December 1, 2005｜Korean Peninsula
Lee Jeong Ok
Director, Public Participation Division, Ministry of Unification
Following on from the South Korean drama serial “Winter Sonata”, which gave rise to a Korean culture boom in Japanese society, the drama serial “Jewel in the Palace” (original title: “Dae Jang Geum”) has apparently become very popular of late. “Jewel in the Palace” is set during the rule of the Joseon Dynasty, which was representative of the feudal system and an era when men were predominant in society, and depicts the progress of a woman called Jang Geum, who becomes the head chef at the palace through her intense tenacity and strong will.
This serial has many highlights, but the main reason for its overwhelming popularity is the fact that it shows the diverse types of traditional Korean food, particularly court food, and the ways of preparing these dishes. Many types of Korean food have already been introduced in Japan and a lot of Japanese people like Korean food, but it is likely that this serial will further stimulate Japanese curiosity about Korean food.
When I realized the popularity of “Jewel in the Palace” in Japan, the NHK drama serial “Honmamon”, on which I was hooked while I was in Japan four years ago, sprang to mind. Although they differ in terms of their epoch and setting, they both take food as their theme and are very similar in that they depict the progress of their respective heroines as they strive to reach the top in their chosen fields.
I still have vivid memories of being deeply impressed by the motivation of the heroine Konoha, who aspired to create excellent cuisine, and was deeply interested in the various types of food that she made, such as gomadofu (sesame-flavored tofu) and daikon zukushi (a dish made with Japanese white radish). Would it be too much of an exaggeration to say that Konoha brought to mind the “spirit of the artisan” found among the Japanese people who are supporting Japanese society today? It is just my conjecture, but might it not be the case that, among the Japanese people watching “Jewel in the Palace”, there are people who are experiencing similar feelings to mine when I watched “Honmamon”?
The lifestyle of Jang Geum, who struggled and flourished, gambling on a single path in the form of food, the source of life, is spreading empathy among the peoples of the ROK and Japan, and this has made me feel the power of cultural exchange once again. Since the joint hosting of the 2002 World Cup, the relationship between the ROK and Japan has frequently passed through some chilly periods, politically speaking, and it is most fortunate that exchange among their peoples is expanding, despite this.
In order for the ROK and Japan to grow together as good neighbors, it will be necessary in the future to strive to deepen mutual understanding and cooperation at both the government level and the level of the populace. I hope that more Jang Geums and Konohas will emerge, linking the hearts of the people of the ROK and Japan.