|I've been busy being a guest blogger at The Marmot's Hole, a general blog about Korean news, society, etc.|
You can get a hold of my entries by clicking here...
Hope everyone's been well!
Old news but this pretty cool and funny blog called "Stuff White People Like" has been getting literally millions of hits, track backs on hundreds of other blogs and even devoted an article from the LA Times and some air time from NPR (National Public Radio).
However, it's not just a list of what any white people would like. It seems to be selective of what white people in the blue states and are college educated professionals, and live in urban and suburban areas would like.
People who have a "personal trailer," not a personal trainer...
People who have cool tech jobs...
People with "Awareness" (# 18)...
People who have Toyota Priuses (#60)...
People who love Japan (# 58)... Konichiwa bitches!
And my favorate (literally), # 11 Asian Girls... One must admit, dem white guys love dem asian girls.
Rupert Murdoch, ugly but powerful, with his 39 year old wife.
A prettier couple, Nick Cage and Alice Kim
Early on, people actually thought that the blog writer may be Asian American. There were so many references to Asian culture such as the aforementioned # 11 Asian Girls and # 58 Japan as well as # 42 Sushi, # 45 Asian Fusion Food and # 71 Being the only White Person Around. Some speculated that it was an Asian guy's mock of white culture. Well, the owner of the blog did reveal himself and he's a 29 year old Internet copy writer named Christian Lander of Culver City, CA.
Way to go Christian! 300,000 hits a day... banner ads coming soon!
I addressed this a bit in my last blog written in February 19th. However, I saw Juno for a second time this weekend and noticed that Diablo Cody (a pseudonym, to be sure), the writer of Juno, won an Oscar for the screen play so I thought that the subject deserves its own, expanded entry.
Juno was filmed in Canada with American talent and financing. It had a modest budget of $6.9 million, but is expected to gross over $120 million in just its domestic theatrical run. An excellent return given the initial investment and we are not even talking about international sales and DVD sales. On top of that, it's got a lot of critical acclaim too and has been nominated for 4 Oscars, including Best Picture. It has won one Oscar for best original screenplay. However, is Juno really and Original Screenplay and should it have been considered as an Adapted Screenplay instead?
Fox Searchlight's biggest hit of the year...
In 2005 a movie came out in Korea called "Jenny / Juno"about exactly the same topic, unexpected teen pregnancy. Like the American Juno, it's a romantic/comedy with sweet, intelligent and likeable characters who have to make difficult decisions on both life and love.
Jenny/Juno which came out in Korea in 2005
Onthe surface, the two movies appear similar. However, the two films differ in some big ways. First, in Juno the girl decides to give the baby up for adoption, whereas in Jenny/Juno, the young couple decides to keep the baby. The adoption theme in Juno is a major subplot (although there is a smaller adoption angle in Jenny/Juno involving Jenny's older sister in America). Juno is driven by an almost "Gilmore Girls" brand of wit whereas Jenny/Juno moves along with an almost saccharine-sweet, Hello Kitty type of cuteness. Juno in the American movie is the girl's name. In the Korean movie Juno is the male lead's name and the girl's name is Jenny. Juno's tone is a little more serious with more dry wit. Jenny/Juno is more light-hearted and innocent. Booth are heavily steeped in their host cultures' mores and attitudes, which are of course, vastly different. For example, hiding the pregnancy for aslong as possible is a major subplot in Jenny/Juno whereas in Juno, the parents are told pretty early on.
Both movies are diven by cute, witty and highly likable couples
Bleeker and Juno (male character) just moments before they are told they are daddies! Both are adorable and sincere characters. Both have that "deers in the headlights" look...
However, there are also a lotof interesting similarities, the ones I've noticed which I have listed below (in rough chronological order):
1. In the opening credits in Juno, the female lead walks through town to get to the drug store to buy a home pregnancy test, the opening credits end and Juno takes the test in the store's bathroom. Just before Jenny/Juno's opening credits, Jenny takes the home pregnancy test in her bathroom, and once the credits roll, Jenny rides a bike through town.
2. In the opening credits for both movies, the fonts appear to be written with crayons.
3. Both Juno and Jenny take the over-the-counter pregnancy test exactly three times.
4. Essentially, both movies start in the same narrative time perspective and the actual "deed" that creates the pregnancy is told in a flashback, not in the linear order of the story telling.
