Japanese Women Catch the 'Korean Wave'
Male Celebrities Just Latest Twist in Asia-Wide Craze
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 31, 2006; Page A01
TOKYO -- Thin and gorgeous in a slinky black dress, Mikimoto pearls and a low-slung diamond Tiffany pendant, 26-year-old Kazumi Yoshimura already has looks, cash and accessories. There's only one more thing this single Japanese woman says she needs to find eternal bliss -- a Korean man.
She may just have to take a number and get in line. In recent years, the wild success of male celebrities from South Korea -- sensitive men but totally ripped -- has redefined what Asian women want, from Bangkok to Beijing, from Taipei to Tokyo. Gone are the martial arts movie heroes and the stereotypical macho men of mainstream Asian television. Today, South Korea's trend-setting screen stars and singers dictate everything from what hair gels people use in Vietnam to what jeans are bought in China.
Yet for thousands of smitten Japanese women like Yoshimura, collecting the odd poster or DVD is no longer enough. They've set their sights far higher -- settling for nothing less than a real Seoulmate.
The lovelorn Yoshimura signed up last year with Rakuen Korea, a Japanese-Korean matchmaking service, to find her own Korean bachelor. And she is hardly alone. More than 6,400 female clients have signed up with the company, which says its popularity has skyrocketed since 2004, when "Winter Sonata" became the first of many hot Korean television dramas to hit Japan. Even in Shinjuku ni-chome, Tokyo's biggest gay district, niche bars with names such as Seoul Man have sprouted like sprigs of ginseng in a Pusan autumn.
"South Koreans are so sweet and romantic -- not at all like Japanese guys, who never say 'I love you,' " Yoshimura said as she waited for her blind date, a single Korean man, in the 50th-floor bar of a chic Tokyo skyscraper. A telephone operator who lives with her parents in Hiroshima, she has spent thousands of dollars on her quest for a Korean husband, flying to Seoul 10 times in the past two years and bullet-training to Tokyo for seven blind dates with Korean men.
So far, though, she hasn't found the one she's looking for....