“I gave up going to college and enrolled in a Korean idol trainee academy. Japanese idols practice for less time than Korean idols, and their skills are poor, so I’m going to practice with my life dream to become a Korean idol. I’m 18 years old, so I’m nervous because I’m old, but I’ll do my best to become an idol as much as I gave up on college.”
Ayame Sumimoto is an 18-year-old student at the YKA dance studio in Yokohama, Japan. Sumimoto, who we met at a Korean idol trainee academy on June 27, said, “I’m a fan of BTS Jimin, and I felt it was great that Jimin supported the lives of his fans.” Sumimoto said, “My parents are anxious, saying, ‘If you don’t become an idol, it will be hard to get a job, what will you do later?’ but I really want to debut as much as I desperately need it.”
In Japan, more and more teenagers are dreaming of becoming “Korean” idols like Sumimoto. This demand is why a Korean idol training academy was established. Choi Jik-soo, CEO of the academy, said, “We are the first to open an academy in Japan that teaches singing and dancing in a Korean way,” adding, “Many Korean agencies are interested in selecting Japanese members, so many aspiring idol trainees are coming.” Currently, a total of 300 students are learning Korean dance and singing at the academy. Of these, 90% are girls and 10% are boys.
Why do Japanese teenagers dream of becoming “Korean-style” idols and attend academies? CEO Choi said, “Children who grew up watching J-pop idols often target Korea as they realize the difference in skills after encountering Korean idol contents.” In fact, 14-year-old Takezo Erena, who we met in the practice room of the YKA dance studio on the same day, said, “I dreamed of becoming a Korean idol while watching the Japanese members of the group TWICE perform.” Takezo, who said, “I admire the professionalism of Korean idols,” recently achieved his first-stage dream as a trainee at a Korean idol agency.
There is even a K-pop course in Japan. Korea International Academy, a Korean school in Osaka, Japan, established a “K-pop entertainment” course last year. It is a process in which you can speak three languages, Korean, Japanese, and English, and Japanese flocked to it. Kim Soon-cha, chairman of the school, said in an interview with the Munhwa Ilbo on June 30, “All 13 K-pop entrants were Japanese last year, and 28 out of 30 entrants this year were Japanese.” Chairman Kim said, “Most of the students aim to study in Korea, so we invite Korean Wave instructors to provide professional education.“
How does the Japanese parents’ generation view teenagers who dream of becoming Korean idols? It is not easy to welcome them to leave their parents for unfamiliar Korea, as they have to give up their studies, carry out their murderous training schedules, and leave their parents. There are many voices dissuading this, saying, “What can they do when they go to Korea and can’t become an idol?” However, some mothers who have enjoyed Korean dramas and movies since their youth have different thoughts. “K-pop and Korean dramas are popular all over the world, so it’s okay to try them,” one said. Starting with the “Yon-sama” (Bae Yong-joon sama) craze in the early 2000s, the power of the Korean Wave, which has been accumulated step by step in Japan, has become the most reliable supporter of the fourth Korean Wave in Japan.