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In late July, fellow Tofugu writer John posted this funny K-pop video on Facebook. I liked it, shared it with a few friends, and went on with my day. I thought it might get the same kind of cult following that quirky Asian pop videos like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s videos get (see: PONPONPON) but that’s about it.

Boy, was I wrong. While PONPONPON sits at a respectable 40 million views, that funny K-pop video turned out to be Gangnam Style (maybe you’ve heard of it) which as I write this, sits at 600 million views on YouTube. Its creator, K-pop sensation Psy, has danced with the UN Secretary General, taught Britney Spears to dance on network TV, and was signed to the same label as Justin Bieber.

But Gangnam Style never really caught on in Japan the way it caught on in the US and elsewhere. Around the same time Gangnam Style was blowing up, arguments over disputed islands in the Sea of Japan were getting heated between Korea and Japan. The most visible example of this is the South Korean soccer player ran across the field with a sign about the islands during the Summer Olympics.

In the last couple of weeks, big news outlets have reported that the two are related; Japan doesn’t like Gangnam Style based on the sole fact it’s Korean. It’s pretty mind boggling to me that this line of thinking is getting any press, but let me say it right now: it’s completely wrong.

Yes, Gangnam Style hasn’t done as ridiculously well in Japan as it has elsewhere in the world, but most Japanese aren’t petty enough to dislike a song out of spite. Even though the countries in East Asia feud from time to time, they’re still neighbors with more in common than you might be lead to believe.

Besides a lot of common history that dates back thousands of years, and a lot of the same cultural touchstones, countries in East Asia even like a lot of the same food, TV shows, music, and movies.

Photo by JongHyun Nam

Conveyor belt sushi has really taken off in Korea, and last year Nikkei Trendy magazine named the Korean rice makkori as one of its top 30 products of 2011.

Korean dramas, similar to Japanese dramas, have done really well in Japan. At one point, even Japanese prime minister Koizumi proclaimed that he was a huge fan of Korean drama actress Choi Ji-woo.

And of course, we can’t have a conversation about Japan and Gangnam Style without talking about K-pop. Japan loves K-pop and it regularly does really well on the Japanese music charts. In fact as Patrick St. Michel points out, as recently as a couple of weeks ago, K-pop group Kara tore up the music charts in Japan with the song Electric Boy.

In fact, before the whole Gangnam Style phenomenon took off, Psy was planning to write a song called “Roppongi Style,” after Tokyo’s ritzy Roppongi district. Unfortunately for us, the song is indefinitely postponed, and I really doubt that it’ll ever be made.

With all that, I think that it’s pretty fair to say that while there might be some quarreling about disputed territory, the Japanese and the Koreans all in all get along pretty well and that Gangnam Style flopped in Japan for completely unrelated reasons.

Ultimately, I can’t really say for sure why Gangnam Style didn’t appeal to the Japanese. Nobody has found the formula to a song that’s a universal hit, although Gangnam Style’s definitely come close. I guess that Psy will have to be satisfied with the ridiculous success he’s found in every other country in the world.

And if you want further proof of the good attitudes between Japan and Korea, the incredible Japanese band World Order (who we wrote about earlier this year) made a whole music video about their commitment to friendship between Japan, Korea, and in all of East Asia. Check it out:

  • MangaTherapy
  • http://www.facebook.com/NeoRyu Cory Staats

    World Order ftw!

  • orangedude

    In the Permanent Revolution video, you gotta love the woman at the two minute mark that just follows them! She’s so cool!!!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    She’s the star of the video IMO

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I hadn’t seen that before, thanks for the link!

  • MangaTherapy

    Your welcome! I do think that Japanese don’t like him because of his appearance. Probably reminds them of their strict parents. :D

  • Davey

    Poorly written article but it has some informing facts. Thanks.

  • HatsuHazama

    People around the world think Gangam Style is the most crazy-cool OTT thing they’ve ever see.

    The Japanese don’t think this.

  • フレヂィー

    I think it just depends on the circle of people you travel with. Here in the states where I live there are lots of people who don’t care for PSY or AKB48 or Girl’s Generation, etc.

  • フレヂィー

    Oh, and what I forgot to say is that I guarantee you that somewhere in Japan there are some who find PSY amusing and don’t hate him at all or think he’s uncool.

  • http://project-kathryn.blogspot.com/ kathryn

    Hey big news outlets – go look up HALLYU WAVE in your dictionaries.

