Cultural exchanges between Japan and South Korea have made steady progress since the first deregulation of Japanese popular culture in South Korea in 1998, according to Kiyomi Kaneko, secretary general of the Foundation for Promotion of Music Industry and Culture (Promic).

South Koreans are still hindered from enjoying full access to Japanese songs by enduring state restrictions on Japanese popular culture.

Kaneko said he hopes an ongoing project involving Japanese and South Korean musicians will lead to greater deregulation of Japanese culture and boost music exchanges between Tokyo and Seoul.

Promic and its South Korean counterpart agreed to make a CD featuring both Japanese and South Korean artists singing in their native languages. In 1999, the two foundations jointly established a task force, titled Project 2002, aimed at promoting the CD project.

It is the first time a CD featuring Japanese songs will be marketed in South Korea, where severe restrictions were imposed on Japanese culture in the wake of Japan’s clampdown on Korean culture and language during its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

Under the leadership of President Kim Dae Jung, who took office in February 1998, Seoul has lifted these restrictions step by step. Just eight months after Kim took over, internationally acclaimed Japanese films and comics were let into the country.

Yet the sale of CDs featuring Japanese songs remains prohibited and Japanese songs cannot be aired on the radio or television.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, the South Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism decided in February to allow the release of the CD in question, on grounds that sales will promote exchanges between Japan and South Korea and contribute to the success of the 2002 World Cup, which will be cohosted by the two countries.

Numerous well-known artists from both countries are participating in the project. Among the Japanese contributors are four all-male pop groups — Tube, Chage & Aska, Pornographity and Deen — along with female duo Puffy and pop diva Yuki Koyanagi.

Six South Korean artists, including pop group Jawoorim and male vocalist Jo Sung Mo, are participating in the project.

Promic said all 12 will sing in their native languages, with a few cross-cultural duets also in the pipeline.

Kaneko, 56, said Tube has shown strong interest in the project, adding that the group is considering performing a duet with a South Korean musician.

Some songs are likely to be specially written for the CD, while others will be compiled from the musicians’ original albums.

Kaneko downplayed the furor over a history textbook recently approved in Japan that critics in South Korea say distorts Japan’s wartime aggression. He stressed that even President Kim knows of the project, having discussed it during September meetings in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, with then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

The CD, which will hit stores in both countries in late July, will be priced at 2,500 yen in Japan by Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc.

In South Korea, a CD and VCD set will sell for 20,000 won (about 2,000 yen), with a cassette priced at 7,000 won.

Although Seoul has approved the release of the CD to promote the World Cup, soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, will not allow the songs on the CD to be sung at World Cup events.

Kaneko brushed this off, however, saying, “The most important thing is that the first CD including Japanese songs will be sold in South Korea.”

He added that the number of CD shipments has yet to be decided, as sales of the recording in South Korea will probably be five times more than those in Japan, with South Korean musicians having little coverage in Japan.

A chunk of the profits generated by sales of the CD is expected to be used to promote musical exchanges between the two countries.

According to Kaneko, the title and basic concept of the CD will be the same in both countries, although its cover design and song-order may vary. The title of the CD and all the songs to be included are expected to be officially announced in late May.

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