Intersections: The Shared Imagination of Bishōnen, Pan-East Asian Soft Masculinity: Reading DBSK, and Transcultural New Media Consumption

Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 20, April 2009

The Shared Imagination of Bishōnen,
Pan-East Asian Soft Masculinity:

Reading DBSK,
and Transcultural New Media Consumption

Sun Jung

      whats with the feminine look with Japanese singers. they all are on the edge of being women. why do girls like that?
      (JSword, 20, user from the US, posted on 24 Sep 2008)

      Well…they're not Japanese. They're Korean. … pretty boys sell to little girls. Put 5 of them together in a band, they're likely to take over.
      (shanaynaygirl9, 15, user from the US, posted on 24 Sep 2008)

  1. On 26 September 2008, one of the most popular South Korean idol boy bands, Dong Bang Shin Ki (동방신기, 東方神起, DBSK, TVXQ, THSK), released its fourth regular album Mirotic.[1] As soon as it was released, the title song Spell-Mirotic (주문-미로틱) reached the number one spot on most South Korean on- and offline popular music charts including SBS Popular Music and KTF Dosirak.[2] When Mirotic was released on 15 October in Japan as a single album, it also reached number one on the Oricon single daily and weekly chart.[3] In addition, even before the official release of the album, there had been a number of Mirotic music video teaser clips uploaded by fans on user-generated content (UGC) websites such as[4] After DBSK released the full version of the Mirotic music video on 21 September, one of the clips on achieved a total hit count of more than 550,000 within a month (see Figure 1).[5] In addition, over 4,500 comments have been attached to the clip by the website users. It appears that many of the users who posted comments are not only from Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan and China, where DBSK's main fan-base is situated; they are also from non-Asian countries such as Australia, the US, the UK, Mexico, Switzerland and Spain.[6]

    Figure 1. Mirotic music video clip uploaded on, 21 September 2008, accessed 1 Nov 2008.

  2. One very common feature of the comments regarding the video clip is appreciation and praise of the sexual and physical attributes of the five band members: Xiah Junsu, U-know Yunho, Hero Jaejoong, Max Changmin and Micky Yoochun. For instance, a user from Spain, changminHyung (21), posted:

      damn HOTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT (19 Oct 2008).[7]

    It is also evident that many users regard the images of the members as feminine, just as the quote by JSword at the beginning of this article demonstrates. Similar to JSword, many users describe DBSK members as 'pretty' boys. It is further evident that the users often debate DBSK members' sexuality. Some claim that the members look and act like homosexual men, such as one user who simply yet decisively stated, 'GAYNESS' (dodien27, 21, Australia, 24 Sep 2008). Clearly it is a feminine masculinity that DBSK represents and that young female users find attractive. I call such feminine masculinity 'soft masculinity' a feature widely present in images of many male stars of East-Asian popular culture. I argue that this pan East-Asian soft masculinity has been constructed through production and consumption of feminine masculinity within the realm of East-Asian popular culture. This aesthetic possibly originated from bishōnen (미소년, 美小年, beautiful boy) characters of Japanese shōjo manga (少女漫画, girls' comics). Because of the broad circulation of manga and Japanese animation, regional as well as global audiences now harbour the shared imagination of bishōnen masculinity—East-Asian soft masculinity. This is, I argue, because mu-kuk-jok (무국적, 無國籍, non-nationality) pan East-Asian soft masculinity has been constructed based on the transcultural paradigm of Japanisation and hybridisation of East-Asian popular cultures. Mu-kuk-jok, a concept used to describe a cultural practice that has no particular national trait or odour, is an example of cultural proximity which is driven by transcultural hybridisation.
  3. In this article, I firstly examine the ways in which pan East-Asian pretty boy masculinity, which I call mu-kuk-jok 'soft masculinity,' has been constructed through the transcultural process of hybridisation and Japanisation of East-Asian popular cultures. Secondly, I discuss the way Japan's bishōnen and South Korea's kkon-mi-nam share the mu-kuk-jok East-Asian 'pretty boy' images. Finally, I discuss how DBSK signifies mu-kuk-jok East-Asian soft masculinity by analysing the new media consumption practice among users. Focusing particularly on the DBSK's Mirotic music video clip on, where most of the viewers are young females in their late teens to early twenties, this article discusses how these young female web users harbour the shared imagination of pan East-Asian soft masculinity, which is mobilised by their transcultural new media consumerist lifestyle.[8] This article is based on empirical audience reception analysis. To carry out the empirical research for this article, I employed methodologies such as participant observation and email interviews.[9]

