Leading Korean-pop artists like KARA and Girls’ Generation have been left out of Japan’s popular year-end music show Kohaku Uta Gassen. While those groups are among the most popular in Japan, always sitting high on sales rankings, this year’s performances will be limited to domestic acts only. NHK, the national channel that broadcasts the show, says the choice has nothing to do with recent political tensions with South Korea, but that’s about as likely as China’s excuse for excluding Japanese runners from the Beijing Marathon earlier this month.
Leaving out K-pop artists from Kohaku Uta Gassen is no small thing, as the show regularly reaches as much as 40% of Japan’s television audience each year on its New Year’s Eve broadcast. Headlining acts last year were girl groups KARA and Girls’ Generation, and Tohoshinki (TVXQ) representing boy groups. The live, four-hour TV show doesn’t solely focus on South Korean acts, as Japanese pop staples AKB48 and SMAP are also regularly featured. As New Year’s is the biggest holiday in Japanese culture, the show airs when many families are gathered together at home, usually with the TV on, thus generating a wide audience.
At a press conference announcing this year’s line-up, NHK officials say the decision to drop K-pop acts was based on their popularity over 2012 among Japanese fans. This statement is clearly bogus, as throughout the year K-pop reached new sales milestones and even won the top honors at the MTV Japan Awards. NHK denied the speculation that Japan’s dispute with South Korea over the Takeshima/Dokdo Islands had any influence, even though Korean cultural exports didn’t start getting questioned until just after tensions erupted in late August, such as pulling a Korean-language drama after its actors voiced support for Seoul.