  • Alexandrea Owens

    I would love to do the moves they did (Permanent Revolution video) with a bunch of friends :D

  • wain

    Why Japanese must love the artist just because Korean? it is just the fact that Almost every Japanese have no attention to him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

    It is very odd.

    Gangnam Style should have popped up on the Japanese charts. Psy reminds me of a typical manzai comedian with its slapstick style and his dance is definitely something that can come as a parody of some sorts.

    It has everything that can work in Japan as a hit. But it didn’t.

    I just don’t get it. Why it didn’t work in Japan (besides its political reasons)?

  • PSY

    I’M SO SICK OF GANGNAM STYLE!

  • Applesauce 21

    Haha this reminds me of a trashy news station talking about the Hallyu Wave, but saying that it was government mind control. Now people are saying everyone in Japan is racist because a song wasn’t a hit. Good grief…

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Well, then stop singing it all the time.

  • ZXNova

    Stupid people making up stupid reasons for stupid situations causing stupid drama.This basically sums up the people at big news outlets. At least, this specific one.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Dude, it’s your song.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    You should do it!

  • Tokyo_Ben

    So you completely deny the connection between territorial disputes and “Gangnam style” not taking off in Japan… but you have no theory what DID prevent its success? I know you’re not a news reporter, but credibility still counts for something, and you don’t come across as knowing what you’re talking about in this post.

  • tetsu66

    I did hear Gangnam style playing in Kyouto Eki this weekend though…

  • tralalaaaa

    This video made me smile. :D
    No more pre-WWII insults. I feel all warm and fuzzy. >v<
    월드 오더, 한국, 일본 화이팅!!!! <3

  • flyyy

    I was half-conscious of the song through facebook, but didn’t actually hear it until I was in a cafe here in Japan. I couldn’t figure out why they were playing a song about Gundam Style. lol
    I’ve heard it in a few other stores, so I don’t think it’s completely unknown here. But I didn’t think it was anything special at all, even with the video. So I can personally see why it’s not taking off in Japan. ^^;;;

  • http://www.facebook.com/catherine.cole.716 Catherine Cole

    Is Japanese Pop or Rock popular in Korea? I don’t think it is..:S I never really hear about that.

  • http://www.teachingengrish.blogspot.com/ Judith

    I don’t think it has anything to do with it being Korean. My students loooove Kara, most adults I know have been to Seoul at some point, Korean skincare is incredibly popular here, and let’s not even get started about the popularity of Kdramas. Most of the people I know here just have never heard the song before. Not sure why, but they just haven’t. Most people I know here haven’t heard of World Order either. It probably has more to do with it not sounding anything like the current music trends here.
    I also heard the reason he scrapped Roppongi style is because when he became an international sensation he didn’t really need to appeal to the Japanese anymore.

  • Tonylope

    Hate to nitpick, but Ponponpon has more like 40 million views. I know it’s not much compared to Gangam Style, but I think Kyary still deserves some credit

  • Buraian

    Obviously cause PSY was not good looking…

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I was basing the viewcount on the official YouTube video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pb3IdLdIc6s

    Is it posted somewhere else where the viewcount is higher?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Yeah, I heard that about Roppongi Style too. Why appeal to the Japanese market when you can dominate the world market?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I don’t really know, to be honest. I’m sure the Koreans listen to Japanese music, but I don’t know to what extent. SOrry!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    HE IS A BEAUTIFUL MAN

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I’m not too sure, but another commenter linked to a Kotaku article that explores why it didn’t work:

    http://kotaku.com/5951186/heres-where-gangnam-style-didnt-hit-it-big

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I’m not going to pretend to be a music industry analyst, so I can only speculate about what exactly prevented Gangnam Style’s success.

  • Pete_Rompler
  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    > I can’t really say for sure why Gangnam Style
    > didn’t appeal to the Japanese.

    Maybe because it’s excessively repetetive, meaningless, and on the whole fairly dumb?

    How did the badger badger mushroom thing do in Japan?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Ah you’re right, thanks!

  • linguarum

    Totally not big in Japan. To the point that some people in Japan really can’t believe it’s actually such a hit in America – Must be a Korean conspiracy to artificially inflate the YouTube count.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Greenwald/1818084312 Scott Greenwald

    Alas! Gangman Style lives on in Japan… this parode is great! ~enjoy

    http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNDcyNDgxNDky.html

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Greenwald/1818084312 Scott Greenwald

    It is due to political reasons, and also because the song is in Korean. Kara and other K-pop bands are popular in Japan because they are sung in Japanese. Korean-language pop music is not promoted much by the Japanese entertainment channels.. tv, radio, etc..