    Mu-kuk-jok popular product
  4. The quote by JSword at the beginning of this article reveals many different aspects of the transcultural new media audience reception of DBSK. Firstly, it demonstrates the viewer's perception of DBSK's feminine masculinity. The other significant aspect is that it demonstrates the viewer's misconception of DBSK's nationality. JSword is not able to distinguish whether DBSK is South Korean or Japanese, as is evident from her/his comment, 'whats with the feminine look with Japanese singers.' It appears that JSword believes that DBSK is a Japanese boy band. Another user, Meshellyyyx3, wrote:

      this song is stuck on me :)
      even though im not really into boy bands
      i like this song and their other song 'rising sun'.
      and i DONT understand much japanes i just knwo the basics stuff
      ectt… (Meshellyyyx3, 15, the US, 17 Oct 2008)

    It is clear that Meshellyyyx3 also believes that DBSK is a Japanese boy band. Another user from Spain posted:

      Wauuuuuuuu…sto de la globalización mola…ver aunos japoneses haciendo esto, pos lo toy flipando!!! Kiero saber más de estos pibes, son la hostia de wenos!!! Saludos from SPAIN / Wow… this stuff, showing globalisation, is great… I can't believe what these Japanese guys are doing here!!! I want to know more about these guys, they are great!!! Regards from Spain. (ainssssssssssxdddddd, Spain, 17 Oct. 2008)

  5. It is important to observe the common understanding of these three users, who all see DBSK as a Japanese boy band. This error can be interpreted as evidence of the ways in which South Korean male pop stars share a common masculine aesthetic with their Japanese counterparts. I propose the explanation that both countries share the mu-kuk-jok images of pan East-Asian soft masculinity. The South Korean term, mu-kuk-jok, can be translated literally as 'no nationality,' meaning 'of no particular national taste or odour.' This notion of mu-kuk-jok can be linked to Koichi Iwabuchi's concept of 'cultural odourlessness.'[10] In his book, Recentering Globalization, Iwabuchi suggests the concept of 'mukokuseki (non-nationality or non-Japaneseness)' when he emphasises 'culturally odourless' aspects of Japanese consumer products, such as the Sony Walkman or computer games. He argues that the trait of being culturally odourless mukokuseki in these Japanese consumer products is one of the main reasons behind their global popularity.[11]
  6. It is arguable that the mu-kuk-jok aspect of DBSK's feminine masculine image partly enables this South Korean boy band to be well-circulated on because its image is odourless and easy to accept. In other words, these young female users, who consume DBSK's music video clips on, are already familiar with images of Japanese pretty boy pop stars, so that they are ready to embrace images of South Korean pretty boy bands. The mu-kuk-jok form of shared pretty boy masculine images between South Korean and Japanese pop stars can be conceptualised through the 'Japanisation' process of regional popular culture products, which has been practiced in the region for the past couple of decades.[12] Since the 1990s, Japanese popular cultural products have been widely consumed in the Asian region. According to Iwabuchi:

      The rise of Japanese cultural export[s] can be read as a symptom of the shifting nature of transnational cultural power in a context in which intensified global cultural flows have decentred the power structure and vitalized local practice of appropriation and consumption of foreign cultural products and meaning.[13]

    As Iwabuchi claims, apart from the ongoing popularity of American popular culture within the Asian region, Japanese popular culture has gained a new cultural status in Asia. The Asian regional consumption of contemporary Japanese popular culture can be understood as a new form of 'Japanisation.' Due to the development of advanced technologies such as the Internet and cable television, the Japanisation of Asian countries has become faster and more efficient. In the case of South Korea, the phenomenon of Japanisation is detected not only from the consumption of Japanese popular culture but also from the way that South Korean popular culture mimics Japanese popular culture. For example, even though there was a strict ban in South Korea on importing Japanese popular culture products until October 1998, some South Korean television dramas merged and copied the plots, characters and settings of Japanese television dramas.[14] South Korean popular culture celebrities are also often suspected of imitating Japanese stars and some have actually admitted to being 'influenced' by Japanese pop stars in terms of fashion, image and dancing and singing styles.[15]
  7. Some Asian Studies scholars, including Chua Beng Huat, claim that the popularity of South Korean dramas in Asia is partly due to the similarity of these dramas to Japanese dramas. Chua suggests that because South Korean dramas resemble Japanese dramas and because Asian viewers are already used to watching Japanese dramas, these Asian viewers readily consume South Korean dramas.[16] As Chua clarifies, Japanisation of South Korean popular culture has created a hybridised 'mu-kuk-jok' South Korean popular culture. Chua's claims can possibly explain the ways in which DBSK, a 'Japanised' pretty boy band, is easily embraced by non-South Korean audiences including Japanese audiences due to its mu-kuk-jok aspects. In her article, 'The cultural construction of South Korean trendy drama,' Lee Dong-Hoo also claims that any local cultural products tend to be produced through the process of cultural hybridisation. She states: 'One of the major mechanisms of the construction of South Korean popular culture is hybridization through the re-adaptation of Japanese popular culture which is an adaptation of Western media culture or global consumer culture.'[17] In other words, South Korean popular culture can be understood through the notion of a product of hybridisation, Japanisation and mu-kuk-jok.
  8. I argue that the soft masculine image of South Korean male stars including DBSK exemplifies a hybridised, Japanised and mu-kuk-jok South Korean popular cultural product, and that the characteristics possessed by such a product enable their soft masculine image to freely travel across the cultural boundaries, especially through the transcultural popular culture flows on Internet UGC websites such as The best example of the Japanisation of South Korean male stars' soft masculinity is evident from the transcultural flows of Japanese bishōnen masculinity.