5. In Jenny/Juno, part of what helps Jenny make up her mind is a pro-life book written in Korean. In Juno, part of what affects Juno's decision is a Pro-Life advocate who happens to be an Asian girl.
6. Contrary to what many may think, there is a theme of adoption in Jenny/Juno also. It's much smaller and hardly a subplot, but fit's what's considered acceptable in Korean society. Koreans believe in intra-family adoption, but not yet in inner-family adoption. Jenny's mother was going to send Jenny to America, where her older sister, married, would adopt Jenny's baby.
7. In Jenny/Juno, the male lead writes in chalk for Jenny “I love you Jenny” In “Juno," the female lead writes in chalk on Bleeker's front step “Check the mail Bleeker” and what's in the mail box is a sign that Juno loves him.
8. There is a scene in Jenny/Juno where the male lead runs track for PE class and shows how much of a goof he is by comically bumping into a post. Something that showed a striking stylistic similarity to Juno's boyfriend in that he's both a goof and on the track team.
9. Both movies have a girl who's interested in the male leads at about midpoint in the movie and this creates an intense, but short burst of jealously by the female leads.
10. Bleeker runs track competitively (apparently breaks a state record) and the Korean Juno plays a video game in a high level competition, different but similar theme of showing that the male leads have talent in something.
11. Both films have a cute, geeky male lead and are subordinate to dominate women.
12. The male leads appear indecisive and weak in the beginning but have inner strength that's appreciated later.
13. In Jenny/Juno, the boy asks to carry the female lead's backpack and she refuses, same thing in Juno.
14. Both movie have primarily seven major characters that drive the story and appear in the majority of the movie. In Juno that would be Juno, Bleeker, Juno's dad and step mother, Juno's best friend and the adoptive parents. In Jenny/Juno the major characters are Jenny, Juno, Jenny's parents, Jenny's older sister and Juno's parents.
15. Both Juno and Jenny ride bicycles. Jenny rides the bike in the beginning of the movie and Juno rides hers at the end.
Diablo Cody... giving credit where credit is due?
Some of comments on the Internet Movie Database are telling and I've included two of the more intelligent comments below:
by thebubblewrapguy (Fri Feb 8 2008 10:57:42)
"I have no doubt that "Juno" (USA) was inspired by "Jeni, Juno" (Korea.)There are too many similarities to pretend otherwise. It is an adaptation for certain, but likely enough was changed that the producers were not legally bound to credit "Jeni, Juno" as a source. Itmakes perfect sense to not credit it, as there would be costs involved.And it made perfect sense to Americanize it, changing the plot and characters as needed to make it resonate with the audience.
The only tragedy here is that the script of "Juno" may very well win Best Original Screenplay, when in fairness it should have been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Or perhaps it falls into neither category, as it was obviously inspired by another source even if it did not follow it so closely as to be an adaptation."
by mijoki-1 2 days ago (Sat Feb 23 2008 06:57:41)
"I saw Juno just a while ago and even though it was not as funny as I was hoping it would be, I still had a nice warm feeling when it was over. I happened to run accross the whole plagiarism idea in anotherforum and decided to check it out...after all it is nominated for an academy award. The first few minutes I was like " oh craap..." it was similar. They both start with the girls taking the tests...there is this guitar music and the main characters are being followed by the camera...still, what really made me think it was indeed a copy was the style. I thought Juno was cute since it had this way of writing things in the intro and through out the movie, how can I explain this...the letters were made funky, like they were made with colour spray, which was used in both movies..."
Both movies have "quirkly" humor...
For the record, Diablo Cody, denies that there is any relationship between the two movies. She ops to call Jenny/Juno a "spiritual cousin." However, the similarity in title and subject mater alone has created confusion and quite a bit of speculation (controversy?) in the blog sphere. Some take it as a matter of fact that Juno is a remake of the earlier Korean film. There is of course no "smoking gun" evidence to contradict Cody so it's really a matter of opinion at this point. Yet, it is possible for people to make their own comparisons and they can start with these two vignettes on youtube that I think will give a good slice to start off. For Jenny/Juno click here. For Juno click here. The entire Jenny/Juno movie is available on youtube in this link or on crunchyroll here. Bear in mind, if the movie was officially distributed in the U.S. in any form, I wouldn't provide the link.... Watch and make your own decisions!
