Reconsidering Transnational Cultural Flows of Popular Music in East Asia: Transbordering Musicians in Japan and Korea Searching for "Asia"

Article excerpt

After the South Korean government ban on Japanese culture was lifted in 1998 with the so-called Opening to Japanese culture (Ilbon munhwa kaebang) policy, cultural flows between Japan and South Korea (hereafter "Korea") both increased in size and became diverse in content, form, and context. Among these cultural flows, which became not only legal but also visible, flows in popular culture have been more abundant than those in "high" culture or "folk" culture. Popular culture flows go beyond cultural exchange in the classical sense; they are often "borderless," or at least engage in border-crossing, making it less easy to discern what a "national cultural flow" is. In this article, I will attempt to distinguish between the meanings of these kinds of flows through the case of popular music in Korea and Japan.

It is tempting to engage the border-crossing and transnational cultural flows of popular music between Korea and Japan through a concept of globalization, as recent studies on Asian popular music and its transnational cultural flows mostly tend to do, although the meaning and definition of globalization varies from scholar to scholar. Most of the research to date on Asian popular music has been interested in the local consumption of global texts or cultural appropriation and hybridization between the West and Asia (as the non-West). For example, some scholars observe indices of globalization in Korean popular music as an "appropriation of foreign style" and "linguistic hybridization." (1) In these analyses, "appropriation" and "hybridization" are understood as cultural processes defined by the interaction between the West (global) and non-West (local).

It is not my intention to disprove former studies on Korean popular music and Asian popular music in general or to suggest that they are without value. I do want to note, however, that these analyses overlook some important phenomena that have been taking place since the 1990s. In short, they lose sight of the "dynamic interaction among countries in the non-West." (2) In contrast, the paradigm called "trans-Asia cultural traffic" places more emphasis on transnational cultural flows that occur within different parts of Asia, rather than those that take place between the West and Asia. This paradigm gestures toward a more nuanced approach to the recent flow(s) of Asian popular culture without discarding the concept of globalization, but instead giving it a new impetus.

Research about popular music in Asia based on this paradigm has recently emerged. Eun-young Jung, a Korean ethnomusicology scholar, uses a notion of "transnational cultural traffic" in her analysis of the interaction between Japanese and Korean popular music. (3) What is most interesting is how she takes note of the "'presence' of Japan in Korea's popular music and culture" during the period when Japanese popular culture had officially been banned; Japan's so-called illegal presence cannot be explained without a consideration of transnational flows. (4) A recent unpublished work by Japanese cultural studies scholar Yoshitaka Mori offers insight into the specific case of Korea-Japan. By reconceptualizing the concept of hybridization, Mori gives it new meaning by attending to the transnational character of cultural interaction between Japan and Korea. He deconstructs the whole history of Japanese popular music as a "hybrid" one by arguing that "transnational music 'production,' as broadly conceived, precedes national production." (5)

For the purposes of this article, I assume a trans-Asia perspective. However, since my topic is not transnational flows in general, but instead the particular interactions that have taken place between migrant musicians who have crossed borders literally and figuratively, I will use the concept of "transbordering," which differs from ordinary forms of relocation as a more "globalized" phenomenon. It is "at once global and local." I argue that in cultural industries such as the music industry, international collaboration has provided and will continue to provide the material conditions for transbordering. …