Colonial memory and Influx of Japanese pop culture



South Korea was not the main target of the shojo manga, but Japanese anime was imported to South Korea as part of cultural political openness. I would like to mention why this policy is crucial in the context of Korean modern history. There was a Japanese colonial era from 1910 to 1945 in Korea. As a result, the Joseon Dynasty (before the Republic of Korea) has collapsed, people punished whenever using Korean, a bunch of Japanese imperialistic attitude and mode came to the Korean peninsula. That is why the older generation treats Japan as a kind of evil because of this desperate history. In this context, expressing fascination at any Japanese popular culture could be seen as rebellion and taboo. However, there have been more and more young people who are familiar with Japanese culture including the animations. To be frank, I am one of them. I was very much intrigued by the animes. There were actually several anime broadcasts in Korea, most of their content was created from Japan. I assume that the way a young Korean who has the colonial memory look at this culture and the way the Western world look at this culture should be different. Because my country has experienced Japanese colonial history, a lot of Koreans still remember the tough days.


As I said above, there was the Japanese colonial era between 1910 and 1945, which is still affecting Korean society and culture so far. But, a significant event took place in 1998. Korean president Kim Dae Jung adopted a policy that accepts Japanese pop culture. It was actually a sort of political deal between two countries; South Korea, who opened and imported that culture, received Japan’s formal apology for its colonial domination. Yet, Japanese government had a political intention to erase the memories of colonial period by diffusing their popular culture. (Lee, 2009, p.137) As a result, a large number of Japanese animations were introduced, children were naturally exposed to them by watching television and reading mangas. Interestingly, Korean broadcasting systems tried to wipe out Waesaek (a long-lasting word to describe Japanese style badly) in the contents aiming to avoid instill Japanese values to young kids. To be honest, I regarded the characters as Koreans without any doubt because many of their names were in Korean and they spoke Korean as well. For example, うさぎ(Usagi) from <Sailor Moon> was renamed to 세라(Sera), あいこ(Aiko) from <Ojamajo Doremi> was given a new name to 사랑(Sarang).


The Ambivalent Attitudes towards Japan


Along with the complicated historical and political issues up to now, young people have tended to differentiate Japanese culture from diplomatic issues. In other words, for those Koreans, Japanese culture has become one of the options in which they can be interested among other cultures, regardless of the complicated matters. Nevertheless, they share a sense of guilt to some degree because of the fact they are a big fan of Japanese culture as a Korean. (Kim, 2011, p.81) Possessing romantic thoughts of Japanese animation might be understood as something concealed, but paradoxically, Japanese culture has been enjoyed by the masses. It is important to note that the new generation tends not to justify its two attitudes; they separate political stance to Japan and preference to Japanese pop culture. (Kim, 2011, p.85) In my case, I have not always been free from admiring that culture in this sociocultural environment. I have developed a sort of bipolar perception of Japan like the people I described above. Hence, the way I see Japan is like love and hatred, ambivalent.



Eternal Atonement


As I said, South Korea and Japan are closely intertwined on historical and political issues. Comfort women, the euphemism for the victims of Japan’s military sexual slavery, has been a major issue. Kim Chang Ryeol, who is the owner of the private Korea Botanical Garden, commissioned the statue to commemorate an estimated 200,000 of the victims and the artist Wang Kwang Hyun made it. The installation has been located in the private garden in Pyeongchang in South Korea. Japan has reacted angrily to the sculpture as they interpret that the kneeling figure in front of the girl statue is Shinzo Abe, Prime minster of Japan. However, the garden's owner Kim claims that the man is remaining anonymous and the statue is open to interpretation, pointing out that we should focus on the girl(victim), not on the man. It is interesting to see how Japan reacts to comfort women controversy in spite of the atrocious crime. I want to inform people that many Koreans still remember the painful history and want to address related issues regardless of the preference for Japanese pop culture.




Kim, Hyo Jin. “A New Flow of Acceptance of Japanese Public Culture after the Korean Wave(Hallyu).”Jisigy Jipyeong (the Horizon of Knowledge), vol. 11, 21 Oct. 2011, pp. 81–85.


Lee, Seonghwan.The Colonial Memory, the Influx of Japanese Mass Culture and the Relationship between Korea and Japan. 2009, p. 137.


http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20200728000863

http://artasiapacific.com/News/JapanesePrimeMinisterLookAlikeStatueInSouthKoreaStirsControversy

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/29/unforgivable-japan-decries-wartime-sex-slave-statue-likened-to-pm-shinzo-abe