    DBSK: Kkon-mi-nam boy band
  9. Among the over 4,500 user comments attached to the Mirotic music video clip on, more than 90 per cent of the comments specifically demonstrate the ways in which the users appreciate the sexiness of the body images of the DBSK members. Some examples are:

      'frick they're so hot' (bbloveXD, Canada, 19 Oct 2008)

      'omg. UKNOW effin' HOTTTTT!!!!!' (alwayzBB, 19, US, 19 Oct 2008)

      'Holy fuck. this was orgasmic. xDD. lol' (xXxVampireCullenxXx, 22, US, 19 Oct 2008);

      'sexy! *nosebleeds*' (hairypalmtree11111, US, 18 Oct 2008)

      'OMG YEY!! HOW YUMMY DO THEY LOOK?!' (nucLEAH, 18, Australia, 22 Sep 2008).

  10. According to their web profiles, the above-listed users are all females in their late teens to their early twenties from all over the world.[18] As the enthusiastic comments clearly demonstrate, it is the highly sexualised images of South Korean male stars that these young female users predominantly embrace when they watch the Mirotic music video clip. In addition to the highly sexualised images of DBSK, the users also resonate well with the feminine aesthetic of the members. A user, Lyphta, posted:

      oh my god.
      the hottest thing I've seen!
      … they're so pretty!
      … god this MV IS HOT (Lyphta, 22, US, 24 Sep 2008)

  11. Another user, senatorpadme, rather directly pointed out, 'damn…they are such pretty boys!' (US, 20 Oct 2008). Again, the comment of JSword given at the beginning of this article clearly indicates how this user sees DBSK as feminine pretty boys who are 'on the edge of being women.' Replying to JSword, another user, Learner012 posted:

      I suppose the 'pretty boy' look sells with most boybands (24 Sep 2008)

    Another user, shanaynaygirl9, also replied:

      Like the person above me said, pretty boys sell to little girls. Put 5 of them together in a band, they're likely to take over. (Remember Sanjaya? Little girls kept him in AI for that long XD) (shanaynaygirl9, 15, US, 24 Sep 2008).[19]

    The above comments explain well the ways in which the users perceive DBSK as girl-like pretty boys, and how such pretty boy images appeal to young female viewers. In addition to their appealing pretty aesthetic, according to some user comments, DBSK embodies feminine masculinity by presenting certain hairstyles, fashion and dance moves. One user said, 'I thought some of the dance moves were a bit too feminine' (Lightofshadow, 15, US, 21 Oct 2008). Another user also said, 'Jae's hair looks feminine' (Miroticlove15, 15, Australia, 21 Oct 2008). Furthermore, some users even argue that the dance moves and the hairstyle presented in this music video make the DBSK members appear homosexual. Woaini4evah wrote:

      this mv just made them super gay. wtfff.. who made the dance? it shows no masculinity. They're men, not gay boys. i love the song though, but just the mv and the dancing… goshhhh (Woaini4evah, 21, US, 2 Oct 2008).