Asian movies have had an underapreciated and relatively unknown impact on Hollywood films. Although the dedicated film afictionado may know that Akira Kurisowa movies heavily influenced some Hollywood Westerns and George Lucas' Star Wars movies and a Academy Award winning movie, "The Departed" was actually a remake of an earlier Hong Kong movie, it appears that the extent of the borrowing is not well acknowledged or understood.
I guess what prompted this entry was when I saw "Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed" on the History Channel a number of months ago. The trailers for the show had Luke and Darth Vader clashing light sabers intercut with scenes of two samurais clashing katanas. I had known of the strong link between all the Star Wars movies and Japanese film making and culture for quite some time and was interested to see it finally displayed on national television. However, when I finally watched the show, I was sorely disappointed. The two hour show probably devoted 5 to 10 minutes to the Japanese influence and spent the rest of the time on the more conventional Western influences. There are of course a lot of Western influences in Star Wars from Greek tragedies to the knights of the medieval era and World War II weapons and uniforms for the look and feel of a lot of the movie's machines and personnel. However, the Japanese and Eastern influences on Star Wars are both deep and varied and deserved a lot more time then just a few minutes.
The Dark Lord of the Sith in all his black armored glory...
Looking a bit like a samauri in all his armored glory...
You guessed it, the look and feel of Darth Vader's armor is based on Samurai armor, something Lucas Film readily admits here.
The purpose of this entry is to not highlight what Lucas borrows from Japanese and Asian culture and film making. That fact has been well documented by many in the Internet sphere as well as admitted to by George Lucas himself. Take for example the plot of a hero and a grizzled old war veteran and two comical bungling characters safe guarding a princess against forces from an armored fortress. The plot to the original Star Wars? No. It's the plot to Kurisowa's movie "Hidden Fortress." The word Jedi? It's from the Japanese word "Jidai Geki"' which translates as "period drama.'' The famous cantina scene, right down to the motley assortment of patrons, the bragging outlaws and the severed arm? Lifted directly from Kurisowa's "Yojimbo."
Left, the promotional poster for The Hidden Fortress. Right, the same image with Star Wars characters. Taken from here.
The purpose of this entry is to introduce and discuss the various Asian influences that are in one particular icon of American pop culture and that would be in the area of film and movies. These influences are increasing, particularly in this day and age, because of the dearth of new ideas in Hollywood. It's an industry that doesn't nurture new creative talent as well as it use to and it's compromised the art of film making by focusing first on the business of film making. This means that ideas which have proven to make money get rehashed into sequel after sequel after tired sequel. Better yet, some movies are not produced for their creative content alone, but as vehicles for whoever is the hottest star commodity for a particular point in time. Drivel such as the latest Rambo and I Know Who Killed Me would be examples of the product that the earnest movie consumer like you and me unfortunately end up with.
The original Andy Lau classic...
The American cop... eh, I mean remake.
The remake of "Internal Affairs" is, of course, just the tip of the ice berg. Other remakes include "The Ring," the "Ring Two," "The Grudge," "8 Below" as well as a host of others. Remakes of successful films in Asia are appealing to the suits in Hollywood because it's like a sequel in that there is a measure of certainty in appeal as it has already found success with a test audience (in this case an Asian one). Furthermore, it doesn't appear to be rehashing old ideas because foreign films are just not popular in the states and thus don't get wide release by U.S. film distribution companies (if they get any sort of release at all).
Who can forget the magical mail box in Il Mare?
Keanu: "Dude, like that letter's from the future... whooh."
Korean movies are rather late in the remake game. The first to be remade was "The Lake House" staring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. With a budget of $40 million (the Korean original's budget was less then $2 million), its total worldwide admissions and DVD sales made it a modest, but healthy, success.
From 2004 to 2005, Hollywood bought the remake rights to a lot of Korean movies. However, many of these remake opportunities are just sitting forever in the "announced" or "pre-production" phase, waiting for directional and writing talent to add flesh to the bones. However, it's interesting to see that in the list of "in-production," "post-production" and "completed" movies are some very cool Korean classics.
"My Sassy Girl," the movie that was a hit all across Asia...
Can Elisha be as "sassy" as Ji-Hyun? We'll find out this spring or summer.
