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Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011

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Heartthrobs: Women interact with members of Apeace, a new pop group made up of young South Korean males, after a performance at K Theater Tokyo in Shibuya Ward on July 21. KYODO

K-pop's fanatical followers turn to promising new faces here in Japan


South Korean pop music, or K-pop, continues to have a powerful hold on Japanese hearts with groups such as Kara, SHINee, Choshinsei and Tohoshinki ranking high on the latest hit charts.

Now many Japanese enthusiasts are on the lookout for new talent among Koreans who have yet to rise to stardom.

Until recently most South Korean entertainers who wowed Japanese audiences were already established stars in their own country. But now many fans are flocking to venues in Tokyo where they can take in live performances by little-known Korean entertainers.

In the Shinokubo district, known as Tokyo's Korea Town, a restaurant called Seichi shows K-pop music videos while serving food and drinks.

However, the establishment in Shinjuku Ward also devotes several hours every day to staging live performances by Korean entertainers.

Seichi was supposed to open in March but the plan fell apart due to the earthquake and tsunami in the northeast.

That forced South Korean musicians who were scheduled to perform at the restaurant to cancel out on coming to Japan. Seichi instead auditioned Koreans living in Japan and managed to form an amateur band before it opened in April. The group, called Roti, became quite popular and began drawing audiences of about 100 in just three months.

Roti's success came as a pleasant surprise to Nakako Chiba, an official of restaurant operator Pionec Co.

The hastily formed band acquired a following "probably because audiences watching them up close feel as though they themselves were helping the young Koreans improve their performances," she said.

To date, Korean stars have won over Japanese women partly because the entertainment industry often organizes settings in which singers and fans can meet face to face.

"I took a liking to Korean stars after meeting with them," said a female 46-year-old Tokyo resident. "In contrast, Japanese stars seem like people who live in a distant world."

Women also appear to feel close to Korean stars because many of them let their fans share their private lives by posting photos of their daily lives in their blogs.

K Theater Tokyo opened in May in Ebisu, a district popular among fashion-conscious housewives.

At the small K-pop establishment, which holds about 190, members of the group Apeace — made up of 21 Korean males aged 16 to 26 — sing and dance almost every day.

Even though they have never worked in show business in South Korea, front-row seats began to fill up with regulars in less than two months.

Unity with the audience is what they aim for, and it appears they've been successful. The female fans chant the names of their heartthrobs with great ardor.

After each 90-minute performance, all of Apeace's members line up so the fans can shake their hands.

The fans may be seeking something real in their fantasy world through close, physical contact with Korean entertainers, according to Kenji Matsuo, an official with Mode2 Inc., the company in charge of promoting the show.

The phenomenon is "an indication of how the Japanese attitude toward Korean pop culture has matured," he said.

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