  12. According to Woaini4evah, it is the members' feminine dance performances that make them 'super gay.' Thus, it is suggested that the users recognise the feminine masculinity of DBSK through the way the members perform certain modes of feminine dressing and dancing. This performed feminine masculinity of DBSK can be understood through R.W. Connell's concept of 'doing masculinities,' where he explains culturally constructed masculinity. He argues that 'different cultures, and different periods of history construct masculinity differently…masculinities do not exist prior to social behaviour, either as bodily states or fixed personalities. Rather, masculinities come into existence as people act. They are accomplished in everyday conduct or organizational life, as patterns of social practice.'[20] Thus, it can be argued that in this new music video Mirotic, through performing patterned dance moves, dressing and displaying hairstyles which are identified as feminine, DBSK represents newly constructed soft masculinity. At the same time, through the active consumption of such feminine images by the online users, the construction of South Korean soft masculinity, which is represented by DBSK, is reinforced.
  13. South Korean soft masculinity, typified by pretty boy images, appeared in the South Korean entertainment industry in the late 1990s.[21] Television commercials, dramas and billboards have glorified pretty boys. This socio-cultural phenomenon is referred to as the kkon-mi-nam syndrome, where pretty feminine males in the media become hugely popular.[22] Such images of pretty boys have replaced the previous images of tough and macho South Korean men as characterised by Choi Min-Soo (Figure 2), Jeong Woo-Seong (Figure 3) and Park Sang-Min. The literal meaning of kkon-mi-nam (꽃미남) is a 'flowery pretty boy.'[23] Kkon-mi-nam refers to men who are pretty looking and who have smooth fair skin, silky hair, and a feminine manner. Kim Yong-Hee explains that 'the kkon-mi-nam syndrome is developed from a consequence of the deconstruction and the hybridization of female/male sexual identities rather than males merely becoming feminized.'[24] According to Kim, kkon-mi-nam are able to satisfy complex human (especially female) desires because the kkon-mi-nam possesses both feminine and masculine attributes. The rise of the kkon-mi-nam phenomenon suggests that the new era of soft masculinity has arrived.

    Figure 2. Choi Min-Soo in Terrorist poster.
    Source:, accessed 8 January 2009.
    Figure 3. Jeong Woo-Seong in Beat poster.
    Source:, accessed 8 January 2009.

  14. In various South Korean popular cultural products, kkon-mi-nam soft masculinity has been
    continuously evolving. One of the best examples is evident in the South Korean television drama series entitled The First Shop of Coffee Prince (see Figure 4). A romantic comedy, Coffee Prince describes a pseudo-homosexual love story between Eun-Chan, a girl masquerading as a man and Han-Gyeol, the good-looking heir of a big food company. The drama is based on a sunjeong manhwa (girls' comics)and Eun-Chan and Han-Gyeol epitomise the fantasised kkon-mi-nam characters in that of sunjeong manhwa.[25] In particular, Eun-Chan is a perfect embodiment of kkon-mi-nam soft masculinity; his slim feminine face, dewy skin, silky hair, and sweet smile are features that resemble those of a pretty male lead in a sunjeong manhwa. The drama was very successful in South Korea; its highest viewing rate reached more than 30 per cent.[26] In particular, the drama gained the fanatic attention of female viewers because of the two kkon-mi-nam characters, Eun-Chan and Han-Gyeol and their tantalising (pseudo) homosexual relationship. Figure 4. Eun-Chan and Han-Gyeol. Source:, accessed 8 January 2009.

  15. Gay kkon-mi-nam characters and their homosexual relationships can be seen frequently in several recently released South Korean films and television dramas.[27] Due to the nation-wide success of the costume drama, King and the Clown (2005), a pretty boy male lead, Lee Jun-Ki, has become a national kkon-mi-nam icon (see Figure 5). In the film, Lee Jun-Ki plays Gong-Gil, a boy masquerading as a woman, who is an object of affection for both the royal clown, Jang-Seang, and the king, Yeon-San. Also, the best-selling independent film of 2006, No Regret, is about a gay romantic relationship (see Figure 6). It especially drew the attention of young female viewers and some of these fans have watched the film more than forty times.[28] It is reported that behind the phenomenal popularity of these films containing homosexual themes and kkon-mi-nam masculinity is the pre-existing female fandom of yaoi, a subgenre of shōjo manga. Yaoi portrays unrealistically pretty boys (bishōnen) and their homosexual relations and has played an important role in contributing to the production of pretty boy images both in Japan and in South Korea. Thus, the South Korean female fandom of yaoi demonstrates the transcultural flows of pan-East Asian pretty boy images that reinforce the construction and regional circulation of pan-Asian soft masculinity.

    Figure 5. King and the Clown poster.
    Source:, accessed 8 January 2009.
    Figure 6. No Regret poster.
    Source:, accessed 8 January 2009.