The Korean horror classic "Tale of Two Sisters"
The American version in post-production, awaiting a late 2008 release.
Two all time favorates "My Sassy Girl" and "A Tale of Two Sisters" have been remade and have already finished production and are awaiting release. The American "My Sassy Girl" will have Elisha Cuthbert as the female lead (fantastically well acted by Jun Ji-Hyun in the original). It will be interesting to see how Cuthbert handles that female character, but if its with any of the stoic charm of "The Girl Next Door," dare I say that we may be in for a treat?
Generally, remakes in Hollywood are done legally, with the originators paid for the rights to the film. Sometimes, in the case of "The Grudge" for example, the director of the original also directs the American remake. However, even if a direct port remake is not done and no money is paid out to the originators, there is still at least an acknowledgement of the original source, similar to the kind words by George Lucas in his interview on Hidden Fortress' DVD special features.
Recently, there has been some debate about another popular American film that may have had Asian influences. In December of last year an independant film called "Juno" opened up that had a modest budget of $6.9 million and has thus far grossed over $115 million. An excellent return given the initial investment. On top of that, it's got a lot of critical acclaim too and has been nominated for 4 Oscars, including Best Picture. This movie has been anointed with both financial and critical success, a Hollywood rarity.
Fox Searchlight's biggest hit of the year...
Interestingly, in 2005 a movie came out in Korea called "Jenny / Juno" about exactly the same topic, unexpected teen pregnancy. Like the American Juno, it's a romantic/comedy with sweet, intelligent and likeable characters who have to make difficult decisions on both life and love.
Jenny/Juno which came out in Korea in 2005
On the surface, the two movies appear similar. However, the two films differ in some big ways. First, in Juno the girl decides to give the baby up for adoption, whereas in Jenny/Juno, the young couple decides to keep the baby. The adoption theme in Juno is a major subplot. Juno is driven by an almost "Gilmore Girls" brand of wit whereas Jenny/Juno moves along with an almost saccharine-sweet, Hello Kitty type of cuteness. Juno in the American movie is the girl's name. In the Korean movie Juno is the male lead's name and the girl's name is Jenny. Juno's tone is a little more serious with more dry wit. Jenny/Juno is more light-hearted and innocent. Booth are heavily steeped in their host cultures' mores and attitudes, which are of course, vastly different. For example, hiding the pregnancy for as long as possible is a major subplot in Jenny/Juno whereas in Juno, the parents are told pretty early on.
However, there are also a lot of interesting similaries. In the opening credits in Juno, the female lead walks through town to get to the drug store to buy a home pregnancy test AND takes it in the store's bathroom. In the Jenny/Juno opening credits, the female lead takes the home pregnancy test and rides a bike through town. They both take the pregnancy test THREE TIMES. Essentially, both movies start in the same narrative time perspective and the actual "deed" that creates the pregnancy is told in a flashback. In Jenny/Juno, part of what helps Jenny make up her mind is a pro-life book written in Korean. In Juno, part of what affects Juno's decision is a Pro-Life advocate who happens to be an Asian girl (how freak'in random is that?). Both Jenny and Juno ride bicycles. Jenny rides the bike in the begining of the movie and Juno rides hers at the end. There is a scene in Jenny/Juno where the male lead runs track for PE class and shows how much of a goof he is by comically bumping into a post. Something that showed a striking stylistic similarity to Juno's boyfriend in that he's both a goof and on the track team. The male leads in both movies are supportive and unassuming (i.e. dorky), but also very much in love with their female leads. The male leads appear indecisive and weak in the begining but have inner strength that's appreciated later. Both movies have a girl who's interested in the male leads at about midpoint in the movie and this creates an intense, but short burst of jealously by the female leads. Both female leads have enormous appetites but never appear to get morning sickness.
Akira Kurosawa says: "Ari gato Lucas-san for the props."
For the record, Diablo Cody, the writer of Juno, denies that there is any relationship between the two movies. She ops to call Jenny/Juno a "spiritual cousin." However, the similarity in title and subject mater alone has created confusion and quite a bit of speculation (controversy?) in the blog sphere. Some take it as a matter of fact that Juno is a remake of the earlier Korean film. There is of course no "smoking gun" evidence to contradict Cody so it's really a matter of opinion at this point. Yet, it is possible for people to make their own comparisons and they can start with these two viniettes on youtube that I think will give a good slice to start off. For Jenny/Juno click here. For Juno click here. The entire Jenny/Juno movie is available on youtube in this link. Bear in mind, if the movie was officially distributed in the U.S. in any form, I wouldn't provide the link.... Watch and make your own decisions!
