of the Dutch, the military exploits of the first Asian country to defeat a European one are much more interesting to read about, both as fiction and history, than the litany of victimhood that is the Korean past.

- Ditto for the militaristic Samurai and the bureaucratic Yangban, or at least the self image of them

- The economic growth of Korea is even more impressive than that of Japan, but happened when the Japanese overtaking the US made the news much more than the Koreans rapidly coming up behind.

- Korea simply doesn’t lend itself to the simplistic one line explanations that have spawned a million bullshit but still readable books about Japan

- Much of what we think we appreciate as exotic Japanese art (such as late ukiyoe, manga, Murakami Haruki, Kurosawa movies, and contemporary Japanese art) is much more affected by Western influence and therefore palatable to us than we might think

- Other examples of the Japanese just getting there first while we were still interested, such as Akira Kurosawa being the first Asian to win a big cinematic prize

- The conscious selling of Japanese culture by the Japanese government and business. The Koreans have mainly concentrated on selling their own pop music and soap operas to other Asian countries, a market with some understandable resistance to the Japanese, leaving the Japanese to take over the west

- Some random influences, like Memoirs of a Geisha, Shogun and The Last Samurai being the right kind of populist escapist tosh at the right time. They could just as easily have been based in Korea, but they just weren’t. Unfortunately for the Koreans, each random happening like that sets up another whole generation of people who are fascinated by Japan and so more likely to support the next Japan based Western cultural product rather than a

- Just as the Japanese economy was sinking and anyway becoming a story that had been covered to death and the Korean economic miracle looked like becoming newsworthy, the Chinese economy opened up and the film industry took off, making for a cultural version of most of their historical overshadowing

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14 Comments

  1. Michael said,

    May 24, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Who cares about Korea. Their food is basically Japanese food with chili oil and more grease and get this, they use metal chopsticks….WOW. The real reason may be the Korean population is small like Canada or Australia not half of the US like Japan.

    Also 40% of the population are proselytizing Christians. People aren’t as psyched about door knockers as they are abvout hot women in mini skirts and stocking that don’t reach their skirts.

  2. jonholmes said,

    July 8, 2009 at 6:14 am

    Korea-the Hermit Kingdom-was closed until basically 1945 and the North still is closed.

    It is more “difficult” than Japan, and as one westerner said “There isnt much for us here”.

    However, I dont think Japan has succeeded selling J-pop to the west, apart from Ryuichi Sakamoto, and a few other minors on the college circuit. And these bands are not “J pop” but usally in complete opposition to J pop, hence they are more “popular” outside Japan.

  3. alexcase said,

    July 23, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Korea was not basically closed until 1945. For one thing, the first universities were mainly set up by foreigners not long after the same thing happened in Meiji Japan

    Plenty of hot women in Korea too (and every country, come to think of it), although the restrictions on pornography in Korea might be responsible for a lack of interest of one particular segment of Western society

  4. Alicia said,

    September 13, 2009 at 11:25 am

    I find it odd that there are tons of hatred articles and anti-korean videos on internet when Korea has never invaded, terrorized nor tortured anyone internationally unlike Japan and America.

    Korean videos always get the most hateful comments, saying things like “Korea is the number one Plastic surgery nation” when in reality, US ranks #1 and Japan way higher in number of people getting surgery.

    Don’t you agree that when people put enormous pressure on picking apart a nation which doesn’t deserve much of publicized criticism?

    than you rarely see people making hateful comments on Japanese or American videos or articles although those two countries are responsible for countless deaths of innocents?

    Can someone enlighten me and help me understand Where this confusing hatred is really coming from??

    Are koreans known to be that violent and bad?

  5. Alicia said,

    September 13, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Maybe people are fascinated with Japan because they like perverted hentai pornography and disgusted by Korean’s rather boring view on sex.

    It’s well known fact that japanese women are much more wild and EAGER to please men in bed.

    and Perhaps people love Japanese stuff because they love violence, torture and perversion.

    those of you that disagree with above statement are either in denial and lying to themselves.