    Bishōnen, kkon-mi-nam and mu-kuk-jok shared imagination
  16. The pretty boy images of South Korean male stars are, it appears, influenced by the bishōnen (미소년, 美少年, beautiful boy) images of Japanese shōjo manga characters.[29] Shōjo means a girl (or girls) and shōjo manga refers to a genre of manga especially written for girls and which normally describes the lives of teenage girls at school and their romantic relationships with their bishōnen boyfriends. A similar genre of comic book, called sunjeong manhwa (순정 만화), also exists in South Korea. This Korean term, sunjeong manhwa, is often used to describe a pretty boy, as in the conventional expression, 'as pretty as a male lead of sunjeong manhwa.' In both shōjo manga and sunjeong manhwa, the main female character is often an ordinary girl while the main male character is an exceptionally good-looking boy. The pretty boy characters from shōjo manga and sunjeong manhwa share similar features—the male characters are tall, and they have slim, feminine faces, long hair and sweet smiles. This is because the kkon-mi-nam from sunjeong manhwa is deeply influenced by the bishōnen from shōjo manga. During this process of transculturation, mu-kuk-jok pretty boy images, such as the images of the kkon-mi-nam from sunjeong manhwa, are created. Manga and manhwa are imaginative sites that produce bishōnen and kkon-mi-nam images for female fans who actively desire mu-kuk-jok soft masculinity.
  17. In the case of the popular cultural sector, mu-kuk-jok pretty boys are highly visible among boy bands in various East Asian countries. These include South Korean popular music boy groups such as HOT, Shinhwa and DBSK (Figure 7); Japanese popular music bishōnen bands such as SMAP, w-inds and Arashi (Figure 8); and Taiwanese boy bands such as F4. Among these boy bands, SMAP is the original model representation of East Asian soft masculinity. Considering SMAP as the 'perfect female fantasy,' Fabienne Darling-Wolf argues that their unique characteristic of 'extreme androgyny' reinforces their popularity:

      The extreme androgyny of several of the members is often surprising to the western observer. The five men's bodies are hairless and lean and their costumes in concert often cross gender boundaries - they wear form-fitting shorts, hot pink suits, or long animal-print coats with huge flowers pinned on their collars.[30]

    Apart from this highly feminised aesthetic, according to Darling-Wolf, SMAP also performs the ideal of the 'new man,' and highlights the caring and sensitive aspects of masculinity. This phenomenon developed in the media during the 1980s. For instance, SMAP members would show their awareness of significant changes in gender roles by publishing cookbooks and taking care of children in television shows.[31] SMAP's managing agency is known as a bidanshi fakutorii, or 'pretty man factory,' suggesting that the feminised masculinity of SMAP members has become a commodity under production.[32] This commoditised soft masculinity has been reproduced in many other Asian countries, as is evident from the abovementioned East Asian male pop stars who share the soft masculine images of feminine prettiness. Due to the fact that the feminised masculine images of these pretty boys possess very similar characteristics, it is almost impossible to recognise their nationalities by their appearance (see Figures 7 and 8).[33] This is, I argue, because of the mu-kuk-jok aspect that has been created as a result of the transcultural flows of bishōnen masculinity; this mu-kuk-jok aspect, in turn, enables these East Asian male pop-stars to easily cross cultural borders.[34] The South Korean boy band, DBSK, is the best example of how the mu-kuk-jok images of pan-East Asian pretty boys circulate in the regional and even global market.

    Figure 7. South Korean kkon-mi-nam boy band DBSK. Source: 'angel_ksy,' in, 12 September 2008, accessed 8 January 2009. Figure 8. Japanese bishōnen boy band Arashi.
    Source: 'seon3533,' in, 4 May 2008, accessed 8 January 2009.

  18. In other words, the culturally odourless mu-kuk-jok image of bishōnen in DBSK's star text reinforces the online users' embrace of DBSK. This cultural odourlessness can be explained via Arjun Appadurai's term mediascapes, which refers to the capabilities of the mass media to produce and disseminate information and images through transcultural flows.[35] DBSK's culturally odourless bishōnen image can also be explained using another of Appadurai's concepts, that of 'shared imagination.'[36] In relation to this concept, Appadurai argues that collective experiences through the mass media can create 'sodalities' of worship and taste, and can eventually enable communities or cultural groups to participate in 'shared imagination.' Likewise, transcultural media influences on various countries, through new media technology in particular, create odourless, culturally acceptable images of pretty boys.
  19. As observed from the user comments on, many young female viewers embrace DBSK due to its 'culturally acceptable' pretty boy images. It can be argued that DBSK's images are similar to bishōnen images of manga and Japanese animation and that the viewers embrace the images because of this similarity. This argument is supported by the fact that a great number of the viewers are also fans of Japanese animation as well Japanese bishōnen bands.[37] For example, one of the users, CrystleKuri (18) posted:

      if i were a japanese manga character, I'd have died of bloodloss through the biggest nosebleed of my life by now! omw these boys just take hot to a whole new level!!! and wtf is that woman running away for?! she just got cornered by the HOTTEST GUYS ALIVE for crying out loud! if it were me I'd so have jumped them ahaha XD (10 October 2008)

    On her website linked to her profile, this eighteen-year-old female user from the UK calls herself a 'manga freak.' The backgrounds of her website and blog feature manga images, in which many articles contain manga-related content. Her words, 'if i were a japanse manga character…' imply two very important points regarding the consumption of pretty boy images of DBSK by the users: first, she desires the DBSK members as the 'hottest' (bishōnen); second, she desires the band members as 'Japanese' manga characters, not Korean manhwa characters. The first point signifies the way the users embrace the 'soft' masculinity of DBSK; and the second point signifies the way the users harbour the shared imagination of pan-East Asian pretty boy masculinity due to the global circulation of manga and Japanese animation. In other words, the comment of CrystleKuri demonstrates how DBSK epitomises the mu-kuk-jok pretty boy image, the image that young female web users are ready to embrace due to their shared imagination of pan East-Asian soft masculinity.

