Japan invades South Korea

Pop culture exchange between Korea and Japan has a deep and complex history. In this article, we’ll look at this history and how it influenced the localization of K-pop and J-pop.

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Conflict in drama and movies

Han So-hee, the protagonist of , a Netflix drama set against the backdrop of Japan’s 731st Unit’s biological experimentation on Koreans, was indiscriminately attacked by Japanese commenters. This is the same phenomenon that has happened before, when Korean actors’ comments reminding us of Japan’s militaristic atrocities were attacked.

“Not a romance of Gyeongseong, not a creature of the Japanese occupation, but a story of the people of that glorious and dark time, facing the monsters born of experiments that instrumentalized human beings…” – From actress Han So-hee’s Instagram post

These attacks can be seen as a resistance to fulfilling the uncomfortable relationship that Japanese people have with consuming their historical mistakes and chibi as content. It can be seen as a phenomenon that occurs during the transition from the dominant relationship of “imperialism-colonialism” to the receptive relationship of “content producer-consumer”.

The subtle relationship between K-Pop and J-Pop

The relationship between K-Pop (Korean popular music) and J-Pop (Japanese popular music) is ambivalent and reversible. It’s true that the original accumulation of K-pop was through J-pop. Japan’s leading idol group production companies, such as AVEX and Janis Office, which were benchmarked by SM and JYP, have signed many K-pop singers.

The Japaneseization of K-pop

Early K-pop was a mimicry of J-pop. You could call it the “Japaneseization of K-pop”. However, this had less to do with musical plagiarism or references and more to do with the way idol groups were produced and distribution partnerships to reach the Japanese market. In other words, the Japaneseization of K-pop is an early manifestation of the globalization of K-pop.

Localizing K-pop

However, the Japaneseization of K-pop is now transitioning to “localization of K-pop”. This is a result of major K-pop labels like JYP and YG producing “K-pop-ish” J-pop groups in Japan. Representative groups include NiziU and JO1 (ジェイオーワン).

Koreanization of J-Pop

The Koreanization of K-pop has created a K-pop rush of former Japanese idol members or idol wannabes. This is especially evidenced by the fact that most K-pop idol groups that debut these days have at least one Japanese member. What we can see from this is that the localization of K-pop can eventually be translated into the Koreanization of J-pop.

Psychological Tensions in Korean and Japanese Pop Culture

But even with all this, the psychological tension between Korea and Japan has not been resolved. Japan’s hateful sentiment lurks in the subconscious, exploding whenever certain events occur.

BTS and the Korea-Japan conflict

This phenomenon was also seen in the story of BTS member Jimin in 2017. Jimin wore the T-shirt in question to the filming of his 2017 YouTube documentary . This caused a stir in the Japanese media at the height of BTS’s Japanese activities.

Korean-Japanese pop culture reversal

The inversion of Korean-Japanese pop culture exists alongside a self-fulfilling prophecy: “All pretty, dancing, singing Japanese idols go to Korea. This is due to the proliferation of K-pop singers appearing in all-white concerts, which has become known as the “K-pop Invasion”.

The psychology of K-pop localization

Even amidst the Koreanization of J-pop, Japanophobic sentiments are still lurking in the subconscious and explode whenever certain events occur. The Koreanization phenomenon of J-pop is the perfect “cultural implosion” of the Japanese militaristic political slogans that proclaimed the unity of the nation during the colonial period. The stronger the hateful sentiment, the stronger the psychological reaction to the localization of K-pop, the Koreanization of J-pop. Because localization in K-pop is the desire for difference(related article)

Localization of K-pop and Japan’s contemporary cultural complexes

The localization of K-pop, or the Koreanization of J-pop, is a logic of cultural capital, but it also touches on the backbone of Japan’s contemporary cultural complex. However, the moment of reckoning will never come. Because at the end of the day, the localization of K-pop is determined by individual desires, not the empty ideology of political militarism and vain delusions.


Pop culture exchange between Korea and Japan has a deep and complex history. Between past conflicts and current collaborations, their relationship continues to evolve. This change comes in the form of the localization of K-pop and J-pop, which is helping to bridge the psychological tension between the two countries.

– This article is based on a Fresian contribution by Dongyeon Lee, a professor at Korea National University of Arts. I personally found this an interesting read.

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