4th Hallyu Wave Washes over Japan’s Fashion, Cosmetics

Photo by Akira Miura
The exterior of the first Aland shop in Japan

Despite some lingering diplomatic animosity between Japan and South Korea, last year saw South Korean TV drama “Crash Landing on You” streamed on Netflix becoming a huge hit in Japan. Pop girl band NiziU, whose members are all Japanese, also presented themselves as a joint Japanese-South Korean project and appeared in NHK’s annual Red and White Year-end Song Festival on New Year’s Eve.

Connoisseurs of all things South Korean believe the fourth Hallyu, or South-Korean wave, is washing over Japan. The first Korean wave began with TV drama “Winter Sonta,” the second was led by K-pop acts like TVXQ and Big Bang, the third was started by K-pop groups like BTS and TWICE, in addition to South Korean food like cheese dak-galbi (spicy chicken stir fry with cheese) and South Korean corn dogs. The fourth Hallyu wave started running through Japan last year, or so it is said.

The area around Shin-Okubo Station on the JR Yamanote Line has long been called the Korea Town of Tokyo, where there are many Korean restaurants and Korean grocery stores. Over the past few years, many young women have also been flocking to the area, turning it into a second Harajuku of sorts. Admittedly, last year was exceptional because of COVID-19, but the number of passengers using the station has been steadily rising in recent years, marking the largest increase among all the stations covered by JR East Railway Co. in fiscal 2018 at 6.7%, according to the company. To deal with the surge in passengers, the company built a new exit-only gate at the station last June.

The wave is not only about South Korean TV dramas, music and food. The country’s cosmetics have long been considered superior in effectiveness and value as well. Cosmetic brands, such as innisfree, Missha, Etude (previously Etude House), Skinfood and 3CE are well-known in Japan and popular especially among young women. Department stores in Japan have also started selling their products.

South Korean brands are making their presence known in fashion, too. Fashion magazines have run features on South Korean fashion, which is called “oruchan fashion,” or ulzzang fashion. Ulzzang is a Korean word meaning a beautiful face. Perhaps what often happens is clothing worn by K-pop stars becomes popular, and South Korean fashion brands spread the news of the outfits on Instagram and other social media platforms, which they are apparently quite adept at. Of course, the outfits are reasonably priced, so customers can buy them without worry. Japanese fans of the ulzzang fashion say it is appealing because of the sexy and distinct use of colors, which is not found either in Japanese girls’ brands or in global fast fashion brands, such as H&M and Zara.

Last year, the fashion industry was shocked by the news that Cecil McBee was closing all its shops. It used to be the No. 1 brand at the Shibuya 109 fashion mall in Tokyo. In its heyday, the brand’s annual profit surpassed ¥20 billion in Japan.

The disappointing news highlights the status quo of the young ladies fashion scene, which seems to have lost its direction in Japan. It looks like ulzzang fashion has stepped in to fill the gap.

South Korean fashion items are mostly purchased online or by mail order, yet some brands, such as DHOLIC, have brick-and-mortar stores in major fashion malls in Japanese cities and are usually among the facilities’ top profit makers.

Aland, a popular South Korean specialist shop of fashion, cosmetics, sundries et al, opened its first store in Japan on Oct. 8, 2020, facing the Inokashira Dori street in Shibuya. Note that Aland’s operator formed a partnership with major Japanese fashion company Adastria, which is known for Lowrys Farm, Global Work and other brands, to open the shop. The two-story building with a sales floor of 627 square meters used to be a Global Work branch shop. It seems Adastria became unable to ignore the Hallyu wave. Over 900 people applied for 20 part-time positions at the shop, and more than 100 people formed a line in front of the entrance on opening day despite the pandemic and the rainy weather. There are plans for more Aland shops in Japan.

The South Korean film “Parasite” won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 and multiple Oscars in 2020. The fourth Hallyu wave in Japan can be described as multifaceted and layered within various genres, making it unlikely to end anytime soon.

Photo by Akira Miura
A DHOLIC shop in Tokyo