How do I feel about remakes? Cultural borrowing and sharing is a recurring theme in my blog. I for one thought that the Martin Scorsese directed "Departed" was a much better movie then "Internal Affairs" and appreciated the American remake's gritty realism, darker tone and subtle ethnic (Irish) inner conflicts. Those that are familiar with my entries can say that I'm all in favor of diffusion and synthesis of culture and ideas, regardless of where it's from. Tasteful and useful ideas deserve to be replicated, free from prejudice and regardless of origin.
The moderizing East has borrowed much from the West and America in particular. Yes, China is known as a nation that copies everything under the sun and Japan is known as a refiner rather then an originator of ideas. Korea? We are not big enough to register a cognative blip on the world radar screen... yet. In anycase, movies are an instance where one Western institution, Hollywood, is getting increasingly bankrupt of ideas and they have reached across the Pacific to get new creative injections. Movies is at least one area where the West is learning from the East. Who's to say that in the future, this won't extend into other things?
China... nation of copycats?
Japan... Masters of Mass Production?
Most Americans are clueless about Korea, but not Britney Spears. She's wearing a dress with Hangul on it!... (she probably thinks it's Chinese writting)...
Last week I went to a Japanese restaurant called Manpuku Tokyo BBQ in Costa Mesa. I was really looking forward to the experience because Manpuku is a yakiniku restaurant, and yakiniku is an increasingly popular form of Japanese bbq that was inspired by Korean bbq. Knowing this, I was very interested in tasting the Japanese interpretation. Besides serving Korean bbq inspired meats, yakiniku restaurants make their Korean inspiration rather obvious by also serving kimchi, bibimbap, japchae, chigae, chijimi, and soju.
Manpuku in Costa Mesa
Grilling on a typical wire mesh style yakiniku grill
This is my first exposure to a yakiniku restaurant and I have to say that it was pretty good. The Japanese interpretation of Korean food is interesting, different, but not in a bad way. Their dol sot bi bim bap tastes just like its Korean counterpart with perhaps less meat. Their chap chae has red chili powder in it, which I never saw before. Again, not bad, just different. Their kimchi was less salty but actually MORE spicy. Okay,what else is different vs. Korean bbq? No banchan. Kimchi is a $3 "appetizer." I felt like I was in bizarro world, maybe how an Italian may feel in a Pizza Hut or a Mexican in Taco Bell.
Typical a la carte plate of "brisket" yakiniku
Anyways, moving on to the meat. In Korean places you have "all you can eat" joints where for $14 to $17 you can eat "B" grade meats till your heart's content. You also have places where for $15 to $20 you get a plate of a specific type of meat that's of higher grade (but the quality still varies from "B+" to "A-" to "A+"). Here you can see the Japanese influence. Dishes of different cuts of meat are more single a la carte servings, kind of like a plate of a single kind of sashimi, where from anywhere between $5 to $12 you get plates of different meats, cuts, and marinates. Obviously, chicken is $5, Kobe beef is $12 and galbi rib meat is $7, etc. Quality of the meat is more consistent all across the board and it's pretty much in the "A" to "A+" range. However, for the price, you get less meat overall here then in a standard Korean place. I can tell that the marinates are Korean inspired (i.e. garlic and soy sauce based) but are different as well. Lighter, less sweeter, perhaps more garlicky, but more focused on letting you taste the natural flavor of the meats and careful not to over marinate.
Both the original Korean bbq and the Japanese offshoot are good and I can't say that one version is better then the other. A mark of a good Korean bbq restaurant are the volume of ajushis (older Korean men) who frequent it wearing their titleist golf caps. I swear on my mother's grave I saw a large table of Korean men in golf caps obviously enjoying their time at Manpuku. THAT was surprising, but hey, good food knows no borders, right?
Japanese Soju versus, uh... Soju....?
