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Date of Issue:15/March/2004

Ban Lifted on Japanese Popular Culture in South Korea

Hitoshi Suzuki
Deputy Director General
Japan External Trade Organization, Seoul

The emergence of Kim Dae-jung as president in 1998 marked the beginning of progressive steps toward lifting South Korea 's ban on Japanese popular culture, with the fourth stage of this process launched on 1 January 2004 .

Currently, between 2.3 and 2.4 million Japanese visit South Korea every year, staying for an average of three days and two nights. That means that on any one day, there are close to 20,000 Japanese tourists in Korea . While only 1.3 to 1.4 million Koreans visit Japan every year, given the difference in population size (120 million Japanese compared to 50 million Koreans) and the visa requirement for Koreans visiting Japan, it would seem that Koreans hold a strong interest in Japan. Despite this strong citizen-level exchange between the two countries, historical reasons have for many years restricted the Korean public's exposure to Japanese popular culture.

In 1998, however, President Kim Dae-jung's rise to power saw the Korean government institute guidelines for the progressive lifting of the ban on Japanese culture, and four stages in this process have already been completed.

While the process of cultural liberalization over the last five years is a little complicated, I would like to go back over it in detail. It illustrates the Korean government's careful policy-making approach.

First and second stages: Partial liberalization
In the first stage of liberalization in 1998, the ban on manga was lifted completely, and Japanese films were also partly liberalized. The films in question were Japanese works that were either joint Japan-Korea productions, were awarded at the Cannes , Venice or Berlin film festivals, or had received a Grammy award. This did not include feature animation. Moreover, the ban was lifted only on the screening of Japanese films in theatres, not on television.

In the second stage in 1999, the film category was further freed up and popular music performances were partially liberalized (restricted to performances in halls seating no more than 2,000 people). All Japanese movies that had received awards not only at the four major events above but at any international film festival were allowed to be screened without censorship condition and other Japanese films that were not awarded were allowed to be screened to the extent that they had no censorship rating. These screenings remained confined to theatres and the ban on animated films continued. The ban on animation was due to the major impact of feature animation on the young, while in the case of television, the strong influence on the Korean public was the prime consideration.

In both the first and second stages of liberalization, obviously many restrictions still remained.

Third stage: Substantial liberalization
The third stage of liberalization in 2003 lifted the ban on all popular music performances. Films were also further liberalized to include those Japanese movies that had not received international film festival awards but had 12+ and 15+ ratings. Films with 18+ ratings continued to be banned. Feature animation was finally liberalized, with those works that had received awards at international film festivals or international feature animation festivals able to be shown in movie theatres.

In addition, music media such as records and CDs were liberalized to the extent that they did not feature Japanese lyrics (in other words, instrumental performances or lyrics sung in other languages), while in the games category, computer, on-line and arcade-style games were allowed in.

Broadcasting became a liberalization category for the first time, although limited to sports programs, documentaries and news programs. Because broadcasting was considered to impact on the public as a whole, even those Japanese films that could be screened in theaters were not permitted to be screened on terrestrial television. However, those movies which had been liberalized in the first three stages were allowed to be screened on cable and satellite televisions on the grounds that these fee-based channels attracted smaller audiences.

Fourth stage: Total liberalization
In the fourth stage of liberalization, which began on 1 January 2004 , all restrictions were lifted from films (theatre screenings), music media (CDs and records), and games. This included 18+ films, restricted films, music with Japanese lyrics, and video games for household game machines. The ban on feature animation will be lifted completely on 1 January 2006 . This allows a minimal grace period in which to establish Korea 's fledgling animation industry, with the ROK Ministry of Culture and Tourism currently formulating a medium- to long-term animation industry development plan.

The broadcasting industry was also freed up further. For satellite and cable television, the ban was lifted totally on lifestyle information programs, education programs, Japanese music, and Japanese movies and feature animation screening in Korean theatres and in terms of TV dramas, joint Japan-Korea productions and those programs with 7+, 12+ or general ratings were liberalized. In the case of terrestrial TV, the ban was similarly lifted on lifestyle information programs, education programs and Japanese movies (except feature animation) screening at Korean theatres. In the Japanese music category, however, only live screenings of Japanese singers concert in Korea and Japanese singers broadcast in Korean programs were permitted, and the ban was lifted only on TV dramas that were joint productions.

In short, the fourth stage basically encompasses those forms of Japanese popular culture that the Korean public can pay to enjoy.

Fifth stage
While the particulars of the fifth stage have not yet been determined, including the implementation schedule, the focus will probably be on entertainment shows (variety shows, talk shows, comedies, etc.) on terrestrial television, which ordinary Koreans can enjoy in their homes without having to pay. In the video area, because liberalization through to the fourth stage has been restricted to Japanese films and feature animation shown in Korean theaters, more progress in this area would be useful. Whether the fifth stage becomes the last, or whether the process will continue to a sixth stage and beyond, waits on the judgment of the Korean authorities.


Institute for International Studies and Training (IIST)
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