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Friday, Aug. 9, 2002

JET STREAM

THE VOICE OF KOREA

Tuning in to another culture


By EVERETT KENNEDY BROWN

Seoul native Kim Ji Sook, host of Fukuoka's Love FM Thursday night Inter Wave radio program, brings the sounds and the spirit of Korea to fans throughout northern Kyushu.

News photo
Kim Ji Sook in her studio holds up a copy of her script.

Kim's interviews with Korean cultural personalities -- such as movie director Lee Chang Dong, whose film "Peppermint Candy" has been acclaimed by viewers here in Japan -- are one of the most popular segments of her weekly three-hour program.

"During my interview with Lee, I told him that the theme of our radio program is love, and how it transcends borders and cultural differences," Kim explains. "Impressed by this idea, he told me that he wanted to make it the theme of his next film."

In a recent interview with writer Nobuko Kyo, who is of Korean descent, listeners were captivated by the story of how a popular Japanese melody from the Meiji Era traveled to Korea during the Japanese occupation; how its lyrics were altered to express a yearning for home by Korean refugees who fled to Russia; and how it is still sung in Central Asia where these refugees were eventually forced to resettle by Stalin.

Kim speaks Korean for most of the program but offers frequent comments and summaries in Japanese. Besides playing Korean pop music and introducing recent cultural trends in South Korea and around Asia, Kim's program makes public affairs announcements of interest to the Korean community around Fukuoka, such as news of Korean films playing at local cinemas.

"I often receive letters from listeners telling me they make tapes of the shows to improve their Korean listening skills," says Kim. "Many of the listeners who write in have requests for me to explain the lyrics of the Korean songs we play."

When Kim first came to Japan 10 years ago, she never imagined that she'd have her own radio show. While in her third year at Seoul's Dong Guk University, she visited Tokyo for 10 months and attended Japanese-language school. During her stay, she developed friendships with Japanese people, who taught her about the country's customs and traditions.

"When I heard about the JET program, I wanted to apply," Kim says. "It was a way to share Korean culture with Japanese people and return the kindness that I felt when I was a student in Japan."

After graduating in 1995 with a degree in Japanese language and literature, Kim worked as a coordinator for international relations at the Fukuoka Prefectural Government. Her duties included interpreting and coordinating exchange programs between Kyushu and South Korea. She also frequently visited local junior and senior high schools, where she spoke in Japanese about Korean culture.

"The Japanese television animation 'Crayon Shinchan' helped me to understand daily Japanese life when I was a student," says Kim "It later gave me the idea of sharing with Japanese students what life is like in a typical Korean home. So I brought into the classroom Korean chopsticks, spoons and other things for the kids to see."

After three years on the JET program, Kim started working for a local Fukuoka translating company and in 1999, she married her former Japanese supervisor from the International Affairs Division of the prefectural office.

"It was his encouragement that inspired me to audition for the Love FM job," Kim says. "I never really considered myself a person with a talent for speaking in front of audiences."

Her three years of experience as a JET teacher, explaining Korean culture to Japanese audiences, and her bilingual skills, made her the ideal candidate for the job.

At Fukuoka's Love FM, Kim works with disc jockeys from English-speaking countries, as well as French and Chinese DJs. Her plans for the future? "Fukuoka has became a second home for me," Kim explains. "In these nine years in Japan, however, I've lost the fresh perspective I once had. It would be great to live in another Asian country for a year or so and develop a new perspective on Japan, Korea and Asia."

Besides her radio show, Kim Ji Sook also teaches Korean at a local university and at culture centers in Fukuoka.


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