The last experience I want to mention is Japanese soju. For those of you that know, Koreans love their soju, a distilled light vodka type of drink. This is my first time with Japanese style soju and it was a good experience also. Japanese soju is generally of higher quality then Korean soju because Korean soju is a post-Korean war product that was mass produced to poor people rather then refined for a middle class audience. Well, the Japanese have refined it a little. Korean soju is grain ethanol alcohol with a little corn syrup mixed in to take some of the bite off and averages $1 to $5 a bottle. An equivalent Japanese bottle of soju is between $5 to $20. The results? A much more consistent and predictable buzz, which is kind of good and bad. One of the fun aspects of Korean soju is that you don't know when the buzz is coming and it hits you unexpectedly! However, having said that, Korean brands, such as Jinro, are very popular in Japan (it was even the #1 brand sold in Japan in 2005).
In sum, I'd have to say that both Korean and Korean inspired Japanese bbq are both very good for different reasons. Japanese yakiniku has better quality across the board, but you generally get less meat / protein bang for the buck. Overall, Korean bbq has more flavor and spices in the meat, but Japanese bbq tends to let you taste the natural favor of the meat more. Korean bbq generally feels more homely and comfortable, whereas the yakiniku restaurants I've been to seem more contemporary and trendy. Again, I think it's a matter of taste. At the end of the day, I like having banchan with my bbq, sometimes I prefer the stronger marinates and I like more quantity of meat, particularly if I'm with a bunch of friends. I'd probably be more likely to take a date or a small, more intimate group of friends for yakiniku.
Yakiniku in Tokyo (dude, where's my banchan?)
Korean bbq in L.A. (that's more like it!)
Well, then how did distinct Koreans foods such as dol sot bibim bap, kimchi and galbi end up in a Japanese restaurant with a Japanese flavor to it? Yakiniku is inspired by Korean bbq from "zainichi" (Koreans living in Japan) who brought it from Korea and adapted it to Japanese tastes over time. The zainichi were split between those with Northern (Chosen Soren) and Southern (Mindan) loyalties and they wanted to come up with a term that they could both agree upon to name their Korean bbq restaurants. They finally agreed upon "yakiniku" because it was a non-political name and roughly translated into "bulgogi." The story of the zainichi themselves is a very interesting one, but not the subject I have the space to get into here. It's sufficient to say that the Korean Japanese experience was totally different from our own Korean American experience in that they went through a much tougher time of discrimination and hardship. Our worst experience was the L.A. Riots but the zainichi's darkest hour was the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, where mobs of Japanese killed thousands of Koreans on false and outlandish rumors that they had poisioned the wells and started fires. Now that is merely a microcosm of the differences in our experience.
Zainichi in hanboks along side Japanese in kimonos
Moving on, yakiniku has gotten extremely popular in Japan, with many mom and pop stores run by zainichi as well as larger, corporate style chains, the largest of which is Gyu-Kaku with over 800 locations in Japan and a few in the U.S. This isn't the only meat tradition that the Japanese have borrowed and converted into their own. It must be remembered that for the Japanese, red meats have been a very small part of their diet for most of their history. Another of their meat tradition is teppanyaki style grilling, which like yakiniku, originated from foreign shores also. Teppanyaki is the Japanese interpretation of American steak grilling. Although many Japanese talk about teppanyaki having a 200 year history, teppanyaki restaurants didn't start popping up in any numbers until the U.S. occupation of Japan after World War II. Even then, teppanyaki, in its early history, was mostly frequented by U.S. military members wanting more meat then the typical Japanese fare allowed. The most recognizable teppanyaki restaurant to us stateside would be Benihana. To me it's amazing. The Japanese, who have essentially no significant history of grilling meat, take the culinary traditions of the U.S. and Korea and come up inventions that are original, as well as highly commerical in their own right.
We have a lot in common Mr. Grill Master-san!
So, I'm guessing there there are invariabily some Korean Americans out there that are outraged or at least uncomfortable that the Japanese are taking our cherished food traditions and spinning them into something their own. I had a little bit of that feeling at first also, but one must come to a realization that EVERYONE borrows and adapts foods from other places and makes it there own over time. Look what Taco Bell did with Mexican food. They bastardized it to such a degree that when they opened up their new locations in Mexico City, Mexicans didn't know what the hell kind of food it was ("Check this out Ernesto, the Americans took a tostada shell, curved it and call it a taco... the fools!"). Another example more closer to the topic at hand is what we Koreans have done with sushi and sashimi.
