Japanese popular culture makes a move to once again conquer the hearts of Thai fans
Once a thriving trend that turned Thais into serious manga readers and cosplay freaks, Japan’s popular culture was almost washed away during the past decade by the Korean wave.
But now J-pop is back, perhaps not as a surge, but gradually lapping Thai shores through music and television dramas.
The last 18 months alone have seen major concert promoter BEC-Tero bringing in such J-rock acts as X Japan, L’Arc-en-Ciel, Luna Sea, Scandal and Depapepe.
Avalon Live has focused on J-pop artists with concerts by Yamashita “Yamapi” Tomohisa and Hey! Say! Jump and is still hoping to rebook the boy band Kat-Tun, who have cancelled twice, first because of 2010’s political unrest here and then due to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
“The Japanese trend is coming though slowly but I don’t think it will be as strong as the Korean wave,” says Avalon Live’s CEO Kittiwat Manosuthi, who is planning to bring in two Japanese artists this year.
“It’s worth noting though that total ticket sales for the Korean concerts have reduced by half compared to a couple of years ago. So, I think it’s fair to say that the demand for K-pop is down.”
Other entertainment promoters have noticed the trend and stepped in to bridge the gap. Japanese TV stations, among them NHK, NTV, TBS, Fuji TV, TV Asashi and TV Tokyo, joined the recent J Series Festival, the biggest collaboration between Thai and Japanese TV networks to date and supported by Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
“Thai and Japanese people have enjoyed a close relationship for a very long time,” says Japanese ambassador Shigekazu Sato. “There are plenty of Japanese restaurants, companies and cartoons around Thailand but Japanese dramas and movies are rarely shown on screen. I asked my daughter why the Korean series are so very popular and she said it’s because they are easier to understand than the complicated Japanese series. I would like J-series to be an alternative for Thai people because they are important representatives of our culture. On behalf of the Japanese government, I will officially support the policy of importing J series to several countries in Asia.”
Eleven Japanese TV series were presented during the festival’s press conference at Siam Paragon’s Siam Pavalai Theatre with excerpts from “Seigi no Mikata” (“Ally of Justice"), “Nobuta wo Produce”, “The Solitary Gourmet”, “Love Strikes”, “Teppei”, “Legal High”, “Rinjou: The Voice of the Death”, “Antarctica”, “Cloud Above the Slope”, “Taira no Kiyomori” and “Ooku” (“The Inner Palace”) all shown on screen.
The copyright of some of the series is already held by Thai stations.
“Antarctica”, the true story of a team of Japanese explorers and the dogs they were forced to leave behind, finished its run on Thai PBS last night.
Modernine has the rights to “Ooku” while Workpoint TV hold the lawyers-in-love drama “Legal High”. And Bang Channel has two – “Seigi no Mikata” and “Nobuta wo Produce.”
The festival also saw the participation of Kat-Tun’s Taguchi Junnosuke, who stars in “Legal High”, actress Kanno Miho from “Ooku”, singer Piko and idol group Tokyo Girls’ Style.
“When I came to Thailand 10 years ago, there were no Japanese series being shown on any Thai channels. Admittedly, the copyright payment used to be rather expensive. Later, with the TV network arrangement, it became cheaper. But even with lower prices, the series didn’t become popular. That’s why we’ve organised this festival. Thailand is our first stop but we will also be going to other countries in Asia,” says Hajime Shigemura, chairman of Nippon Broadcasting System and the festival’s producer.
“Korean dramas are very interesting and have a large fan base in Thailand, so we are working hard to compete,” he adds. “But the Korean wave washed ashore in Japan before it came to Thailand but it’s now receding. We anticipate that J-pop will replace K-pop in the next year.
However, Hajime has taken note of the comment by the ambassador’s daughter about Japanese series being more complicated than their Korean peers.
“We have easy-to-understand series too,” he insists. “And that’s what we are promoting here. We also produce 10 times more dramas than the South Koreans.”
Festival organiser Yupharet Eakturapakal, who is vice president of Mainichi Academic Group and Mainichi Japanese Language School, is confident the Japanese push will succeed. “The TV dramas and comedies are really targeted at those aged 35 an over, most of whom have a fascination with Japan,” she says.
Hajime, meanwhile, says he’s planning promote Japanese series in Thailand every year.
“And we’ll be back again this year too. As a regular visitor to Thailand, I believe that Thais will want to know more about J series,” he says.