J-Pop vs K-Pop

I will not say that I am a huge fan of K-Pop, nor am I a huge fan of J-Pop, but I am more familiar with J-Pop than K-Pop.  But I find myself very impressed with the K-Pop groups I have seen.  The other day I saw a “Girls’ Generation” cover of “Dancing Queen” – they did it in English, and without a discernable accent.  It was extremely high quality.  Frankly, it was much higher quality than I would expect out of a J-Pop group.  More frankly, any J-Pop group save, perhaps, Babymetal.

There seems to be a cultural difference between Korean and Japanese pop, and I have remarked on it before.  The Japanese seem to value cuteness and approachability, and talent doesn’t seem to matter.  The Koreans seem to deliberately cultivate unapproachability and perfection.  Their idols truly seem to be meant to be idols, meaning, objects of worship.  But the Japanese groups don’t really need talent – hardly at all – as long as they can gain a following of people who will buy their albums and “support” them (meaning, voting in senbatsu competitions and buying their products).

Now I’ll admit I don’t know a whole lot about K-Pop, but I know what I saw the other night, and that was quality.  Some groups are a little more fun than others, like Crayon Pop seems to have more of a J-Pop sensibility to it.  The Japanese seem to think “ganbatte”, or “try my best”.  They’ll prepare as much as necessary and get it done.  The Koreans seem to think “If I have to try, I’m not good enough.  I’m going to nail this.”  And holy cow, do they.

Which do I like better?  I don’t know.  If I’m looking for cute and poppy, J-Pop pretty much fits the bill.  If I’m looking for actual quality, it’s K-Pop all the way.  The poor J-Pop groups – particularly the really popular ones like AKB48 – really don’t stand a chance.  They’re cute, they’re funny, they’re silly, they’re adorable, and Korean singers and dancers wipe the floor with them.

But then, they know this.  They know exactly what they are, what they do, and why they’re there.  Maybe it will translate to success in the future for them – I know aces like Takahashi Minami and Sashihara Rino have gone on to decent careers.  But not all.  I don’t think that would be tolerated in Korea.  The standards are far, far, far, more exacting.*

* There are exceptions, on both sides.  So stop typing.  🙂

Japan’s Checkered Past

Many years ago, I was taking piano lessons as a late teen.  My teacher was an older Filipino woman who was a child (or a teenager, perhaps) during the Japanese occupation of the Phillipines.

She hated the Japanese.  Or at least she struggled to not hate the Japanese.  She told me horrible stories, and honestly I couldn’t blame her for how she felt.  Obviously, that was not my experience, but there are many people and countries out there who remember a Japan that was not an exporter of cool media and well-built cars, but a warlike country that left many scars that have lasted a very long time, and with good reason.

On my feedly feed, I have a keyword search set up for “Japanese”, and to be frank, much of the things that come through are not complimentary to them.  There appears to be an ongoing dispute about the wartime Japanese practice of “comfort women”, which many countries still haven’t forgiven or forgotten.  Of course it would be easy for me to say “It’s been eighty years, maybe time to let it go”, but old scars run deep, and the Japanese history of war and conquering still holds repercussions today.  The Chinese, for example, have not forgotten the Nanjing massacre, and while that, too, was around eighty years ago, I don’t know if my country would forget the murder of three hundred thousand people either, no matter how long in the past.

The Japanese of today are an amazing people, contributing much to the world in the way of culture, of media, of philosophy and religion.  Obviously I admire and respect them enough to make a significant effort to learn about their language and culture.  But a part of me still has to wonder:  it’s only been eighty years.  We took Japan out of war, but did we ever truly take war out of Japan?  After all, their culture is thousands of years old – eighty years is just a drop in the bucket.  I wonder if the other countries who are currently having somewhat tense relations with Japan over the past – such as Korea and the Phillippines – are making a big deal out of something that should be left in the past.  But I also wonder if they’re right, too.

But, all told, the Japanese and my people settled our differences eighty years ago – we won.  Whether the Japanese and other countries have settled their differences is, in all honesty, not much of my concern.  Still, I hope that Japan and its quarreling east Asian neighbors can continue to work at settling their differences.

A part of me wonders, though, whether Japan has ever truly come to terms with their past.