  • Hey

    You be straight off the chain wylin’. Don’t dis my bro Hashi a’ight?

  • rolingleaf

    We’d love to think people won’t hate each other just because of their nationalities, but in reality there are people like that. It’s definitely a factor playing here.

    On the other hand, I was not aware of the fad till I saw it on SNL so…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1774168512 Roentgen Del Mundo

    There’s something missing here “why” if you watch the video of gangnam style there was a scene there where psy was in the boat with a japanese flag and then he throw out the japanese flag in the water.

  • hoihoi

    yellow hat dance last year
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1hvWOPsQbQ

  • redrum

    when you look at the banner image, it looks like PSY’s fart is really dangerous.

  • FoxiBiri

    I bet that’s not the case in Shin-Okubo <3

  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.wade.16 Eric Wade

    Genki Sudo! He’s one of my favorite fighters (and now dancers)! Back when he fought, his entrances were always big correographed spectacles, and after all his fights he’d always hold up that “We Are All One” sign of his like he does at the end of this video.

  • http://jeremybeasley.com/ jeremy beasley

    Hashi, I might have missed this in the article but how/where did you discvoer the Japanese hate (“strongly dislike”) Gangnam style? Just curious.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1062810014 Alexander Michaelson

    Two days ago at Tower Records in Namba (Osaka) I saw a huge Gangnam Style display in the middle of the floor. With all the news I’ve been hearing about how “Japan doesn’t like the song” I was a bit surprised, but it was definitely an attention-grabbing display. I was glad to see it.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi
  • mish_mash

    love love World Order~~~ ♥♥

  • http://jeremybeasley.com/ jeremy beasley

    Thanks.

  • Jirugi

    What exactly does ‘Roppongi style’ consist of? lol

  • Guest

    What exactly does ‘Roppongi Style’ consist of?

  • Wanga Panga

    Ohh emmm geeee lurrrrrvv this XOX

  • Panga Wanga

    Who is this wanga panga.? they totessss stole my name ! but I do loveeeeeee this <3 PSY 4eva!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! xoxoxoxoxox

  • Lee ChanWoo

    I think Koreans and Japanese don’t like each other because they are GENERALIZING one another. For example, Koreans will hate Japanese because of WWII atrocities when they were done by a specific group of people (Japanese army) NOT Japanese in general. Japanese will hate on Koreans because of things like the soccer player with the sign. ( I am Korean and I felt very embarrassed that he did something very controversial and childish.) or when a Korean company copies something Japanese, some Japanese will generalize Koreans and hate them. I believe that we should not generalize one another, but love one another. JAPAN AND KOREA <3

  • Andy Lee

    I think Koreans and Japanese don’t like each other because they are GENERALIZING one another. For example, Koreans will hate Japanese because of WWII atrocities when they were done by a specific group of people (Japanese army) NOT Japanese in general. Japanese will hate on Koreans because of things like the soccer player with the sign. ( I am Korean and I felt very embarrassed that he did something very controversial and childish.) or when a Korean company copies something Japanese, some Japanese will generalize Koreans and hate them. I believe that we should not generalize one another, but love one another.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=807045124 Sally ‘Misa’ Blake

    I always see crossover in regards to the music charts, Korea will have Japanese music and Japan will have Korean music, so it never really seemed like the answer to it’s limited popularity in Japan. Interesting though :)

  • moichido

    I am an international student at the University of Tokyo Komaba Campus (where the first and second year kids study). It has DEFINITELY caught on here, at least. One does not have to wait very long at the Komaba courtyard to see people practicing their very own Gangam Style moves using their reflections in the cafeteria window.

  • Julia Song

    I have a few friends that strongly believe Korea is bad, That they hate ”yankees” that they are lying about the rape that happened in Korea from the Japanese… I am confused.. I love Japan but, I don’t hate Korea.. I actually like the music but, I don’t know what to believe…. I think is there something more to it?? does Psy hate his very fans (USA) I am not a big fan of OGS or any of Psy’s songs but, its fun to dance to I guess ^^; )

  • John T

    Hahhaa truely laughed. Japs hate koreans and are jealous of our global success. End of story