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Jobless Youths Become Street Vendors in Japan

Posted January. 05, 2005 22:26,   


“Iratshai mase, oyaskushi masuyo.” (Welcome, prices are discounted.)

Yoyoki Park, a five-minute walk from Harajuku station in Tokyo, Japan on the morning of December 18, 2004. When a flea market opened at 10 a.m., some 500 street vendors packed every corner of the park.

Among those vendors were two Koreans: one of them was identified by his family name, Kim (29). They were luring Japanese “Hanryu fanatics” with “Hanryu goods” they had brought from Korea. They had bought photos of Korean actors like Lee Byung-hun and Bae Yong-jun (Yon-sama) for 300 won in Korea, and sold them in Japan for 400 yen. They also quickly sold out bromide photos of Korean stars worth less than 10,000 won for 2,000 yen and cell phone holders featuring scenes from the soap opera “Winter Sonata” for 300 yen.

Kim said that their goods are very competitive in Japan, as Japanese Hanryu fanatics consider the goods authentic products. He also explained that he had decided to start the business because it is very hard to land a job these days and because he wanted to earn some experience and money to open an Internet shopping mall or small-sized trading business targeted at Japanese in the long term.

Taking growing Hanryu, or Korean pop culture fever, in Japan as a business opportunity, an increasing number of Korean jobless youths are going to Japan to sell Hanryu-related character goods.

According to Korea National Tourism Organization, some 310,000 out of 818,000 people who departed for Japan during January to November of last year were young people in their 20s and 30s, a more than 10 percent increase from the previous year.

Recently, it is easy to find Korean youth who sell Korean singers’ albums, soju (Korean whisky), dried laver, and photos of Yon-sama in flea markets which are held irregularly in Tokyo and Osaka, or well-known tourist attractions.

Online communities are also mushrooming for those who start a business in Japan with Hanryu-related goods. The bulletin boards of those communities are full of questions regarding such businesses.

Members of the “Café for Starting a Business in Japan,” which was formed in a well-known Korean portal site, share information on Hanryu goods popular in Japan and sites that street vendors are allowed at.

A sophomore of Andong University, Gyeongbuk, who is identified by her family name, Kim (24), is planning to visit Osaka around January 20 to do market research. She said that she was going to visit Japan to gain experience and find business items with which she could make some profit in Japan, a country that has became closer emotionally and geographically thanks to Hanryu. She also added that many of her friends were thinking of starting a small business in Japan instead of trying so hard to land a job.

An official at a travel agency predicted that the number of young people who go to Japan would further increase starting March, when a visa exemption for visits for less than six months takes effect.

However, there are some worried voices over this situation.

Kim Sang-ryeol (44), president of “Korea Plaza,” which is the largest Korean goods distributor in Tokyo, expressed concerns, saying that goods that small-sized peddlers sell are not refined and have possible copyright problems, and therefore large shops do not buy those goods. He also said that he was concerned about the possibility that such goods would compromise the image of overall Hanryu goods.

Sociology professor Im Hyeon-jin at Seoul National University pointed out, “Although it’s natural to see an increasing number of young people who go to Japan on the wave of Hanryu amid harsh economic conditions where six out of 10 college graduates fail to get a job, such a phenomenon could have a negative impact on the maturity of Hanryu and the development of bilateral relations”

Se-Jin Jung Won-Jae Park mint4a@donga.com parkwj@donga.com