On 31 January 1994, the former Korean ambassador to Japan and incumbent minister of foreign affairs in Korea mentioned, in an interview with journalists in Seoul, that "it was time for Korea to examine the possibility of 'opening up' (kaebang) to Japanese popular culture." His comment instantly provoked nationwide pros and cons on the issue, not only because it touched on Korea's sensitive relationship with Japan arising from its colonial past but also because it was uttered not by a Japanese but by a renowned Korean diplomat. The issue became all the more sensational because, at the following sessions of the National Assembly in February the same year, assemblymen railed against the government for "secretly" promoting the official importation of Japanese popular culture without "proper" measures. One assemblyman even warned the Minister of Culture and Sports against "becoming the second Lee Wan Yong." 2 To make matters more complicated, President Kim Young Sam commented, at an interview broadcast by NHK (the Japanese national station) in March 1994, that this question would probably find a "solution" during his term of office, insinuating a possible imminent deregulation before the beginning of 1998.
What is the nature of Korean government control with regard to Japanese culture and commodities, and how is it perceived by various segments of the Korean population? What are the criteria that make a thing "Japanese" enough to be subject to government regulation in Korea, and what are the cultural meanings of consuming things Japanese within this particular ideological field?
In this chapter, I note the fuzzy boundaries of what counts as "Japanese" in contemporary Korea and argue that the Korean state's policing of national borders is part of the continuous negotiation of meanings over the colonial and postcolonial relationship between Japan and Korea, rather than an intention to obstruct the transnational flows of culture and cultural commodities. Globalization poses a particular challenge as well as an opportunity at this juncture because the occasion for both countries to recast the hitherto intense bilateral relationships from a wider perspective is at once dangerous and liberating.