  20. Focusing on the new media consumption practices of young female users on and pretty boy images of DBSK, I have examined the construction of the mu-kuk-jok pan East-Asian soft masculinity. I have analysed the construction in terms of the consequences of mediascapes, popular cultural flows and cultural mixing, exploring ways in which this newly constructed masculinity has been transculturally consumed by online users. I have also suggested that DBSK could be well circulated on partly due to its mu-kuk-jok pretty boy image. This image is culturally acceptable to users, who are often already familiar with the pretty teen-boy characters of shōjo manga or Japanese animation. In other words, the users harbour the shared imagination of pan East-Asian pretty boy masculinity, which DBSK can perfectly fulfil. It seems likely, therefore, that the more global audiences become familiar with bishōnen characters of manga and Japanese animation, the more likely it will be that DBSK will achieve global popularity. After all, it is only a matter of constructing a shared imagination among the consumers.


    [1] DBSK, an acronym for Dong Bang Shin Ki (동방신기, 東方神起), is a quintet South Korean boy band formed under SM Entertainment in 2003, and later introduced to Japan under Avex Trax in 2005. Since their debut, DBSK has become one of the most popular singing groups in East Asia, gaining great popularity in South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand. DBSK is referred to as TVXQ (the acronym for Tong Vfang Xien Qi) based on the Chinese counterpart of their name. TVXQ is the abbreviation officially used on all products and advertisements in the region except Japan. The Japanese equivalent of the group's name is Tōhōshinki (とうほうしんき; THSK), which is only used in Japan. 동방신기 (東方神起) can be translated as 'Rising Gods of the East.'

    [2] Eun-Joo Kim, '동방신기, 오리콘 위클리 차트 4회 연속 1위 … 기록 갱신' (DBSK, All 4 Single Albums This Year Made Oricon Weekly Chart Number 1 … Broke the Record), in, 21 October 2008, online:, accessed 22 October 2008.

    [3] Oricon (オリコン, Orikon), also known as Oricon Style, is a Japanese company that provides information related to the music industry. It is best known for the music charts it produces, similar to those published by Billboard Magazine in the US. In October 2008, DBSK broke the record of the Oricon chart. As its twenty-fourth Japanese single 'Mirotic' reached the top of the Oricon weekly chart, all four Japanese single albums released in 2008 consecutively reached the number one spot on the chart: they are 'Purple Line' (Jan), 'Beautiful you' (April), 'どうして君を好きになってしまったんだろう, I Wonder Why I Fell in Love with You' (July)' and 'Mirotic' (Oct). For further details of DBSK on the Oricon chart, see Ji-Hyeon Lee, '동방신기 " 미로틱"韓日 음반시장 평정' (DBSK "Mirotic" Conquered Kor-Jap Music Markets), in Nocut News, 21 October 2008, online:, accessed 22 October 2008.

    [4] User-generated content (UGC), also known as Consumer Generated Media (CGM) or User Created Content (UCC), refers to various kinds of media content that are publicly available and that are produced by end-users. The term entered mainstream usage in 2005 after appearing in web-publishing and new media content production circles. It reflects the expansion of media production through new technologies that are accessible and affordable to the general public. These include digital video, blogging, podcasting and mobile phone cameras.

    [5] Sumberlosy, 'DBSK—MIROTIC MV FULL!!!!!' on, 21 September 2008, online:, accessed 24 October 2008.

    [6] According to the randomly selected sample group data, many of them are from Euro-American countries. Some are just random viewers such as ainssssssssssxdddddd (Spain), while some are dedicated fans of DBSK such as jebi1 (18, Switzerland).

    [7] does not specify the exact date of postings as it indicates only vague times and dates such as '15 minutes ago,' '3 weeks ago' and '2 months ago.' Thus, I approximated the dates of the postings based on these vague indications.

    [8] All the web comments that I quote in this article are from Much of the personal data of the web users can only be gleaned from their web profiles and could, therefore, be inaccurate since such web profiles could be fabricated. Thus, I (e-mail) interviewed ten fans of DBSK who were all females in their late teens to mid 20s in order to support my findings, regarding the gender and age specificities of this online user group.

    [9] The empirical research includes: participant observation on for more than one year between September 2007 and November 2008; and email interviews with ten DBSK fans between July 2008 and November 2008.