Kimbap left - Sushi roll right
Today, there is a growing trend in Korea and among Koreans abroad to consider sushi and sashimi as native Korean foods with its own Koreanized history. Koreans call sushi rolls kimbab and call sashimi hoe (pronounced "hu-weh"). Some more nationalistic Koreans have gone as far as contructing a history that claims that the Japanese got the idea of eating raw fish and making rice rolls originally from Koreans! Obviously untrue. Kimbab is, of course, a derivative of maki sushi introduced during the colonial period. Although Korean fishermen have an obscure, not well documented history of eating part of their catch raw (like all fishermen of Northeast and Southeast Asia) it was the commericalization of Japanese style sashimi that took the obscure coastal practice of eating hoe and took it to the masses.
A watercolor print of Korean fishermen eating hoe
It must also be remembered that just as much as the Japanese have commericalized Korean bbq for commerical profit, so have we for sushi. Popular sushi chains such as Kabuki and Todai (not to mention the hundreds of other mom and pop restaurants) are Korean owned. Todai has even taking our love of "all you can eat" and reimaging it, for better or worse, for sushi. The biggest difference between Korean and Japanese sushi is the texture. Korean sushi (or really sashimi in this case) is firmer and chewier then Japanese style. This, my friends, is attributed to the fact that we Koreans are more familiar with beef and pork consumption so we like our sashimi to be closer in texture to cooked beef or pork. The Japanese, on the other hand, are more familiar with raw fish, so their yakiniku tends to be more tender then Korean bbq because it matches the texture of their near room temperature raw fish. Pretty crazy huh? It's fascinating how globalization works.
In any case, this naturally dovetails into another topic when discussing Korean and Japanese food in the U.S. Essentially, it doesn't take a genius to see that Japanese food is, by far, more popular and recognizable. It is also interesting to note that it is a Japanese restaurant chain, and not a Korean one, that is making the effort to popularize Korean style bbq to the masses, an a la Benihana for the 21st century. Unfortunately, we Koreans like to keep the richness of our food culture within the confines of our community and don't reach outward as much as the Chinese, Japanese or even the Thais. Conversely, each of these nation's food culture is more popular and deservedly so. Let's face it. Korean restaurants as a whole are not exactly non-Korean friendly. Unless you are an adventuresome, tough skinned and experience soul, it is pretty intimidating for a non-Korean person to go into a Korean restaurant without a Korean guide.
However, Korean food is very popular in Japan.
Japanese cell phone accessories- Korean food and banchan
A close-up of the bibmbap accessory
A close-up of the Korean bbq accessory
Japanese sushi became popular in the 80's because Japanese people would invite their co-workers and friends to sushi restaurants in Little Tokyo. From L.A., it spread to the rest of the country. In my humble opinion, there is no reason why a Japanese chain is needed to popularize something that's originally ours. Yet, like frogs in a well, we look up into a world with a confined view and are too often insular in our culture. If we keep this up, who knows if in 10 years, people stateside will think it is Koreans imitating Japanese bbq and not the other way around!
Typical yakiniku style table with a "recessed," wire mesh grill and an integrated ventilation system
Korean bbq style tables with stainless steel grills and overhead ventilation
In closing, I'd have to say that in the case of yakiniku, the influence has come full circle and it has come back to influence Korean bbq! More Korean bbq places are using the recessed grill with integrated, in-table vent. More Korean bbq places are starting to look modern and contemporary, even with the younger, 20 something servers in black uniforms which are a staple of Japanese yakiniku chains. There is even one Korean place that charged for kimchi, ironically the same price ($3.50) as Manpuku.
Korean bbq and yakiniku blend restaurant in Hawaii
(Notice the recessed grill AND banchan)
The interchange between yakiniku and Korean bbq, as well as Japanese sushi and Korean kimbap and hoe, reflects in my mind that no one culture has exclusive hold on anything it arbitrarily thinks is theirs. Do you think the French are happy that the Australians and Californians are making more wine? Do you think the Italians like the fact that people think Chef Boy-Ar-Dee is spaghetti? Of course not! However, sometimes its not the originators who popularize or profit most from their creations. That's life. For the time being I'll enjoy my yakiniku AND my kimbap...