    WHY are people more fascinated with Japan than Korea?

    Because people like you, who obviously dislike Korea start a blog site and write vague hate-filled articles about Korea, because in your idiotic thinking, you think people will focus more on Japan and love Japan because of it.

    the truth is, people who are interested in Japan will stick to japanese stuff and people who are interested in Korea will stick to korean stuff.

    Although it’s the japanese that go extra miles to bring down others and advertise theirs.

    Your superficial ways of attracting and dealing with the tourists, handling business are well known fact.

    and those who buy into that fake smile, extravagant facade will love your Japanese kind.

    and those who truly understand Japanese know what is behind that smile.

  6. alexcase said,

    September 13, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    “vague hate-filled articles about Korea”

    I’ve read the post again, and there is not one negative comment about Korea in it (and a couple of negative things about Japan). If you came here to give people a better impression of Koreans, I don’t think you’ve done a very good job. Care to try again?

  7. Jane said,

    September 18, 2009 at 7:55 am

    I agree with Michael in that the country/population of Korea is just much smaller, and so less influential.

    That said, I don’t hate Korea. I love Korean food (eg Ginseng Chicken soup, kimchi soup etc. Yummmm). To me it is quite different from Japanese food. More like: 40%Chinese + 30%Japanese + 30%neither.

  8. Men 101 said,

    November 1, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    I’m learning more and more about Asia and find that here is the West we a re just fed more information about Japan. Koreans haven’t marketed their country/culture as heavily.

    That said I’m dying to visit that side of the world. I want to visit them all. Hong Kong, China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore. Never wanted to visit India. I can’t put my finger on why.

  9. November 7, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    “the truth is, people who are interested in Japan will stick to japanese stuff and people who are interested in Korea will stick to korean stuff.”

    I cannot agree with you. I am interested in both Japan and Korea and I wanna try to learn both languages. the only problem is that the Korean pronunciation seems pretty hard to me…

    I hope Korea will not try to become too Western, because this is something which annoys me about Japan. I do not like it when the whole world thinks it has to adapt to the US… Like Europe taking over US university system (Undergraduate, Graduate) even though the German diploma was very reputable…

  10. RobG said,

    July 22, 2010 at 5:12 am

    Gee, Alicia’s got enough hatred going there for the Japanese to make us think she’s a Korean-American with deep insecurity issues.

    There are cool Koreans/Korean-Americans, and there are the other kind who use the net and other media to promote hate. The Japanese are targets and especial targets are western foreigners teaching English in Korea. I’m cool with anybody in the world but xenophobia and the backwards kind of nationalism is a big reason why most people apart from Koreans think Japan is a more attractive and interesting place.

    Re Korean history – though you did get western missionaries etc going to Korea and building schools, unis, churches etc, Korean elites themselves did nothing like the elite clans of Japan who sent their young men out to Europe to get educated in western technology etc.

    Korea chose to isolate itself for many centuries. Koreans can’t expect others to be interested in their country when their country repelled the outside world as much as it could long before the Japanese colonised it.

    The exception was the relationship with China – Korea was a vassal of China for centuries, K elites adopted Chinese culture and most of the so called Korean culture now is old Chinese culture. Real homegrown Korean culture is actually the lowbrow peasant traditions.

    Koreans honestly believe their country has endured far more than any other country on earth and cite supposedly endless invasions through which they kep ‘the Korean bloodline pure’. This nasty pseudo-fascist claptrap is another thing that turns the rest of the world off of Korea.

    The facts are Korea was subject to China because its elites sought that. For a while Korea was ruled by the Mongols who conquered the ruling powers at the time and it was during this period that Koreans with the Mongols tried to invade Japan. Japan’s attempted invasions came after the attempted joint Korean-Mongol conquest – NOT before.

    Korea was a very feudalistic society until the late 19th century. It remained extremely undeveloped until not so long before the Japanese obtained control of it. Apart from Buddhist learning, Chinese education and its own hangeul alphabet (which was actually based on Indian Hindu sanskrit), Korea had little technological and social progression.