    [10] Koichi Iwabuchi, Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002, p. 27.

    [11] In this article, I use the term mu-kuk-jok, the Korean equivalent for Japanese mukokuseki. Mu-kuk-jok shares the same Chinese characters '無國籍' with mukokuseki.

    [12] The original concept of 'Japanization' can be found from the kominka (황민화, 皇民化) policy during the period of Japanese colonisation (1910–1945). Throughout the period, the Japanese government implemented various cultural control policies 'such as a prohibition against speaking Korean, having requirements that Korean nationals become Japanese and that Korean names be changed to Japanese-style names, the enforcement of a conscription system for Korean people and the restriction of freedom of speech by closing Korean newspapers such as Donga Ilbo and Chosun Ilbo.' See Eung-Jun Min, Jin-Sook Joo and Han-ju Kwak, Korean Film: History, Resistance, and Democratic Imagination, Westport, Connecticut and London: Praeger, 2003, p. 31. These cultural controls can be related to the kominka policy, which is the Japanese assimilation policy that was implemented from 1937 to 1945, the year that Japan was defeated in World War II. See Mark R. Peattie, 'Japanese Attitudes toward Colonialism,' in The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895–1945, ed. Ramon H. Myers and Mark R. Peattie, Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1984, pp. 80–127, p. 121. Kominka can be translated as 'Japanization' or 'the imperialization of subject peoples,' which articulates Japan's transnational political and cultural power and was a policy that attempted to assimilate colonised peoples such as the Ainu, the Okinawans, the Taiwanese and the Koreans into Japanese society. Iwabuchi suggests that the Asian regional consumption of contemporary Japanese popular culture can be understood as a new form of 'Japanization' (Iwabuchi, Recentering Globalization, p. 9).

    [13] Iwabuchi, Recentering Globalization, p. 35.

    [14] Lee, Dong-Hoo. '한국 트렌디 드라마의 문화적 형성' (The cultural construction of Korean Trendy Drama), in 한류 와 아시아의 대중문화 (Hallyu and Asian Popular Culture), ed. Cho Han Hey-Jeong, Hwang Sang-Min, Koichi Iwabuchi, Lee Dong-Hoo and Kim Hyeon-Mi, Seoul: Yonsei University Press, 2005, pp. 125–53.

    [15] One of the recent examples related to the issue of South Korean popular culture imitating Japanese popular culture is found in the plagiarism debate over the songs of South Korean idol boy band, Big Bang. When Big Bang released their second mini album, Hot Issue in November 2007, one of the songs Fool (Babo) was suspected of being plagiarised because of the similarity of the melody with P.I.A.N.O, the popular Shibuya-kei-genre music composed by a Japanese artist Daishi Dance (Shibuya-kei is a sub-genre of Japanese popular music which is best described as a mix between jazz, pop, and electro-pop). Later, Daishi Dance declared that Fool did not plagiarise P.I.A.N.O, and the debate was over. Regarding this issue, G-Dragon, the composer of Fool and band leader explained that he has been a fan of Daishi Dance and has been highly influenced by the Shibuya-kei genre. In August 2008, G-Dragon collaborated with Daishi Dance to compose the title song Day by Day (Haru Haru) of Stand Up, the third mini-album of Big Bang. See Ahn-Woo Nam, '빅뱅 지드래곤, "다이시댄스와의 작업 졸랐다"' (Big Bang G-Dragon, "I nagged Daishi Dance to Work with Him"), in My Daily, 8 August 2008, online:, accessed 16 September 2008; Jeong-Ah Lee, '빅뱅, "이번 앨범 만족도 최고!" 한층 깊어진 음악 자신한다' (Big Bang, "We're Proud of Our 3rd Album!" Guarantee More Mature Music), in OSEN, 8 August 2008, online:, accessed 16 September 2008; Won-Kyeom Kim, '빅뱅, 표절 의혹 제기됐던 일본 가수와 신곡 작업' (Big Bang Works with The Japanese Artist Daishi Dance for Its New Songs), in, 19 May 2008, online:, accessed 16 September 2008.

    [16] Beng Huat Chua, 'Conceptualizing an East Asian popular culture,' in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 5, no. 2 (2004):200–22, p. 207.

    [17] D.H. Lee, 'The cultural construction of Korean trendy drama,' p. 127.

    [18] See endnote 8.

    [19] Sanjaya Malakar was a finalist on the sixth season of American Idol. Sanjaya, mainly because of his cute appealing look, gained national attention on American Idol, advancing to seventh place with a large following of voters despite being badly received by the show's judges.

    [20] R.W. Connell, 'Understanding men: gender sociology and the new international research on masculinities,' Clark Lecture, Department of Sociology, University of Kansas, 19 September 2000, online:, accessed 24 September 2008.

