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Hallyu 2.0: Hye Seung Chung

Hating the Korean Wave in Japan:
The Exclusivist Inclusion of Zainichi Koreans in Nerima Daikon Brothers

Various journalistic and ethnographic discourses about the Korean Wave (Hallyu/Hanryu) have thus far focused on celebratory reports of unprecedented popularity of Korean pop stars, TV personalities, and K-dramas in such countries as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, and Japan. The dramatic ascendancy of Korean popular culture at the dawn of the new millennium was prematurely dubbed by Korean critics a “global cultural force” (Youna Kim) and “a sign of global shift” (Cho Haejoang) despite the fact that the Korean Wave has remained largely an Asia-Pacific, rather than global, phenomenon.

In the past few years, several conference papers and academic articles have highlighted intense transnational fandom for one particular star, Bae Yong-joon (a.k.a. Yon-sama), whose wholesome persona and handsome smiles in KBS’s 20-episode love story Winter Sonata (2002) unexpectedly sparked a social phenomenon in Japan when the drama became a cult hit among middle-aged and geriatric female viewers. While many newspaper reports and scholarly essays accounted for the economic and cultural impact of the so-called Yon-sama craze which generated an estimated $3 billion profit (Cho 167-68), relatively little critical attention has been paid to a patriarchal, xenophobic backlash against the Korean Wave in Japan. Perhaps the best known example of the anti-Korean Wave movement in Japan is Yamano Sharin’s politically incorrect comic book entitled the “Hating the Korean Wave” (Manga Kenkanryu/Hyom Hallyu) and its sequel, which became bestsellers in 2005 and 2006. A lesser known but equally disturbing case study can be found in the “Sarang Heyo with My Balls” episode of TV Tokyo’s Nerima Daikon Brothers which was originally aired on January 15, 2006. This adult-themed musical anime series showcases the adventures of two brothers, Hideki and Ichiro (who are daikon farmers by day and band singers by night), and their cousin Mako. In the aforementioned episode, Mako falls victim to the lure of a neighboring “Hanryu Pachinko” where Korean Wave star lookalikes (who are, in fact, ugly Korean men who changed their faces through plastic surgery) seduce middle-aged Japanese women and swindle their money with gigolo-like behavior. Enraged and concerned, Hideki and Ichiro intervene and the trio attacks the Korean pachinko only to be captured by its Yon-sama-posing owner. While Hideki and Ichiro are being pickled alive inside a giant kimchi pot, Mako is nearly raped by the lewd Korean pachinko owner. Boosted by the power of kimchi, however, the Japanese brothers break the pot and save the pink-haired “damsel in distress” in the nick of time and punish the Korean aggressor by robbing him. Reminiscent of the notorious “Gus Chase” scene of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), in which a lecherous black renegade captain stalks an innocent young Southern belle in the woods, the rape scene in Nerima Daikon Brothers is particularly disturbing because of its foregrounding of the perpetrator’s ethnicity through constant references to yakiniku (Korean BBQ), kimchi, and kochujang (red pepper paste). The episode far exceeds what is permissible in U.S. parody animations such as South Park and Family Guy by explicitly depicting zainichi Koreans (Korean residents in Japan) as literally ugly con artists whose criminal behavior, foreign lifestyles and deviant sexuality threaten both the racial homogeneity of the Japanese nation and the chastity of Japanese women. By analyzing the episode’s colluding discourses of nationalism, patriarchy, xenophobia, and (post)colonialism in the context of Japan’s “politically incorrect” anime culture, this essay will shed new light on the darker flipside of the Yon-sama phenomenon in Japan which otherwise improved images of South Korea and, by extension, zainichi Koreans among the Japanese populace. Drawing upon Koichi Iwabuchi’s study of transnational Japanese popular culture, this essay will expose the ambivalent nature of mukokuseki (stateless) anime which can be co-opted as a means of disseminating explicitly sexist and racist images among otakus (anime fans) around the world, as evidenced by the cult status of Nerima Daikon Brothers DVDs in the United States.