    When westerners brought inventions such as bicycles to Korea, enraged mobs of the Koreans tried to kill the bicycle rider. Korea has invented nothing that has been of value to the world at large and certainly lagged behind in most areas. This has a lot to do with the stupid and embarrassing claims to ‘Korean cultural superiority’ – a sense of inferiority that takes the form of melodramatic and false assertions that Koreans invented inventions that came from other countries such as European ones and changed the world.

    Even in 2010 Korea has a hangover from previous decades of military rule and fascist type indoctrination. School education contains many texts with factual inaccuracies, exaggerations and lies about Korean and world history. And of course the ‘superiority and purity of the Korean nation’.

    Given that the notion of being a nation came very late to this feudal country where the rulers and anybody of note saw themselves as Chinese by association and cultural preference, the nonsense about the Korean nation and its blatantly untrue ‘superiority’ is just another thing that westerners find offensive and annoying.

    And under Japanese rule, before South Korean dictators made up nationalistic fantasies for the divided nation, there was fairly widespread collaboration from the Korean privileged classes, who were keen to present themselves as superior to the rest of Asia and the world along with the fascist Japanese.

    When you live in Japan and then in Korea or vice versa, you notice that this kind of xenophobia comes from morons driving around in black vans. In Korea, xenophobia is very much mainstream which is a big reason why so many prefer Japanese society and culture to that of Korea.

  11. RobG said,

    July 22, 2010 at 5:24 am

    Oh, and if you want to talk about ‘violence and torture’ Alicia, go to any location in Korea and see how many maimed and beaten dogs/cats there are. Animal cruelty is all too widespread in Korea despite the valiant efforts of a humane minority of Koreans.

    Not to mention that criminals who sweep the streets, stealing pets and runaway dogs who were beaten and injured by their owners, cart these dogs and some cats off to ‘meat markets’.

    Got no problem with eating dog? If you have any humanity, you should.

    The trouble is dogs are confined in hideously tiny spaces with no room to move or clean themselves or defacate. When they are selected to be food they are burned while conscious, tortured by being beaten again and again. Their death is obscene and slow.

    The ‘superior Korean culture’ (their words, not mine) has nothing to say about this except that the torture makes the meat better. So much for Korean intellect. Around 2 million dogs and cats are tortured and killed this way each year in Korea.

    I forgot to mention how cats are tortured and killed to make ‘broths to cure swine flu’ among other illnesses. And Korea is supposed to be a First World Country

    Not that I think it is -from my experiences living there it’s still on the second rung for a no. of reasons including hygiene, lack of the rule of law, lack of laws to make society more humane, paying off others to get out of just punishment for violating others’ rights, corruption at the high and low levels etc).

  12. crella said,

    August 4, 2010 at 2:01 am

    What Japan has Alicia visited? Another tourist to come for 10 days that were spent in Shinjuku, and that now has a handle on the entire culture? (I know people like this, really….I’ve been here 30 years and these 2-weekers will lecture me on the internet about how perverted Japan is. Makes you wonder why they chose to spend their trips as they did….)

  13. crella said,

    August 4, 2010 at 2:02 am

    ‘who came’, sorry, sloppy editing….

  14. alexcase said,

    April 1, 2012 at 12:32 am

    Donald Keene mentions these things:

    “…Japan had suddenly become popular. Even people who had always assumed that Japanese culture was no more than an imitation of Chinese culture changed their minds after seeing the Japanese house erected at the Museum of Modern Art at the exhibition of Japanese National Treasures in various American cities. Zen teachings, introduced around this time, also enjoyed popularity with intellectuals as a religion without a god. An even more important factor was the sudden vogue of Japanese films, which began with Rashomon” Chronicles of My Life by Donald Keene pg 99

    Another big factor is that Korean architecture is brightly coloured and that very much doesn’t match the interests of the kind of people who are interested in Eastern mysticism etc as much as the very austere Japanese stuff


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