Saitama Big In Korea

Saitama Arena, located in a suburb just north of Tokyo, is Japan’s largest indoor venue.

For Tokyoites, it is mainly famous for martial sports like K-1 and Pride, but the competition in the surrounding region makes it difficult to attract large-scale concert business. It has less of a name value than Budokan or Tokyo Dome or even Yokohama Arena.

But not in Korea, where the term Saitama Arena carries enormous status.

Since the late ’90s, Korean pop culture has enjoyed enormous popularity in Japan, and one of the marks of making it in Korea is to perform at Saitama Arena.

The trend started in August 2005, when Bae Yong-joon, a popular movie star in Japan, attended a screening of his latest movie at the arena.

A month later, two other movie stars held a "Korean All Star Summit" at the venue. Together, these two events attracted 52,000 Japanese fans and were reported widely back in Korea. According to Korean show business people interviewed by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, everyone in Korea knows Saitama Arena, even if most Japanese don’t.

The attention is important because the arena has been running in the red for most years since it opened in 2000.

Thanks to the Korean boom, the attendance in 2005 was 60 percent higher than it was in 2001.

This year there have already been four Korean-associated events held at Saitama, compared to only one for the similar-sized Yokohama Arena. The most recent were a sold-out Valentine’s Day concert by the Korean boy band Shinhwa and a classical music concert "hosted" by Bae, who doesn’t sing or play any instruments.