The First K-Wave

E. Taylor Atkins

in Primitive Selves

Published by University of California Press

Published in print August 2010 | ISBN: 9780520266735
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520947689 | DOI:
The First K-Wave

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This chapter describes the seldom acknowledged cultural impact of Koreana on imperial Japanese popular entertainment. It examines specific examples that were genuinely popular in Japan—folk songs such as “Arirang” and “The Bellflower Song” (“Toraji t'aryŏng”), imagery of kisaeng (courtesan-entertainers), and the choreography of Ch'oe Sŭng-hŭi, one of imperial Japan's most prominent celebrities. Koreana was most popular in Japan at a time when assimilation pressures in the colony itself were becoming more forceful. With the onset of war in China and the Pacific, the colonial regime's highest priority was to knit Koreans more tightly into the fabric of the empire so as to ensure their loyalty and deploy them more effectively for the war effort. This included much tighter censorship of Korean-language media, tougher enforcement of “national language” policies and mandatory shrine visits, and the Name Change (sōshi kaimei) Campaign, which compelled Koreans to adopt Japanese names. There remained, however, a place for what was distinctively Korean, as a charming indicator of the multiplicity of “local colors” that constituted the new cultural order of Japan's empire.

Keywords: Koreana; imperial Japanese popular entertainment; folk songs; kisaeng; Japanese empire

Chapter.  15274 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Asian History

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