    [21] Sun Jung, 'Bae Yong-Joon, hybrid masculinity & the counter-coeval desire of Japanese female fans,' in Particip@tions, vol. 3, no. 2 Special Edition (November 2006), online:, 15 December 2008.

    [22] Choi Min-Soo (Figure 2), an enduring icon of 'the South Korean tough guy,' consolidated his tough guy image playing a tragic gangster character in a television drama series called Sandglass (Morae Shigye), 1995. Park Sang-Min became popular as an unbeatable street fighter in a series of three films by the well-known South Korean auteur director, Im Kwon-Taek. In the trilogy, Son of the General 1, 2, 3 (Janggunui Adeul 1990, 1991, 1992), Park plays a legendary gangster, Kim Doo-Hwan. Jeong Woo-Seong (Figure 3) plays a rebellious young man in his 1997 film, Beat (Biteu) 1997, and became a new symbol of the tough guy. Since the late 1990s, however, these macho characters have gradually disappeared from the screen and kkon-mi-nam characters have flourished instead.

    [23] The Korean term, kkon-mi-nam (꽃미남), is a coined word that is a combination of 꽃 (flower) and 미남 (a beautiful man). The origin of the word is uncertain. The most widely agreed-upon understanding is that this word originated from the pretty boy characters from girls' comics. When the pretty boys appear in the comic book, the background is almost always filled with flowery patterns, and that is the reason that people began calling pretty boys kkon-mi-nam.

    [24] Yong-Hee Kim, 천개의 거울 (A Thousand Mirrors), Seoul: Saengagui Namu, 2003, p. 104.

    [25] Sunjeong manhwa is a Korean term for girls' comics.

    [26] According to Park Jeong-Yeon from AGB Neilsen Media Research and Han Ji-Sook from Digital Times, 'television viewing rate' refers to the percentage of televisions which are tuned into the particular program out of all panel televisions with 'people meters,' the individual viewer reporting devices. See Jeong-Yeon Park, '시청률 조사 방법' (How to Measure TV Viewing Rate), Personal Interview (Phone), 2 October 2008; Ji-Sook Han, '시청률 조사 어떻게 할까?' (How Would TV Viewing Rate be Measured?), in Digital Times, 4 January 2006, online:, accessed 2 October 2008.

    [27] Regarding this recent increased visibility of homosexuality in mainstream media production, some cultural studies researchers criticise these products for commercialising homosexuality and for stimulating female sexual fantasies towards unrealistic masculine images of gay kkon-mi-nam. See Seong-Hee Yang, '28 일 막 내리는 MBC 드라마 ‘커피프린스’ 매력 분석' (Analysis of Attraction Points of MBC Drama, Coffee Prince), in Joong-Ang Ilbo, 20 August 2007, online:, accessed 21 November 2008. Despite such criticism, there are positive aspects to this recent phenomenon; for instance, the increased visibility of kkon-mi-nam homosexual men in popular cultural products reinforces the deconstruction of dominant macho masculinity and strengthens the reconstruction of South Korean soft masculinity.

    [28] Yang, Analysis of Attraction Points of MBC Drama, Coffee Prince.

    [29] Manga is a Japanese word for comic and print cartoons. Korean comics are called manhwa.

    [30] Fabienne Darling-Wolf, 'SMAP, sex and masculinity: constructing the perfect female fantasy in Japanese popular music,' in Popular Music and Society, vol. 27, no. 3 (2004):357–70, p. 360.

    [31] Darling-Wolf, 'SMAP, sex and masculinity,' p. 361.

    [32] Brian Cogan and Gina Cogan, 'Gender and authenticity in Japanese popular music: 1980-2000,' in Popular Music and Society, vol. 29, no. 1 (2006):69–90, p. 83.

    [33] Jung, 'Bae Yong-Joon, hybrid masculinity & the counter-coeval desire of Japanese female fans.'

    [34] Jung, 'Bae Yong-Joon, hybrid masculinity & the counter-coeval desire of Japanese female fans.' In this article, using the example of a South Korean actor, Bae Yong-Joon, and the Japanese female fandom, I have discussed the way how BYJ is easily embraced by the fans due to the mu-kuk-jok aesthetic features of BYJ's pan-Asian pretty boy masculinity.

    [35] Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. p. 35.

    [36] Appadurai, Modernity at Large, p. 8.

    [37] There are a number of users whose ID is somewhat inspired by and related to animation and manga such as 8animegirl82 (18, the US), animequeen001 (19, the US), getanimefan41 (16, the Philippines), jrockalwaysanime (22, the US), animefreakFlora (Netherlands), karmineanimegirl (Canada), stainsofanime (15) and anime0xD (15, the US).


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